Welcome to the Jungle!!!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

2011 Heirloom Tomato Plant Starters
Like the song says -- "It gets worse here everyday."

Little did Guns N' Roses know that they would be singing about MY heirloom tomato plant starters!

Look at it and weep kids -- this is the SAD state of Bill & Venus Bird's heirloom seed starting effort later this year. The plants to your right have now shot past the shoplights. I can't set them any higher. Those lights are on the highest setting I have.

Never in my life did I think that I would grow three foot high heirloom tomato plant starters -- but the pictures do not lie. This is the sad state of a Bird bedroom at the moment. And with the rain pounding against a windowsill on a dreary and dark Saturday afternoon -- combined with gardening areas that are completely waterlogged -- I have come to the following conclusion:

There will be no "early spring planting" this year. Heck -- I'm still waiting for a day resembling spring to arrive. I haven't seen it. Nobody in Northern California has. And -- as bad as we have it down in the Natomas basin (that's the riverbottom folks) -- heirloom tomato growers further up the hill have it even worse than we do.

Welcome to the Tomato Jungle
Those gardens are buried under a couple of feet of fresh snowfall. Know what that means? Tomato season is still more than a few weeks off my friends.

It would not have been safe to plant out now anyway. April weather in these parts is rather "fickle." Still -- most of us gardening types would have at least liked a glimpse or two of spring sunshine. But there's been nothing like it around here for far too long.

My only hope? Next week's weather forecast. I must say, it does look rather promising. But that's next week. What am I supposed to do with these monsters in the meantime?

My attempts to encourage stronger and thicker stem growth have most been a failure. Three weeks ago the wonderful wife that is Venus and I staked each starter plant and started feeing them with fish emulsion fertilizer, which is nitrogen-rich.

Canopy of GREEN!
The end result? Oh, the starter plants flourished alright. You can tell that by the photos. But instead of encouraging stem growth, the staking and fertilizing resulted leggy plants that are now ten inches to a foot higher than they were three weeks ago. There's no doubt in my mind now that I will have to transplant these leggy starters into larger cups during the hardening off process -- that much is sure.

But the real danger is -- after transplanting -- is that Venus and I will lose the use of the shuttle trays that have made transportation such a snap. Each tray holds ten starter cups. Moving fifty starter plants from one place to another isn't all that difficult when you're dealing with five trays.

However -- moving fifty individual starter plants from one place to another does present a host of problems. The shuttle trays will not accommodate the larger sized transplant cups -- which means we will have to move each starter plant by hand, two to three at a time.  Although we could probably do this once or twice, it can't be a regular part of the hardening off process.

Leggy Starters: Still Leggy!

So, we'll hope and pray that next week's warm weather will at least stick around for awhile. While the plants will be placed under a covered patio that will guard them from rain and direct sun, it won't guard against another cold, howling rainstorm that lasts for days (or weeks) on end.

So, it is somewhat of a gamble.

But -- should the sunshine and warmer temperatures arrive next week as the forecasts promise -- and stick around -- the payoff will be bushy and vibrant heirloom tomato plant starters during plantout. The thought of a spring rain doesn't bother me much. In fact, the plants seem to like a warm drenching from time to time.

However, should another cold, gusty, gully-buster arrive in mid-April? That spells trouble with a capital T. I'd come home to the rather distressing sight of heirloom tomato plant starters tossed about the Back 40.

That's never a good sign. Keep your fingers crossed. Mine most certainly are.


dave said...

Never liked that song, but it is appropriate. Don't worry, we're gonna be sweating next week!

Anonymous said...

Bill, I feel your pain. I put my potatoes out weeks ago to "chit", and now my chits have chits! (can you grow potatoes on your kitchen counter? I just might find out) We stared our first compost pile, thinking the wet weather was behind us, and now its floating down the Nile. My strawberries are begging for mercy, and even the lettuce doesn't want to show. The only silver lining is that it will force me to wait to plant my tomatoes, so the broccoli might have a chance to set seed before I rip them out. I'm not exactly the most patient person, as I've been told, so forced nail-biting must be good for me.


Greg Damitz said...

Those are some tall starters. Maybe you can put some phone books under the light stands 9(: