Saturday, 19 April 2014

WAIT! Don't Plant That Outside Yet!

Nitty Gritty Greenhouse

I grow hundreds of heirloom tomato starts each year...I tend to keep about 40 to 50 for myself and sell the rest.

Each year, I have folks highly anticipating the summer season, the delicious crop of tomatoes, and so asking me when I am going to finally start selling my tomato plants ... By the way, they ask this while wearing their heavy spring coats, as the warm spring weather is often slow in coming, especially this year, it seems.  

Yep, you guessed it, you are so right.
Is way too cold to plant tomatoes for a really long time yet here on Vancouver Island. And I do mean everywhere on Vancouver Island, even the southern most tip!

Tomatoes are heat lovers and should not be planted in the garden until night time air temps are consistently around the 10C mark.
The soil will be then also be warm and you will be fine to pop the tomatoes into the ground. This occurs anywhere from the May long week-end on till sometime during the first week of June.

However, what kind of friend would I be if I did not give you some options?

If you really want to plant your tomatoes out a few weeks earlier ...
Black plastic being used to warm the garden soil.

 First, you will want to warm your soil with some black plastic or landscape fabric for a few weeks. You can then make holes in the plastic and plant right into it.

Then, when you do plant, you will want to plant your tomato into either a tomato cage cloche, a hoop frame, or a Wall-O-Water.

Tomato cage cloches or greenhouses...
Picture from
 Make a little greenhouse for each tomato plant with a tomato cage and some clear plastic or clear plastic garbage bags.
A hoop house is a great idea to get an early start for your tomatoes...
This system also works at the end of the season as the cover keeps the fall rains off of your foliage,
preventing blight from ravaging  your tomatoes.
Picture from
The tires soak up the heat to keep the tomatoes happy.   
Wall-O-Waters have tube shaped pockets that you fill with water. The sun heats up the water all day long and the water then emits the heat all night long to keep the plant warm and toasty. These guys really work, my parents have been using them for years! They also protect the plant from cold winds and animal nibbling!
Or... You can also pop your tomato into a larger pot and leave it outside during the day and bring it in each evening.

Nitty Gritty Greenhouse
If you do none of these things and simply plant your lovely tomato transplant into the garden too early, this is what will happen...

You will start to get purple foliage, especially on the under sides of the leaves.

This purple is caused by a deficiency of phosphorous.
It is due to that fact that your plants roots system is stunted by the cold soil and it is thus unable to take up nutrients from the cold soil. Most importantly, it is unable to take up any phosphorous (the middle number of N-P-K).

Phosphorous deficiency in tomatoes, peppers, and/or eggplants
occurs when planted in too cool soil and too cool temps.

Plants that have had their roots stunted and are unable to take up nutrients properly, will sulk and pout, sometimes as long as for several months. Really!
You can try to add a high phosphorous fertiliser around the plant to help it recover faster.
In general, tomatoes that have been planted too early will produce less fruits and will take a long time to recover, grow, flower, and fruit.

Is well worth your while to wait that extra two or three weeks for lovely tomatoes on happy tomato plants!
By the way, this also applies to peppers, eggplants, cucumbers and squashes.


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