2017 Tomato Update (Part 3)

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Well, tonight is January 24th, and some of my tomato plants are well past due for needing a transplant. So why don’t you come along for the ride?

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I like to use recycled containers when I can. For one, it’s supposed to be good for the environment (or something like that, I’ve heard). And for two, these sour cream and cottage cheese tubs are a great size and cost me no extra money. I’d have to say that’s my favorite part about using them, especially in the early part of the year when money tends to be tight. You’ll notice my handy drill right next to them with an absolutely monstrous bit in the chuck. That’s because these need drainage holes and I don’t feel like going through these containers one-by-one.

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All I do is flip the stack upside down on my workbench, and drill the hole pattern you see above. I’ve found that three holes to do more that a sufficient job in draining excess water. Also note where I’ve drilled the holes: in the lowest part of the tubs. I’ve chosen these spots because I do not want any standing water to remain in my containers. “Wet feet” is almost a guarantee for root rot. And root rot is no fun to deal with, especially in Winter.

After I drill the holes, I scoop up some potting mix. And yes, this year I sprung for new potting mix – usually I reuse my old stuff if I have it handy. After they’re filled, I press the top of the soil down, and then swirl up a little hole with an old soup spoon. Now if you’re wondering why I bother to press the dirt down if I’m just going to make a hole, check out the picture below:

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See how much the  soil compressed? If I wait to press the soil until after I’ve added my transplants, then I have to add much more dirt at the end. Also, the base of my transplant ends up lower in the container, leaving less room for the roots to grow.

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So check out the hole I made. Only about an inch and a half deep, and maybe a little bit wider. Really I’m just going for a hole that will accommodate the plug of soil from my sprouting flat.

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Once that’s done, I grab that handy ol’ spoon again, and get to prying my plants out of the flat-cell. I’ve found that the flat handle of the spoon also does a great job of loosening up the edges of the plug if the scoop happens to be a bit too cumbersome.

So check these Bad Boys out! Nice healthy stems, good plant height, and a good ball of roots. Notice how the roots are not tangling all together around the outside of the plug. That’s definitely a good thing. If they were all tangled up and net-like (like the plants you get from most stores’ garden centers), then they are root-bound. Most of these plants will end up growing just fine if you take care of them, but there does seem to be some lag in growth versus plants like the one you see above without any root-binding.

Anyway, I take the transplant and plop it down (gently, of course) into the hole I had made. I scoot the stirred up dirt at the edges of the pot back around the plant, and gently press it down around the root ball.

I add more dirt to the top of the pot, and press that around the transplant too. I want to build the dirt up to just a fraction of an inch above where the base of the plant was in the sprouting flat. Now the reason I add a little more dirt, is because the dirt will settle down a bit when the plants get watered. Which brings me to my next step:

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Water in those transplants! This helps to settle the dirt around the root ball and helps to bubble out any big pockets of air that may be trapped in the soil. While it is true that plants need to get oxygen down to their roots, it’s also important to note that they do not generally like vast voids of empty space underneath them. So to avoid this, it’s just good practice to water in a new plant, whether it be potted or out in the yard.

And when I say water in your plants, I mean flood the buggers! I like to get my plants sitting in a soup. A soup that I’ve made by very gently pouring in my water, I might add. I like to avoid disturbing the soil too much. After all, I don’t want to have to pack it all back in again. But be sure to take a look at that picture on the right. See all that water draining out? That’s what I want to see. And that’s why the drain holes are there. When I have water dripping out of the bottom of my pots, then I know that every inch of that soil is holding as much water as it can. I don’t keep my soil this way, I like to let it dry out a little between heavier waterings. But I definitely want to see this at the first watering.

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So that’s the process, really. I just do that for all the plants I want to transplant, then I rearrange them under my lights. The clamp lights still have the incandescents in them. I still want that extra heat for now. I have, however, added another lamp (the silver desk lamp off to the right) with a CFL in it. Notice that the CFL is closest to the new transplants. That’s because these plants are large enough that the heat from the incandescent bulbs will actually start to scorch the leaves as they grow up taller and closer to the lights. All they need now is light, not heat.

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So for those keeping track: 24 days ago, these plants were just seeds. And this is the reason why I start my tomatoes so early. It’s such an exciting addition to an otherwise lackluster time of year for the gardener.

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Also, be sure to keep in touch and find out (along with me!) what this interesting little volunteer will be. I did not plant this seed, at least not on New Year’s Day, but it came up anyway, and looked interesting enough to keep. I’m fairly certain it’s from some flowers I had planted in this flat last year, but at this point I have no clue what it is. Oh well, it’s just some more excitement to see unfold!

I hope you’ve had a good time transplanting with me. And I hope there’s some new things you’ll want to try.

Until next time, Happy Transplanting!

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