The tomato seedlings that had been potted into cell packs a few weeks ago have now grown to transplanting size. With danger of frost unlikely, they now can finally be moved from the cold frame and into the garden.
By the second week of May, the ground is now tilled smooth, having been prepared months in advance with last summer’s white blossomed buckwheat and winter’s rye grass covering turned under, adding organic matter and nutrients to the soil.
The plot readied, only a liquid solution for a strong start is lacking. That solution can be a liquid fertilizer mix purchased from your favorite garden supply or made by combining compost and water called “tea.”
Compost tea is brown, organic and is prepared by adding a couple shovels of sifted compost to a five-gallon bucket of water either loose or placed in a burlap bag, and then stirred and allowed to steep for an hour or so. It’s good stuff!
Next, lay out the plantings.
Proper spacing is essential for plant growth and health. Uncrowded, air freely flows about them helping ward off harmful fungi that damage both foliage and fruits. For tomatoes I space plants three feet apart and rows at least four feet apart. A yard stick keeps spacing uniform and though Dad, defending his dog-legged rows, would say that, “you get more in a crooked row,” I still stretch a line down each length to keep things straight.
Ready for plants
With tea finished and rows laid out, it’s time to plant.
I carefully remove the plant from the cell pack by gently pulling it upward while at the same time pressing underneath the same cell. Sometimes the roots will grow through the weep holes and it will take some gentle persuasion.
If you have them potted in peat pots or pots made of newspaper there is no need to remove them but rather plant them pot and all directly into the ground. Take care, however, to remove the portion of the pot that is above the potting soil of the plant. If that portion is not well below the soil, it then becomes a wick drawing moisture up from around the roots.
With a trowel or just by hand a hole is made in which to place the plant. For the tomatoes, it needs to be deep enough to bury the stem almost to the first leaf. This again promotes more root growth and keeps the plant from being “leggy.”
Once in the hole, the fertilizer is added before backfilling with garden soil. The recommended rate should be marked on your container if you bought it or if using tea as I do, add a pint mason jar full.
After lightly firming the soil around the plant they’re watered in well to settle the soil around the root system. I also recommend mulching them. Mulching not only keeps down weeds and retains moisture, but also keeps the rains from splashing mud onto the foliage of the plants limiting soil borne diseases and keeps the plant clean.
A layer of newspaper under the mulch is an added barrier and will decompose by fall. I use loose straw that I collect for free.
This is straw that has fallen from the bails or from broken bails and on the floor where it’s stored. Most retail outlets will allow you to take all you want. I scoop it up by the “barrel-full.” It’s great for not only mulching, but as litter in my chicken coop.
Supporting your plants
After planting and mulching some type of support for the plant is best, instead of letting the vines sprawl on the ground. Though I have seen tomatoes grown this way, I do not recommend it as the fruit lie against the ground and easily rot.
Wire cages and stakes are the two most common
options. If you use wire cages, spring for the heavier gauge wire. They’re larger and will serve you longer, save you money in the long run and make you smile when they don’t melt under the weight of heavy yielding plants and use. I have some I have used for six or seven years and they are going strong.
Stakes require you use strips of old rags or cotton string to secure the plant stems to the stake as it grows. Whether you use stakes or cages install them now while the plants are small to keep from breaking branches and stems while trying to install them when the plants are half grown, especially cages.
Besides tomatoes, other frost-tender plants can now be placed in the garden.
Pumpkins from the cold frame started in four-inch pots are set in hills between the rows; these will range along the ground under the tomatoes growing towards the bright summer sky. This affords full use of garden space and is living mulch. Large pumpkin blossoms attract more pollinators too, like fat bumble and honeybees to help ensure a good fruit set.
There’s a simple joy in listening to the deep muffled buzz of bumbles from the large orange blossoms in the glooming of a warm and dewy morning. One just needs to be nimble among the teeming vines filling the voids.
With the plants out, the cold frame falls empty. Exercising Poor Richard’s advice of “industry and thrift,” that space is not squandered either. The Romaine lettuces are now of a size to set into the worked soil there. They will grow to that familiar loosely cupped shape and be harvested for the best of Caesar salads before the space is needed for the autumn garden’s starts.
Planted when the head starts, the frost-free plots of the garden are now filled with optimism. The work and dedication to detail and planning is beginning to pay dividends by use of the simple bottomless box with a clear-glass lid.