OSU vs farmers almanac

jessjamesonApril 2, 2014

When to plant tomatoes outside? Farmers almanac says mid April, OSU says early may. My greenhouse is too too too crowded and I need to move outside. I would like to do it this weekend. Am I crazy?

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If you decided to plant this weekend, be prepared to cover them when we get more cold spells.

Ground temperature may still be on the cool side, so growth may be slow.

Personally I'm holding off till may. afterall we still have the cold Easter snap and when blackberries bloom cold snap to go.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2014 at 11:54AM
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Well, my tomato plants are already out.... :)

    Bookmark   April 2, 2014 at 11:54AM
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If you decided to plant this weekend, be prepared to cover them when we get more cold spells.

Ground temperature may still be on the cool side, so growth may be slow.

Personally I'm holding off till may. afterall we still have the cold Easter snap and when blackberries bloom cold snap to go.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2014 at 11:57AM
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It depends on where you are. Mine are planted, but I'm in the southwest corner of the state. Most parts of the state, it's probably too early. Technically, it's too early here too but I do what I want. I may still have to cover, but I'm willing to risk it. It's already supposed to be 90 here today so I have to plant as early as I can to beat the heat. Someone in say, Tulsa, doesn't have to worry about that as much as I do here and can afford to wait.


    Bookmark   April 2, 2014 at 2:12PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Oklahoma State University says early May? Really? Are you sure you weren't looking at something from The Ohio State University? (grin) It can't be that you were looking at something from Oregon State University, because that info likely would have told you to plant in June.

The Oklahoma Garden Planning Guide from our OSU shows a range of recommended planting dates for tomatoes, and it is (and always has been for as long as I've lived here) April 10 - 30, with the earlier date for the southeastern-most part of the state, the latest date for the northwestern-most part of the state, and all of us who live in between the two extremes just choose a date in that range that makes sense for us.

I normally do not plant by the calendar because a tomato plant doesn't care if the calendar date is March 1st, April 15th, or May 30th. What a plant needs is soil that is a warm enough temperature (nothing lower than 50 degrees, and 55-60 degrees is even better for tomato plants) to allow it to grow and air temperatures that remain well above freezing (hopefully nothing below 50 degrees for a prolonged period of time). So, I plant when my soil temperatures and air temperatures are staying in the right range.

I've had my first 20 tomato plants in the ground for a few weeks now, but in order to plant that early, I take certain precautions. I grow them in a raised bed since raised beds heat up more quickly, and I pre-warm the soil by putting clear plastic over it to warm it up even more. Every tomato plant has a 5-gallon bucket filled with water sitting on its north side to serve as a solar collector. The water heats up during the day and releases heat at night and helps keep the plants warm if the night is a little chillier than I'd like. I also have floating row cover stored in the garage and can throw it over the hoops that are set up over the tomato bed if the temperatures are going to drop too low. The specific kind of row cover I used is extra heavy-duty and gives 10 degrees of cold protection.

I plant some plants early every year so we can be harvesting ripe tomatoes before the end of April. That way, if things go as planned, we will be eating fresh tomatoes from our garden from the end of April until sometime in late November or in December.

Because I am careful about covering them up any time I think the overnight lows may dip into the 30s, I haven't lost a tomato plant to freezing or frosty weather since 2008 (when our forecast low was for 50 degrees but the actual low was 32).

I have a greenhouse full of home-grown tomato plants and I won't put them in the ground until next week because they are more precious to me than the 20 store-bought tomato plants that already are in the ground.

We don't know where you are in the state, but if you are in the southern half of the state, check your 7-day or 10-day forecast and see if the air temperatures look good before you decide whether or not to plant. I wouldn't have plants in the ground this early if I wasn't in extreme southcentral OK---so far south that Texas sits to my west, south and east. My soil temperatures on a daily basis are easily hitting the 70s for part of each day, and are averaging in the 60s. Our air temps see-saw up and down but are warm more than they are cold.

The reason I plant early is not only to get fruit earlier, but to get a larger harvest overall. Being so far south, sometimes the temperatures that are hot enough to impede fruit set will arrive in May, although June is more typical. So, the earlier I plant them, the more fruit they'll set before the weather gets too hot for pollination to occur consistently.

I have figured out how and when to plant them and how to treat them in order to get the plants to produce what we want more or less when we want it. This involves observing my own weather conditions and being prepared to protect the plants if late cold weather threatens. To make early planting work for you, you have to be prepared to do the same based on your soil temperatures and your air temperatures.

Our weather has been all over the place in recent weeks, with highs as high as 88 degrees and lows as low as 10 to 15 degrees. Mostly, though, it has been perfect tomato-growing weather and you can tell it by looking at the plants in the ground---they are growing rapidly and are setting fruit. We have a couple of nights coming up with lows in the 40s, and I'll throw the row cover over the tomato bed on those afternoons in order to hold in the heat and protect the plants. It only takes a minute because I have hoops set up over the bed so it is just a matter of walking down to the garden from the barn with the row cover, tossing it over the hoops, and taking a few minutes to weigh down the edges of the fabric so the floating row cover doesn't float away when the wind blows.

Busy1 is right in mentioning May is a safe time to plant anywhere in the state, but if I wait until May, our high temps will start hitting the 90s about the same time I plant, and we won't get many fruit until fall. I find that unacceptable, so I plant as early as I can get away with planting. I'm not happy if we aren't harvesting and eating tomatoes before the end of April.

You have to decide what risk level you're willing to deal with.

The only reason I don't have all my plants in the ground already is because I don't want to have to cover up multiple rows every time a cold night threatens. Covering up one row doesn't take a long time and isn't very time-consuming, but covering up several rows would require more time and effort than I want to put into it.

I do a lot of food preservation, not only by canning food, but also by dehydrating it and by freezing it. For me, having the main crop of tomatoes ready for preservation in late May through late June works best, and early planting makes that happen. I'd rather be on my feet all day in the kitchen in May and June than in July and August when it is so much hotter. Also, by shifting the tomato canning into May and June, I have more time later in the summer to preserve all the other kinds of produce ready later in the summer.

If planting tomatoes early is a sign of craziness, I am as crazy as crazy can be.


Here is a link that might be useful: Oklahoma Garden Planning Guide

    Bookmark   April 2, 2014 at 10:12PM
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From the Farmers Almanac:

APRIL 2014
3rd-5th Poor days for planting, seeds tend to rot in the ground.
6th-7th Plant tomatoes, beans, peppers, corn, cotton, and other aboveground crops on these two most fruitful days. Plant seedbeds. Start flower gardens.

I planted 39 plants last Saturday.


    Bookmark   April 3, 2014 at 7:35AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Keith, Congrats on getting those tomato plants in the ground. To me, tomato planting is when the gardening season really begins, even though I've already had onions and other cool-season crops in the ground for weeks.

Well, I guess it is a good thing I wasn't planning to put any seeds in the ground on April 3rd-5th. We do have lots of volunteers sprouting from reseeding annuals: poppies, verbena bonariensis, Laura Bush petunias, larkspur, etc., so I know our soil is warm enough for some seeds. Even the volunteers that sprout from seeds dropped by four o'clocks and daturas are springing up, and sometimes they don't sprout until almost the end of April. Our ground is really warm this year though.

The seedlings I'm seeing the most of, unfortunately, are bindweed and lambsquarters, but I patrol the garden daily looking for those and yank out every single one I see.

I am planning to plant beans and corn next week, but not pepper plants, no matter what the Farmer's Almanac says. I think our nights are still a bit too cold for them, and I have found that putting pepper plants in the ground too early delays the harvest. I like to leave the pepper plants in the greenhouse until late April or early May, depending on what the soil temps and air temps are doing. I'm waiting for sure until after Easter because no matter how late Easter is, we always seem to get the Easter freeze the week of Easter. I get an earlier harvest from peppers put into the ground the last week of April or the first week of May than if I put them in the ground in March or April. Staying too cold for too long earlier in their little plant lives seems to slow down their growth and fruiting so much that planting them early isn't worth it. (I am glad that's not true of tomatoes!)

I also have some ornamental cotton seed to sow in flats today, particularly if this morning rain storm lasts a while and I can't go outside to the garden as early as I usually do. I should have sown the cotton seed already in the flats, but the light shelf space was full of flats of herbs and flowers and I just moved them out to the greenhouse a couple of days ago, leaving my light shelves totally bare.

I like the "start flower gardens" comment, and assume they are referring to warm-season flowers because I already have a lot of cool-season (and some warm-season) flowers in bloom in the garden.

We were in Wal-Mart and Home Depot both this week, and they had BP seedlings of every warm season plant you can imagine---muskmelons, okra, watermelons, etc., and I was looking at them and saying to myself that it is far too early for all those. Looking at our forecast, it is likely those cute little seedlings will experience overnight lows in the 40s or even the upper 30s in the next couple of days. You know that if my forecast says 41 or 42, we are likely to hit anything from 31 (or 29) to 38, and frost can form even at 39 degrees, which was one of the earliest new garden lessons I learned after moving here. I hope the stores cover up the tender hot-season plants with row cover for the next couple of nights.

Our ground is so dry that it hurts to dig in it. Yesterday I had to dig down about 9" to find moist soil in an area where nothing's been planted yet. I've only hand-watered the beds that were planted so far, and I know they have good moisture, but each time I plant a new bed, I am shocked at how dry the soil is. Drought at planting time is never a good thing....but then, neither is hail.

After the next couple of cold nights pass, I'll be out in the garden with bean seeds and corn seeds. Yay!

Today's a Red Flag Fire Warning for most of the southern half of the state, my county included, so it is likely I won't get to spend the whole day in the garden as originally planned. It's okay, though, because everything that can be planted already has been, so I'm mostly working on tedious little things, like digging out the bermuda grass that keeps trying relentlessly to creep through the garden fence and into the garden beds and paths. It won't break my heart if I don't get to dig out bermuda grass today.


    Bookmark   April 3, 2014 at 9:05AM
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I knew Dawn would give a more detailed explanation on what methods would work. I am not at home during the day so it is best for me to wait.

Would rather be at home in the garden then at work. That kinda sounded like i implied that gardening isn't work didn't it.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2014 at 9:21AM
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I don't know where I got the idea that OSU said May, glad I said something! So maybe I will try to plant Sunday if the forecast looks good. I moved my nasturtiums outside as they were taking over giving me a bit of room. How much trouble am I in if my cherry tomatoes have blooms on them when I put them in the ground. This was my first year with a greenhouse so my timing wasn't right. Overall I still consider it a great success. I also moved my artichoke out. I thought I had all of the Bermuda out of my garden plot but I see it poking its evil little head up. I am attempting the three sisters, so glad to know that next week isn't too early for corn!

    Bookmark   April 3, 2014 at 10:03AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


Now you break it to us that gardening is work? Now? Where were you 40 or 50 years ago when my dad was teaching me it was all fun and games?

Seriously, gardening is a lot of work, but it is the kind of work I like to do. Working in the garden is a lot more fun than going to work at any place of employment to earn a paycheck. I know you'd rather be at home working with the cows or in the garden or in the greenhouse because it is a more enjoyable and fulfilling kind of work.

I hope you still aren't working all those long, long days at your job. It doesn't leave much time for anything else important like gardening.

Jess, Well, it doesn't matter where you got the idea because now you've reprogrammed your mind from May to April planting.

You're not in any trouble if your tomato plants already have blooms. I put mine in the ground with both blossoms and fruit on them, but you do have options:

1) If your main goal is early fruit (as mine is with the 20 early plants every year), leave the blossoms on the plants and they'll be fine. The tradeoff, though, is that the plant is dividing its energy between making some vegetative and root growth and some fruit. So, you'll have temporarily smaller plants and somewhat slower-growing plants since some energy is already going into the fruit.

Some of the determinate plants I have in the ground (I think I have 4 determinates out of those 20 early plants) already have 5 to 7 fruit per plant, and some of those small tomatoes are already about the size of ping pong balls or slightly larger. Those plants won't make much vegetative growth until these first few fruit have ripened, but I don't care---I plant these early determinate plants specifically for early fruit. As far as I am concerned, if they never make another bit of growth, they will have done their job by producing tomatoes for us to eat in April and May. Normally, after I harvest those early fruit, the plants put on a growth spurt and produce another nice round of fruit. If they don't, it doesn't bother me, because my home-grown plants that go into the ground a bit later will be making lots of fruit by then.

2) Your second option is just to pinch off the blossoms as you transplant your plants into the ground. Why would you choose that option? Well, it would push the plants back a bit into more vegetative growth which would allow them to get bigger and stronger before setting fruit. However, once the plants are large enough that they are starting to flower, they are going to flower again fairly soon even if you pinch off the blooms. With this option, you're trading in the prospect of earlier fruit for larger, healthier plants.

To me, in our climate, Option 1 is more appealing but that's because I am a tomato hog and want fruit early and want it often. In OK, there's always the possibility that the summer heat sets in too early and shuts down tomato production almost before it begins, so I hate to sacrifice a single bloom that will produce a fruit. There's nothing worse than having big, beautiful, healthy tomato plants just starting to bloom and set fruit in May and then---WHAM! The temperatures heat up 10-20 degrees higher than average for that time of the year and the blooms start falling off the plants without setting fruit. That happens here about 1 year out of every 3 or 4, and it is difficult to know which year it will be. We had that early onset of heat in 2011, but had the opposite thing in 2012---a last frost the first week of March, so everyone who rushed their plants into the ground early in March had incredible harvests in June, much earlier than is typical. The problem is that we never know at seed-starting time if our last frost will be in March, April or May. Hence, we develop ways to work around the weather we have---whatever it may be.

The erratic nature of our spring weather makes it impossible to know with a certainty when to start seeds or even when to transplant plants into the ground. There are just too many variables involved.

In order to keep my plants from growing too quickly when they are germinating and starting indoors on the light shelf, I keep that room cool---around 60-65 degrees. This usually involves closing off the heating vent to that room and keeping the curtains closed in order to keep the room as cool as possible. I normally move the tomato plants out to the greenhouse when they are only 2 or 3 weeks old, mainly because I need to free up room on the light shelves to start other seeds, but also because the greenhouse can be kept cooler, in general, than the room inside. You can manage your greenhouse in such a way that the plants do not grow too quickly by (a) using shadecloth--the one I use is a 50% shadecloth, and (b) opening doors and vents, if you have them, to allow the greenhouse-heated air to flow out and to let cooler air flow in. It is easy here to have greenhouses get too hot during the day---without shadecloth and with both doors and all 4 vents closed, my greenhouse can hit 130-145 degrees on a sunny day in winter or spring---and it can happen by 9 or 10 a.m. The first thing I do most days when I go outside is to open the greenhouse doors and check the temperature on the Min-Max thermometer in the greenhouse. Then, depending on what the temperatures are like both inside the greenhouse and outside in the open air, I can open or close vents and doors as needed to keep the air temperatures cool enough.

It is easy for anyone to assume that when raising tomato transplants inside a greenhouse, the bigger the better, right? But that's not true. You want to put tomato plants in the ground that are the right size and not too large and not too far along in the blooming process, if they are blooming at all. Keeping the plants in the greenhouse cool enough that they make good growth but not rampant growth is your goal. Larger plants often don't transplant as well and their growth will stall after you transplant them into the ground. It pains me so say that, but it is true.

Understand that I have two separate sets of plants for a very deliberate reason---the early ones purchased the minute they hit the stores are intended to give early production. By having them, I am assured we will have early fruit to eat, and that prevents me from trying to rush my own home-grown plants into the ground before they are ready for it. Then, there's the plants I raise from seed, which mostly are heirloom types. I like to put my home-grown tomato transplants in the ground when they are between 6-12" tall and have 6 to 8 true leaves, and no flowers and no fruit. If I have timed their planting carefully, they are going to be that size at just the right time. Smaller plants like that which aren't blooming or setting fruit will spend their first few weeks in the garden making a great root system and making lots of lovely vegetative growth that will support large crops of fruit later on. By having the two sets of plants, I fulfill my dual goals of having some early fruit for sandwiches and salads and other forms of fresh eating, and then of having huge crops later on for fresh eating, sharing with family and friends, and for canning, dehydrating and freezing.

Greenhouse management is so much more than just keeping the greenhouse above freezing at night....you have to learn how to use it as a tool to give you the plants you want/need at the size/age you want and need for them to be at a specific time. I think this is my fourth spring to use my greenhouse and there has been a lot of trial and error involved in learning how to use it in the way that works best for me, my plants and with my specific goals in mind. As you gain experience with how quickly tomato plants do or don't grow in a greenhouse, you'll learn how to time your seed-starting so you get the plants you want at the size you want by planting time.

I don't heat my greenhouse at night, but use several passive heating methods to keep it from 10-15 degrees warmer at night than the outside air. That means my plants can get pretty chilly at night, but for most plants that is good---it keeps them from getting too big too quickly. Pepper plants stay indoors in the house until the night air has really stabilized because being exposed to cold temperatures too early in their lives can make them non-productive or poor in production for months thereafter.

Next week isn't too early for corn in my garden. I take my soil temperatures with a thermometer so know exactly when they reach the right range to plant. It also depends on what kind of corn you're growing. Some of the newer supersweet types need warmer soil temperatures than more traditional sweet corn varieties. Check your corn variety and know what type of corn it is and what type of soil temperature that type of corn needs for germination. It is still too early in most of OK for successful corn seed germination of some of the pickier supersweet types, but at my end of the state, it is fine now to sow seeds of old-fashioned "normal" corn.

Bermuda grass never goes away, especially if you are in the countryside surrounded by fields of bermuda pastures/hayfields that often send their seed flying through the air. I've been digging invading bermuda grass out of my veggie garden for 15 years now. Granted, there is less and less of it every year, but it still pops up here and there. I try to dig it up as soon as I see it, being careful to dig deeply and get all the stolons and roots removed. Bermuda grass is evil.


    Bookmark   April 3, 2014 at 11:07AM
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I never worry about blooms on tomato plants when I plant them. I know some people remove them, but that's just delaying your harvest and that's not really a good idea in this part of the country.

It may still be too early for corn. I'm going to link the Mesonet soil temp maps. Corn doesn't like cold soil and certain parts of the state still have soil too cold for pretty much any type of corn. A lot of it depends on what type of corn you're planting too. I'm going to plant Early Sunglow before I plant any of those new SE, SH, or Triplesweet types. Those new types really need warm soil and I won't plant them until the avg soil temperature is 70+ degrees.


Here is a link that might be useful: Soil temps

    Bookmark   April 3, 2014 at 11:15AM
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