Tomatoes on Their Own

A while back I bought too many seeds. And then I planted them. So before I knew it I had too many seedlings.

Here are my little baby tomatoes back in March. Aren’t they cute?

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Here they are last weekend. Not so cute anymore.

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This poor seed tray was overrun with tomatoes, tomatillos, eggplants, peppers, melons, and cabbages. The tomatoes were the real problem children – they got so big they flopped over and started to grow up again at a 90 degree angle, shading everybody in the process.

After an unseasonably warm winter, early May was unusually cold. I waited as long as I could, but finally had to give up and move them outside. The nights could be warmer, but the danger of frost seems to have passed. And these things can’t keep growing in the living room.

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I got three varieties of tomatoes and grew three plants of each. I have a second plot in the community garden this year, but there’s still nowhere near enough space, so I’m going container crazy. I got a few 7 gallon fabric grow bags, and boy do they hold a lot of dirt. If the tomatoes aren’t happy with this amount of space, I don’t know what to tell them.

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You can bury tomatoes deep when you transplant them, which is nice when your seedlings are over two feet tall. Even so, they have some very funny bends to them. I tried to angle them toward the bars of the cage and tied them gently in place. With any luck they’ll grow up straightish from here.

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Since the nights are still chilly, I wrapped the cages in plastic painters’ drop cloths. The idea was to retain a little bit of heat, but as evening fell and the wind picked up, I decided they’d be even better for wind protection. I did harden the seedlings off over the course of several days, but spending your first night outside in the wind and tied to a stake would be rough on anybody.

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The end result was a pretty sturdy set of tents. It wasn’t supposed to get below freezing, and I wasn’t looking for a repeat of the hoop house – all I wanted was a little extra protection.

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I did put a few tomatoes in my garden plot as well, and I gave them the same wrap treatment. The wind in the garden is considerably stronger than at my house, and I was slightly worried I’d just tied my seedlings to big sails… They survived the first few nights, and then I took the plastic off due to rising temperatures and sheer anxiety.

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Five days later all the plants are doing well. No one has wilted and no one has gotten wrenched in half by a gust. Last year’s tomato season was something of a bust, so I’m really hoping for a good showing this summer.

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With nine plants, I have the numbers on my side.

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Lemon Hope

My lemon tree has had a strange winter. It’s shot up by a few feet and is about as tall as I am. And it’s lost a lot of its leaves…

Both very good reasons to give it a bigger pot.

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This tree has never given me a lemon and perhaps it never will, but I love it anyway.

I planted it from a seed three years ago when I moved to Providence. In a fit of gardening I went to the grocery store and bought every food I thought I could plant. The only remnants are this tree and my prized ugly rosemary bush, grown from a sprig.

I bought a 16″ pot with a false bottom that’s supposed to be self-watering. Citrus trees need a lot of water, so I’m hoping this helps.

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First I had to get the tree out of its old pot. I gently turned it on its side. Some loose soil fell out, but but almost all of it was bound up in the root ball.

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It took some doing to get the root ball out of the pot. I banged on the sides and bottom and yanked gently on the trunk. The trunk is a good centimeter in diameter and very woody, but this was rougher than I wanted to be with it. I was about to get the shears to cut the pot away when the whole thing popped out all at once.

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The roots had started to circle around the bottom – not ideal. I loosened them up a little with my fingers, so hopefully they’ll spread out in their new home.

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I made a bed of a few inches of potting soil and set the tree on top of it. At some point in the winter it sprouted this new little stalk from the base of its trunk. It’s the healthiest part of the tree and my failsafe – if the main plant gets worse I’ll lop everything off and hope this little guy makes it.

There are some new leaves higher up, though, so I’m hoping for the best.

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I filled the pot up too high with potting soil and worked in some kelp meal. I’ll have to research what lemon trees like to eat, but in the meantime I get the impression that you can’t go wrong with kelp.

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I filled the pot even more too high with buckwheat hulls to keep the moisture in. My dad has forever put bits and bobs in his potted plants, so I do too. They’re especially helpful for holding the hulls in place and dispersing the watering can’s stream more evenly.

The bits and bobs featured here are oyster and scallop shells, a rusted railroad tie, and some rocks from Iceland.

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I’ve put the tree in a dappled shade part of the driveway. I’ll move it to full sun eventually, but this is already a big change from its window inside, and I don’t want it getting scorched.

Hopefully it starts to recover those lost leaves.

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Maybe someday I’ll even get a lemon.

Containers Galore!

Summer weather has hit New England, which means I can finally transplant my hot weather plants outside. This is good news for my seedlings, which are getting so big the word “seedling” has become generous. It’s even better news for my living room, which has been slowly returning to nature as the eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, -grow operationand melons get more and more unruly. Here they are back in April, when they were already getting a little big for their britches.

As they grew I gradually moved them to bigger containers, which I precariously stacked and arranged so each one would get its place in the sun (or grow light). When daytime temperatures started getting reasonable, I took to hauling them down to the driveway from our second floor apartment, one armful at a time, to harden them off. Which of course meant schlepping them back up the stairs in the afternoon before big bad night came.

But now summer is here, and I’m tired of schlepping, which means it’s time for all good eggplants to get out and enjoy the weather, even if the nights get a little chilly from time to time. I managed to fit one tomato, one eggplant, and two peppers in my garden plot where the radishes had been, but since I may have gotten a little carried away with my cold season vegetables, that’s all that’s going to fit. Which means container time!-eggplants

I used some old store-bought containers I had kicking around, but since I’m going for mass production (on a one-person scale, at least) I quickly ran out. I visited the florist department at my local grocery store where they were kind enough to unload a bunch of big used plastic buckets on me for free! After I’d drilled some drainage holes in the bottoms, I had a huge supply of big and sturdy containers for my vegetable plants! As a bonus, they’re black, which means they’ll hold the heat better and hopefully trick my hot weather plants into thinking they live at a lower latitude than they do.

I’ve got a row along the south-facing wall of my driveway, and another row along the south-facing wall of the house, which I’m calling the Secret Garden. Really it’s a three foot wide strip of concrete between the house and the neighbors’ yard, but I’m doing my best to glam it up.back garden 2

Glamorous.