Tags: April planting of tomatoes, avoiding moisture stress in the garden, container gardening, drought protection, growing tomatoes in containers, growing vegetables in containers, heirloom tomato, herbs in containers, journaling coda, planting tomato plants below the soil line, Rutgers tomato, the inception of the Victory Garden
Well, it seems like it’s that time finally. I mentioned when I first established this blog that because it was being envisioned as a photographic garden journal, and since I was only beginning it in early August, that obviously I would run out of things to post during the winter and would have to return to the photos taken way back in the spring, B.B. (Before Blog), and rely on my memory to report some of the progress of the garden back then.
It feels like a coda to me. We’re going back to an earlier part of the music and re-covering old ground, right up until the point where we catch up to our former place in the piece. If you have no idea what I just said, don’t worry. You’ll get the idea in this and subsequent posts.
I went back through my photo storage disks last night, and here is the first photo I could find of any gardening activity in the spring. A few pots with herbs in them, rosemary and oregano, chives and thyme and sage. You can also see my ‘Rutgers’ tomato sitting on top of the soil, not yet planted because the potting soil was too soggy for me to amend it and plant.
Notice how the soil level is well below the pot’s rim? That’s because you can plant a tomato quite deep, leaving only the top few inches of stem and a few leaves above the soil line, and it will root all along its stem, wherever there is moisture. (You might remember this bizarre example of that from the time of the deluge.) My grandfather taught me to always plant deeply, so as to establish the strongest possible root system early in the season.
The downside to this is that your plant will produce its first tomatoes slightly behind the plants planted normally. But if there’s a drought, your tomato will withstand the stress much more readily, since it has a deeper root structure with which to pull any available moisture from the earth.
How do I know this? Well, I’d learned some of those lessons already, from reading a bit and from Granddaddy’s instruction. But I did do a planting of identical cultivars of cherry tomato this summer, some buried deep, and some planted as they grew, just to get a clear illustration for my own benefit.
My takeaway from the experiment: plant at least one plant so that it will produce tomatoes as early as possible, because tomato lust is really building around late June/early July, and you will not care so much if you have to water that one a wee bit more than the others — especially once you bite into your first ripe tomato.
If you’re planting in a pot, you can do a combination of both. Plant a couple of inches of stem below the soil line, but don’t fill the pot up completely with soil and compost. Leave a few inches that you can fill as the plant grows, slowly burying the stem as it grows above the rim. You get a stronger root system, gradually, and those tomatoes will come just as soon as if you’d put the whole plant above the rim. Plus, honestly, pot-grown vegetables can use all the help they can get to withstand moisture stress, and you’ll be so glad you did that come the dog days of August.
As to when you can plant for the earliest harvest, you’d need to talk to the locals. In Georgia, my grandfather always cautioned me to wait until May 1, no matter what. In Montreal, if I remember correctly, it was something crazy, like June 9th. I’m so overeager that waiting until May 1 feels like it requires the patience of a goddess. A local told me he’s had success as early as April 15th, but not to plant my whole crop then, just in case.
This ‘Rutgers’ was planted in its container on April 21st, and did just fine. I thought, at the time I planted it, that that would be my entire garden, the little container planting on the corner of the porch. Amazing how little we know about the future!
(If you want to read more of the story of the garden’s inception, check this out.)