Thursday, April 12, 2007
A Day For Growing Things
So this is what I woke up to this morning, dear reader. To quote Marlon Brando from his role in Apocalypse Now: "The horror." I also thought that it would be a suitable day to start my gardening portion since I can't actually do anything in the garden.
Before I get to the exciting business of separating and transplanting I'll share with you what my veggie garden will be consisting of this year:
- tomatoes (beefsteak and plum variety, maybe cherry)
- summer squash (zucchini and patty pan)
- sweet corn
As you can tell, I do love my root vegetables. Hopefully this summer we'll be able to get our cold cellar properly sealed so I'll have a place to store all these little earthy treats. I may also grow beans but I'm still contemplating that one.
Today I'll be sharing with you the joys of transplanting seedlings. I started my tomatoes about 2 weeks ago in peat pots with a potting soil (Miracle-Gro, to be exact) and all of my seedlings are housed in one of those plastic windowsill- style green house things that you can buy at Wal-Mart or hardware stores for about $5-$15 depending on how big you want it. I use Miracle-Gro potting soil because it 's one of the least expensive soils, I can't justify paying a lot of money for a bag of dirt, and it has vermiculite in it. Without getting too complicated, vermiculite is simply an organic substance added to potting soils to help retain water in the soil so that you don't have to water as frequently. There's your potting soil lesson for today.
As for tomatoes, they're in the same gardening family as peppers, eggplant and the like and are warm weather lovers. Tomatoes are both tempermental and hardy. I say this because they can tolerate a fair bit of rough handling and require little maintenance, making them ideal for beginning vegetable gardeners, but they are quite sensitive to the weather and soil conditions. We'll talk about weather and soil preparation in another post, though.
So we start off with little tomato seedlings (in this case they're beefsteak tomatoes) that have been growing now for about 2 weeks:
They look spindly, and they are. When I first started gardening I would've looked at these little guys, shaken my head and thrown them out thinking they weren't up to par. I know better now and these seedlings are quite fine. You may also notice that there's some mould forming on the pots. That I don't like, but it happens from time to time and since these guys are going to be transplanted to new homes I'm not overly concerned about it.
If you do have mould forming there's a product you can buy called "No Damp Off" and all it is is dried, shredded peat moss. It absorbs any extra dampness you may be getting on your plants and makes a super mulch.
This photo is just for size purposes and so you can see how erratically these plants are growing. Not only do they need a new home, they need to be shortened. The plants will be separated now and will each go into their own peat pots and I'll be shortening them so their stems can get stronger and their roots can develop more.
The first step to transplanting is to get the pots ready for the plants. Peat pots come attached but I like to break them apart so I can move them around more easily. The pots I'm using are the small ones (2") and before I move the plants to the new pots I put about 1/4" of potting soil into the new pots and lightly mist the soil with water. You can see the prepped pots below:
The seedlings must be removed from the old pots and transferred to the new ones. This is where tomatoes prove that they're an ideal "beginner" vegetable. Normally transplanting is a delicate process and requires you not only to be gentle in handling the young plant but also to make sure that the root system remains as intact as possible. With tomatoes...not so much. As long as you're careful in handling the plant and get most of the roots, you're good to go. In my case, because the plants are spindly there's not much in the way of roots:
Looks pretty sorry, eh? Don't worry, by mid-summer this tiny little plant will be toppling over with tomatoes.
This plant will now go into one of the prepped pots and what I will do is place it in and cover the roots with soil and then "fold" the stem over slightly, cover with more soil, do another "fold", cover that with more soil and keep doing that until I only have a teeny bit of the stem showing and the leaves. All of the plants are transplanted in the same manner. Below is what they look like after all is said and done:
what I should also note about transplanting is that you should wait until the seedling has at least the first set of "true leaves". True leaves are the leaves that appear after the first two leaves come up. These tomatoes have their first set of true leaves making them big enough to transplant. This isn't a hard and fast rule but to keep the plant as strong as possible it's best to just follow it.
Now the plants will get misted with water and will go back under the plastic dome. Depending on how fast they grow they may get transplanted again to larger peat pots but if it's not necessary then they'll stay in these ones until it's time to plant.
That, dear reader, is how you transplant seedlings. Some folks will add a root growth formula or some other form of fertilizer but I prefer not to do that because I don't want to speed the growth of anything at this point. If transplanting seems too daunting I suggest starting the seeds in the largest peat pot you can find. If you do this just remember that you'll need to plant deep in the pot and leave lots of room to top up the soil as the plant grows taller.
That's gardening for this week. What will happen next week? Who knows, depends on the weather...