Last year I tried a new variety of tomato, the Park’s Whopper. They’re a slicing tomato and the vines are too vigorous for staking so this year I plan to let them grow free on a bed of mulch and straw. I’m a real believer in leaf mulch, and I’m seeing the results in the worm population which continues to increase.
Click for a larger image
Worms don’t actually eat the leaf material until it breaks down into minute particles, but they love the fungus that grows on leaves, and as they move through the mulch they help break it down. One concern is that leaves are very acidic so if you want to avoid a calcium deficiency and the inevitable blossom end rot in your tomatoes and other fruiting vegetables you need to incorporate some lime around the plant and then dust the mulch as I’ve done in the photo to the right. While the soil acts as a buffer, and it’s hard to apply too much, I only add a handful to the soil around the plant and another handful to the mulch. If you like to measure, about 1/2 to 3/4s of a cup should be enough.
This is a tomato plant in a two liter bottle. I’ve gained a considerable amount of root growth in just a few weeks. I should add that the bottle is reflecting my hand on the left and grass on the right side – just so you don’t think that green is a fungus.
While it’s not quite as evident here’s the root growth of a tomato in a milk container:
So now all that is left to do is dig a hole, cut off the bottom of the container and plant it without removing the plant from the container. Not only does this keep weeds from the stem of your plants, but it also facilitates watering and fertilization directly into and through the plant’s root system. Perfect for drip irrigation as well.
You might think it counterintuitive that soil temperatures are lower in the spring than at any other time of the year, but there’s no question about it, and cold spring rains don’t help.
The soil is heated by infrared rays of the sun, and residual soil temperatures create a lag of approximately 3 months. This also causes soil temperatures to be highest in the fall months before tapering off in the winter.
Plant root systems develop best in soils that are 70 degrees, plus or minus 5 degrees, and this is why you’ll get your best results in starting seedlings, and growing them out if you use bottom heat.
Garden supply stores sell two types of appliances for achieving this goal. There are mats that you simply plug in, and heating cables that are generally buried in sand filled benches. Both of these solutions are expensive so you might want to improvise. Continue reading →
Of all the critters that can be found in a garden I’m always glad to see a worm. The most obvious benefit comes from their constant tilling of the soil providing aeration and improving the percolation of water throughout the root zone. But having been trained in the scientific method at the University of Arizona I’m also glad to find data that supports my beliefs.
Last fall I received an email from plant pathologist at Cornell University. Ms Allison Jack, a PhD candidate, forwarded studies on the use of vermicompost, also known as worm castings, in disease control and plant growth. While scientific papers can be tedious for the layperson, if you’re interested I’ll gladly forward these studies to you. Just send a request to OzarkAggie@gmail.com and I’ll reply with the articles attached.
Fortunately Allison has published an award-winning video that provides an overview of vermicomposting, and how worm castings provide both a nutritional benefit and disease protection for plants. It’s definitely worth a watch.
Growing plants from seed is like cooking from scratch. You pick your ingredients and bring them together according to your own taste. I think it adds to the mystique, the wonder of it all, but also allows you to select and experiment with the many varieties available.
This year I’ll grow varieties developed in Holland, Germany, Taiwan, and Israel – as well as the USA. They range from hot peppers to super sweet melons, scallions to a triple-cross gourmet corn. I didn’t select them for their international flavor, but for the flavor they add to the palate.
Good germination and seedling growth starts with the right potting mix, temperature and light. With the early spring we’re experiencing this year I’ve moved all my starts into the cold frame I built a month ago.
While the early spring inspires confidence there’s still a 50% chance of a hard frost in our future. So in this article I’ll cover starting plants from seed, potting mixes, and protecting your seedlings in the garden.
Perforated black plastic covering field planted seed to encourage germination by retaining heat and moisture.
Cold frames are something of an afterthought for most gardeners, and their various designs are indicative of what some would call Yankee Ingenuity. The simplest might be a hole in the ground with a glass cover – usually an old window frame – though it might have sides raised by hay bales destined to provide mulch after the plants are in the ground. The general idea is to be resourceful, and provide a place to harden off your seedlings while protecting them from a late frost.