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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

How to Build A Hot-House Tomato Cage for Early Spring: Be the First with Ripe Tomatoes!

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How to Build A Hot-House Tomato Cage for Early Spring: 
Be the First with Ripe Tomatoes! 

These cages can be built in 5 minutes. They will allow you to get your tomatoes into the garden a lot earlier. It works. I use a few every year and am the first in the area with red tomatoes. Try it! I original put this on my other blog but wanted to elaborate some of the ideas here.




Benefits

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Wind Break
They act as a wind break and keep the plant from cooling from winds. They also allow transplants time to get used to the elements without becoming over-stressed. It makes a mini shelter for them.

Heats During the Day
They will collect the solar heat of the day. A sunny day in the 40's can easily heat the cage into the 70's. At night I recommend putting a plate on top, a few hours before the sun sets, so it stores up some heat. It is also important to remove it on sunny days in the morning. The inside of the cages can over heat on sunny days.

Water Container Heat Storage
I will be doing a new video that adds in a black painted milk jug at the bottom like in the picture. The milk jug is filled with water and it will radiate heat at night to help maintain a bit more warmth. They day time heat is quickly loss when the sun goes down. Maintaining warmer night temperatures helps prevent the tomato from going dormant so to speak.

Frost Protection
In the event of a light frost a cage with a sealed top will give your tomato a few degrees of frost protection. The milk jug with it will help out even more!

Plenty of Room and Light
The tomato can grow and get plenty of light. Some early systems filter out light and plants can get spindly or the aren't high enough and plants out grow them before the right temperatures arrive. They grow out of their protection.

Black Plastic (Another trick)
You can also lay a piece of black plastic on the ground with a hole in the middle for the tomato. The cage can go on the plastic and it will warm the soil. A tomato also needs warm roots to start growing or it will sit and wait for the right temperature.





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Monday, January 27, 2014

How to Start Cilantro Indoors and Why to Start Cilantro Indoors

How to Start Cilantro Indoors and Why to Start Cilantro Indoors


If you like cilantro you typically love cilantro. It is a very hardy, cool weather vegetable. It is typically grown for its leaves. The seeds are actually harvested as a spice and go by the name of coriander. Cool weather helps promote lush leaf growth. When the warmth comes, cilantro moves to quickly flower and seed.

It is often recommended not to start cilantro indoors because it is a tap root and it doesn't do well with transplanting. Not doing well as transplants doesn't mean it won't grow. It just won't realistically get to its 2 foot size. You will get leaves though!




Cilantro can take 14-21 days to germinate so go ahead and start some about 4 weeks before it will go outside. Why? It takes some time to germinate. Start it indoors and get a jump on your season. You aren't going to hold it in the starting cells to become root-bound. Start it indoors, let it sprout, grow a bit and get it in the garden bed before the roots mass. A nice compromise. You will get cilantro sooner to your kitchen. It can handle the frost and cold. I have over wintered it here in Maryland Zone 7.


Starting Herbs Indoors - The Rusted Garden 2014

Once you put the transplants out, also sow some seeds. I recommended sowing more seeds about every 3 weeks to maintain a continuous supply. It has white flowers that really attracts the good insects to your garden and the flowers turn to seed or coriander. Let it self sow or harvest the seeds. It is a great herb for many reason to have in your garden.


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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Garden Mythbusters Episode One: Do Seed Tray Humidity Domes Promote Mold and Fungus Growth?

Garden Mythbusters Episode One: 
Do Seed Tray Humidity Domes Promote Mold and Fungus Growth?

I am starting a new series that puts garden myths, old wives' tales and urban farmer legends to the test. This is somewhat scientific but mostly done to have some fun and to shed some light on the things we hear we should or shouldn't do in and around the garden. You be the judge!

If you like this series please let me know and certainly put some things you would like to be tested in the comments section.

I don't use humidity domes ever since the ugly day over 10 years ago... 'damping off' diseases hit my germinating lettuces and other plants. I thought it was a sterile starting mix. I thought I did the right thing. I used the dome as recommended by the manufacturer. I opened it daily.  More than once in fact! I bottom watered.  But they died as quickly as they sprouted.




I am not posing the question are humidity domes good or bad. I am not saying they cause mold or fungus. I am not talking about how you should use them. (In fact I don't use them). I am simply posing the question:

Do Seed Tray Humidity Domes Promote Mold and Fungus Growth?

The video shows you the set up and results. Not everyone can buy sterile mix. Remember gardening is global.  Spores come in from the air, water, tools, seeds, hands and other places. They are all around us. The bread is a known host of mold and fungus. Let's see if the dome promotes and environment for their growth.

One tray is used without the dome and the other uses the dome. They are treated equally in my grow closet for 10 days. The dome was opened regularly. Here are the results. You be the judge!




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Friday, January 17, 2014

A Complete Video Guide on How to Start Tomatoes Indoors from Start to Transplanting: Almost Time to Start Them!

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A Complete Video Guide on How to Start Tomatoes Indoors from Start to Transplanting:
Almost Time to Start Them!


When to Start Your Tomatoes Indoors:

I recommend you start tomatoes indoors about 8 weeks before they can go outside. So the first question is often:  When do you put them outside? A lot of vegetables go out when frost ends. Tomatoes are a bit different. Yes, frost will kill them and you need to wait but cold ground will keep them from growing. They can even turn a bit purple when nights and the ground stay in the 40's.




You really want to time your 8 weeks or so to the date when your earth bed soil and nights are mostly 50 degrees. You can use water rings or black plastic and other tricks to keep the transplants warm and to warm the ground if you want and get an earlier start.

The 8 weeks also includes about a week period of acclimating your indoor transplants to the outdoor. If you don't slowly introduce them to the sun, they can actually get sunburned. Check out the video below.




Starting Tomatoes Indoors - Lighting:

You will need to make sure your tomatoes germinate under intense full light or they will get "leggy". Legginess occurs when the germinated seeds do not get enough light and the plant grows extra long stems as if it is stretching to get to the light. That can make for thin and weak looking transplants.




You want 10-14 hours of intense artificial light. If you use a windowsill, the windowsill must get at least 8 hours of direct sun. That is a window where the sun can actually be seen from the window for 8 hours. I find that type of window is more rare in a house than not.

Indoor lighting requires easily acquired special bulbs. The bulbs should have a high Lumen number and Kelvin number which is explained in the videos. You want the light bulbs to sit 2-3 inches above the seed tray of germinating seeds or 2-3 inches above the leaves of growing tomato transplants.

You want tomato seedling and transplants to get 10 -14 hours of artificial light. More is always better. It does vary based on plant types. Here are some basics on grow-closets,  tube lighting and grow-boxes. It is not as expensive as you might think nor are they hard to make.







Starting Tomato Seeds Indoors - Starting Mix and Supplies:

It is best to use a sterile seed starting mix or potting mix. They are very similar. They are typically made from a mixture of peat moss, vermiculite and perilite. The ratios tend to be mostly peat moss and then random amounts of the other materials. As long as it is sterile it will work. I make my own and have some videos on it. The key is to not use outdoor soil or packaged products with top soils. If you use non-sterile soils you increase the risk of getting a disease called 'Damping Off'. Start with a sterile mix!


Cotton Like Fuzz on Stems Called: 'Damping Off Disease'


If you use a pre-made starting mix they often need to pre-moistened. This helps with water absorption and it can speed up germination. Some mixes come with fertilizers. Here are some videos to help with mixes and supplies.


   


There is a method I use to pre-pack the seed starting cells and a better way to water. These two things will help with germination and save you time.





Starting Tomatoes Indoors - Planting the Tomato Seeds

Once you have your seed cells set up you can start planting. I always recommend planting more
than 1 seed per cell. You really have to decide how much room you have for tomatoes. In some cases you can grow more than 1 seed per cell and divide them. In other cases, you can thin your cells to hold 1 seedling. It is really up to you. If you are just starting out with starting tomatoes indoors, I would recommend growing 1 seedling per cell.





Starting Tomatoes Indoors - Thinning & Transplanting Seedlings to Cups:

Tomato seeds can take 5-14 days to germinate. They need temperatures at least in the 70's to germinate timely and will germinate faster if warmer. About two weeks after germination you will have to thin the plants to 1 seedling per cell. If you have experience you can actually grow more than 1 seedling in a cell and carefully divide them. As stated, I recommend going with 1 seedling per cell as it reduces the chances of transplant shock when moving them to larger cups.




About 2 weeks after thinning or when the seedling get to 3 or 4 inches tall, they are ready to be transplanted into cups or containers. I recommend watering them from the bottom, once transplanted, with 1/2 strength liquid fertilizer.




Starting Tomatoes Indoors - Watering, Lighting and Fertilizing:

You are going to have to take care of your plants indoors between 6 and 10 weeks. That will require ongoing care to water them, manage lighting and feed them. Generally speaking I suggest 14 hours of light. The general range is 10-14 hours. I highly suggest getting a timer and just setting it for 14 hours on and 10 hours off. It will save you time and worry.

Watering should always be done from the bottom. Just fill the seed stray and whatever water is not taken up in 20-30 minutes, pour out. This method is a time saver and it cuts down on potential disease. You need to water your plants when the top of the starting mix dries out. The top typically dries out first.




After your plants have been growing for about two weeks, to keep it simple, just give the 1/2 strength liquid fertilizer each time you water them. You can use starting mix with fertilizer. I do add fertilizer to my starting mixes I make. Nothing is set in stone. You start the feedings when the first true leaves appear and get some size to them..




Starting tomatoes Indoors - Transplanting Them to the Garden

Remember you have to acclimate them to the outdoors. Slowly introduce them to the sun over a week. Once they are ready for the big leagues, you can put them in to the ground. The soil temperature should be around 50 degrees as should the nights. If you put them out early, they often just sit and don't grow until the temperatures are right.





There are many ways to prepare a planting hole. You should generally loosen the soil to a foot. Put in some balanced fertilizer and add some pulverized eggshell or lime into the bottom of the hole and mix it in. That helps with a disease called blossom end rot. I also suggest adding a teaspoon of Epsom Salts or magnesium sulfate. That general preparation should get your tomato transplants off to a great start!






A tomato will root from its stem. When you plant your tomato transplant in the hole you can cover 1/2 to 1/3 of the bottom stem. This helps to get  the roots deeper into the soil and make for a sturdier plant. There are many ways to plant a tomato. Nothing is exact. You can use what you like from different sources and develop your own method. These are some videos that show you how I do it and you will even notice changes I have made over time.

Good Luck In Your Garden!
Gary







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Monday, January 13, 2014

Join My G+ Garden Community for 2014 Called: Our Tomato and Vegetable Gardens

Join My G+ Garden Community for 2014 Called: 

I am inviting you to join my  G+ garden community that was started last year. It is approaching 3000 world gardeners. It is a place where you can share your garden, talk to gardeners from around the globe and learn something if you need a bit of help. Or better yet.... help out another gardener that might have a problem that you have already solved.

All aspects of gardening are covered. Seed Starting, Diseases and Pests, Planting and Tending, Greenhouses, Indoor Lighting, Container Gardening, Recipes, Fruits, Flowers, Perennial Plants, Herbs and Tomatoes of course are all represented. Come add to the fun!


I am hoping the 2014 season brings a lot of pictures and videos from everyone's garden to the community. The cool thing is that a lot of gardeners are in full swing because it is summer in their area. There are also a lot of gardeners that live in the tropics and can garden almost year round.

Thanks
Gary

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