Archive for the ‘Compost’ Category

My First Big Tomato of Spring (And Updates)

Early Girl 2016 03 12I already had some small-sized tomatoes in my Winter/Spring garden (as you see in this post).  I also mused on which of  the larger tomato variety would set fruit first.  I speculated it would be between Big Boy and Early Girl.

Big Boy had blossoms open first — but Early Girl managed to set the first fruit!  (She just kinda snuck right in there.)

I have some surprising (to me) updates.  And yes, I do plan to have a video walk-through, but I thought I’d wait until I actually had a little more going on — it’s always nice to be able to show larger tomatoes, rather than have to get super-close for the itty-bitty ones.

Update

My first update is that I have my Isis Candy cherry tomatoes in the garden — I finally got around to taking them off my windowsill and into larger (temporary) pots in the garden.  I actually ended up with four plants, instead of the three I mentioned before.  But — I still do plan on an experiment when they get into their final homes.

The experiment involves two new humic acid products — TeraVite and Extreme Blend.  I keep hearing that humic acid will help your plants (of all kinds) grow bigger, stronger, etc.  So — may as well put them to the test!  I was only expecting three I. Candy plants to grow large enough, soon enough.  But…with four plants, I may throw in another test — one plant may get Miracle-Gro (I have a ton of it leftover, so may as well use it up) and the final plant will be the control.

Should be interesting!

Surprises

Black Cherry -- may not look very impressive, but it's twice the size it was last week.

Black Cherry — may not look very impressive, but it’s twice the size it was last week.

I mentioned previously that my Black Cherry tomato plant was just languishing — wasn’t dying, wasn’t growing — just looking like it did when I planted it.  Of course, a couple days after I said that, what do I see?  The plant has taken off!  It was so sudden that I wondered if someone had come in the middle of the night and put a new plant in its place.

(The “secret sauce” is worm compost tea, which I’ll talk about in another post.)

Big Beef 2016 03 12Another surprise was Big Beef.  It had been going gangbusters, until I had to transplant it to another pot (which had been invaded by fire ants).  It seemed to be OK at first, then just stopped in its tracks.

I guess the worm compost tea did some magic on it as well, as I see a small ‘mater on it — woo hoo!

I am very much looking forward to having some homegrown tomatoes.  I have some lettuce growing (which has been delicious), but I need some delicious tomatoes, too!  It’s hard to wait, but with any luck, the first of the cherry tomatoes will start ripening within about 10 days.

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Soil for Container Gardening

You’ve decided to create a container garden of one or more containers, or are using raised beds.  You have the containers/beds…but what do you fill them with?  As I mentioned in my tomatoes in containers post, it’s time to talk soil.Tomato in a Container

Ready Made or Mix Your Own?

To be honest, I would rather go with pre-bagged, if I could find exactly what I wanted, in the amounts I needed, at a good price.  Given that I am still trying to fill something along the lines of 15 containers from 5 to 25 gallons each, that doesn’t quite work out — for me or the plants.  For that kind of quantity, quality bagged potting soil can be expensive.  However, if you are just filling a couple of 5 gallon containers, bagged potting soil might be just right for you.

The most important thing for container plants is that the roots have enough water and air.  In order for water and air to penetrate the soil, it needs little spaces to slip into.

As a somewhat exaggerated example, it’s almost impossible for air and water to penetrate much into concrete.  However, water and air pass easily through gravel.  (Although I don’t recommend trying to grow in either, LOL.)  😉

So what you are looking for is soil that has enough space for air and water, but not so much that water pours right though it.  Just keep thinking about Goldilocks and getting the mixture “just right”.  😉

Potting Mix, Garden Soil – What’s the Difference?

A potting mix is made especially for growing plants in containers.  A bag of garden soil, though, is made to be mixed in with your current soil — not just placed in your containers without any intervention.

A good potting mix is fluffy, with plenty of perlite or vermiculite and sphagnum peat moss or coconut coir (in addition to compost, of course).  Garden soil tends to be heavy, with little or no perlite, vermiculite or moss/coir.  Putting the bagged garden soil into your containers without lightening it up some will doom your plants to a slow death.  Or at the very least, a much smaller harvest, because the plant roots have a hard time breathing.

What About “Mel’s Mix”?

Mel Bartholomew, of Square Food Gardening (SFG) fame, recommends the following mix.  Although I don’t use the SFG method with the grid, etc., I do like the basics of his soil mix.  It is:

  • 1/3 Compost
  • 1/3 Vermiculite
  • 1/3 Peat Moss or Coconut Coir

The catch is that the compost needs to be from several sources.  In other words, look at the ingredients that go into  the compost you plan to use.  If you’re not making the compost yourself (and maybe even if you are), you don’t want everything to be from one source.

For example, instead of buying 3 bags of compost that are all based on cow manure, you would want a bag of the cow manure-based compost, one of humus-based and another of poultry litter-based.

That being said, if you can’t find compost made from varying ingredients, try to at least get some from different manufacturers.

BTW, I do recommend reading Mel’s book, the All New Square Foot Gardening, Second Edition.

Other Ingredients?

Well, there are other “goodies” you can use to feed your soil, but that is a whole separate post.  I’ll come back and put a link to that post when I have it completed.  I am doing some experimenting, and so far the results have been quite interesting.

Mixing it Up

I typically mix my contain gardening soil up in a wheelbarrow — those 20 gallon pots really take a lot to fill them up!  But sometimes, I only need to make up enough for a small planter.

For a small batch, I get one of those 5-gallon buckets (like you can get at Home Depot or Lowes) and scoop in a few trowels worth of compost.  Next I’ll put in a trowel of vermiculite, another of perlite and then a scoop or two of coconut coir.  I’ll mix that around with my trowel until it’s nice and blended, then pour it into its pot.

If the pot doesn’t end up being quite full enough, I’ll just throw in a handful or two of each of the above, then mix it all up by hand.

Compost is Your Plant’s Friend

I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk a little more about compost.  If you have your own pile, you have ready access to it, and it’s probably full of all sorts of goodies for your tomato plants.  If you don’t have a compost pile, you’ll need to go with a bagged compost.

When you walk down the aisles of your garden center, you’re likely to find several different brands of bagged compost.  Take a look at the bags and read the ingredients.  In Florida where I live, it’s heavy on the composted cow manure — believe it or not, we’re one of the top states for producing cattle (and you just thought we were beaches).  What’s harder to find are composts from forest humus or mushroom compost.  Read the labels, and if you can, get at least two different kinds.  Each type is a little different with the (good) soil bacteria and/or (good) fungi, and so provides a more balanced set of nutrients.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that all you need in your container is compost, though — it’s a bit too heavy (been there, done that).  You will need to mix it with one or more of the perlite, vermiculite, etc. before planting your tomatoes in it.

For the few times I’ve planted in straight compost, the plants didn’t do so great.  Yes, they grew and produced tomatoes but they seemed didn’t grow or produce as well as the containers where I had a mix.

Whew — that was a long post.  Hopefully this has been helpful for you!

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Worm Composting

Worm composting is a way to generate worm castings. Why do you want to add worm castings to your tomatoes? Because they organically feed both the plants and the soil.

What Exactly is Worm Composting?

Worm composting is also known as vermicomposting, it’s a somewhat unusual way to recycle your kitchen scraps.

Basically, the worms eat the scraps, and after they have digested it, excrete the “leftovers”. These leftovers are called castings and they are a superb soil conditioner and plant fertilizer. Worms are amazing; they can eat almost their own body weight a day. Naturally you won’t have just a few worms; 500 is a good number to start with. More if you generate a lot of kitchen scraps every day.

Where Can You Vermicompost?

Worm composting can be done anywhere where the temperature is moderate and the bin isn’t in direct sunlight (in warm climates). You don’t want to cook your worms!

The best termperature for your hard-working worms is between 55 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. You don’t want the bin temperature to go below 50 or over 88 degrees Fahrenheit. This may mean you need to put the bin inside your home in a spare corner. Not to worry, once your worms have settled in and started munching, there is no smell, providing you haven’t overloaded the tray with scraps.

Getting Started with Worm Composting

To get started with worm composting, you’ll need some trays, bedding and (naturally) worms. Red wrigglers are the best worms for vermicomposting. To get some of these hard-working worms, you can try a local bait shop. No bait shop nearby? You can order them online, to be shipped to you.

Check with a gardening center to see if they have worm composting trays. If they don’t, you can easily order them online. You’ll want at least a 3-tray system, with 4 or 5 trays even better.

The worm bedding can be anything organic, like coir, shredded newspaper (black and white only; no color printing), sawdust, hay, dried leaves — anything to mimic the worm’s natural environment. The bedding should be very slightly moist, but not soggy or wet.

Add the kitchen scraps (shredded or chopped a bit so they are easier for the worms to eat) and let the worms have at it!

Here’s a neat article on worm compostingicon to explain all the ins and outs of this novel way to compost.

You might have an organic garden shop near to you that carries worm composting supplies; if you do — great! Get your trays, worms and bedding and you’re all set.

If you don’t have anywhere locally to get your worms or supplies, check out some ideas below.

Here’s to your composting success!

Worm Composting Bins

Red Wiggler Worms

Earthworm Castings (for those of you who would rather buy ready-made)

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