Sad, Sad Tomatoes.

littlelizzy123November 19, 2013

I have a tomato question, even if it is a little late. I just don't want to make the same mistakes this year, but I'm not even sure what I did wrong.

This is my first year growing tomatoes, and it was a disaster. I started 4 varieties inside, (two indeterminate cherry tomatoes, and two determinate beef steak tomatoes) as my hubby has built me a BEAUTIFUL seedling grow rack, complete with two 4 ft ballasts that he procured from a building he was working in. (The contractor was going to throw them out!!!!) Here are the particulars...
-Grow rack is in an unfinished basement, which is under construction, but floors are still concrete at the moment
-The rack is insulated on the back and sides with nice foam board with reflective backing.
-Grow lights are generic fluorescent bulbs. Lights were on for 24 hours. (which might have been part of my problem.)
-Light height was placed a 2-3 inches above the seedlings and raised accordingly.
-Growing medium was Fox Farm Seedling Starter.
-Growing pots were Jiffy squares that you can supposedly plant, seedling at all. I did not take their claim seriously and took them out of the pots to plant them.
-Gave them 8 weeks indoors, 2 weeks of hardening off. No wilting or yellowing, they just did not take off like I had seen my other plants do.
-Plants survived the hardening off pretty well, but once in the garden really went downhill.
*One thing I did not do was transplant them into larger peat pots. They were in the little square ones, but they didn't seem big enough to bother.*

My other plants did pretty well. The herbs, of course, went crazy, even the asparagus did well. My marigolds were giants that threatened to take over my garden boxes. (There are two types are marigolds, one huge and "Little Petshop of Horrors-esque, while the other is cute and manageable. I picked the wrong variety) But those tomatoes would just not grow. So I was sad, tried to harden them off, which they survived, only to go into the garden to have their leaves curl, and slowly and languorously die.

I figured I did something wrong with my seedlings. So I bought healthy, happy plants at the garden shop. I started with brand new soil mix (70% soil, 30% compost) from Pioneer Landscaping. The garden boxes are in between the west side of the house and a maple tree, getting at least part sun if not a little more. I planted them deeply (almost up to the first set of leaves) to encourage good root growth. I watered them every other day or so, deeply, but not enough to drown them. (I think) They didn't yellow at all, which I took as a sign they were not drowning. I fed them a little generic balanced garden fertilizer. They seemed fine, growing a little, happy even. I pinched off the suckers. I used clean straw for mulch. They were kept weeded and tidy. They looked like very promising adolescents in their tomato cages.

But then about a month in, even they took a nose dive. Leaf curling on the tips of the plants, slowly making it's way down to the base. All the leaves fell off. Very few flowers. No visible bugs, webs, or chewing. Finally, I was angry enough to rip them out of the ground and plant lettuce where they had been, which of course, did smashingly. After I pulled them up and did an autopsy, I discovered those tomatoes had hardly any roots! Which is weird, because when I planted them, I watered them with a rooting hormone dilution (mixed according to directions) What happened? My neighbor had beautiful, lovely tomatoes and mine were a bust?

What would you all have done differently? I really want to grow tomatoes, as they are my favorite, especially the little cherry ones.

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Maybe I can take a shot at this.

Altho', it has been a very long time since I have tried to grow anything indoors with only electric lights. It doesn't seem like a good idea to me to leave the lights on 24hrs. I would also be concerned about the quality of the air in my basement. A very small fan or one set on low might help.

I do not like peat pots. The peat will "wick" moisture away from the plants but that is likely to be more of a problem IF you had left them in those pots once they were out in the garden.

Your 2nd course of action all seems good but there may have been disease problems outdoors.

Here are a couple of websites on tomato diseases:

Cornell Vegetable MD, tomatoes
Texas A&M Tomato Problem Solver

I hope this is a little bit of help . . .


    Bookmark   November 19, 2013 at 4:47PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

That's a whole lot of info! Believe it or not I have some more questions!

About what was the temperature where you had the seedlings in the basement?

How big were the peat pots you started them in?

Does the seedling mix have any vermiculite in it? Perlite? Is the basic ingredient Canadian peat?

When you removed the pots to plant them outside, were the roots all the way down to the bottom (and out to the sides) of the pots?

How big are the planter boxes you put them in? (from the word boxes I'm assuming these are free standing planter boxes rather than raised beds where the plants can grow down into the soil under them!?)

Is the Pioneer mix something in a bag or is it something they sell by the yard that gets delivered in a truck?

When did they go out--hardening off, and when were they actually planted out?

I have a couple more questions I might ask later, but they're not relevant to the theory I'm workiin' on right now!

I way, waywayway agree with Digit about the peat pots! I'm sure some people love them, but in my experience they do more harm than good, especially out here in the Dry Lands. Switch to small plastic pots in spring when you're starting again. Much easier to control moisture--and reusable.

I also agree that "giving the plants a rest" is a really good idea! Years ago I grew plants in a bedroom with four 6' banquet tables each with two 3' florescent shop lites over them. The lites were on timers and were off for about 8 hours overnite. I don't know if there's an optimum number of light/dark hours, but they should have at least some "down time" like they do in nature. Your spacing of a couple inches above the plants is perfect, and the advantage of using florescent over grow lights is that even if the plants grow right up into the lites, florescent won't burn them!

I'm more concerned about the temperature of the air in the basement than I am with the "quality" of it, but I also agree with Digit that a fan would be advisable. In the last couple years I've learned more and more how important it is to "stress" the stems of things that are going to be planted outside in order to produce stems that are strong enough to stand up to the wind when they're move out. Nothing strong, but enough to "move" the seedlings some, and reverse the pots/flats at regular intervals so they develop strength in more than "one direction."

One more comment or I might forget it later! The kind of "rooting hormone" I'm familiar with is for helping to root unrooted cuttings and wouldn't have any effect on seedlings. Unless it's something else you're using, while it wouldn't do any harm to the plants, it wouldn't help either. At worst you just wasted some money!

Based on all the stuff you said I think you have the basic idea down pretty well! With a few tweaks I'm guessin' that next year yours will look as good as your neighbors--or maybe better!


    Bookmark   November 19, 2013 at 10:24PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Looking on Texas A&M, it says it is "Physiological Leaf Roll", caused by drought or other environmental stress. I will have to really watch my watering practices and calculate how much water I am really giving them. Maybe I thought I was doing a good job and really wasn't.

-the seedlings were at about 65ish degrees.

-I forgot to mention the small fan that was blowing on them...

-the peat pots were small, 2-3 inches. The roots were not coming out of the bottoms. They were so tiny! I will not use these again. They dry out to quickly. I had to water them a lot to keep them evenly watered. I will use clean plastic pots next time.

-I just realized I did a silly thing. I thought I had bought a bag of Fox Farm's soil less mix, but I just looked at the bag, and it is their Ocean Forest POTTING soil. It has sphagnum moss, perlite/vermiculite (there's a difference?), humus, and a little sand, plus the ridiculous proprietary things (guano, earthworm castings, blurb-blurb-blurb) that I paid too much for. pH of 6.5.

-the planter boxes are massive. Made of 4x4s four high, rebar pinning them to the earth, lined with food safe plastic, weed mat underneath (which was stupid in hindsight, what weed in their right mind is getting through 2 1/2 feet of soil?) They are 4ft by 6 ft, and one is 4 ft by 12 ft. They are probably going to be there until I'm 86 years old. My husband does things very thoroughly. :) Our yard's soil is mostly rock and granite. I'm fairly certain there is a concrete and landscape rock cemetery back there; I'm constantly hitting something.

-The Pioneer mix was delivered in a big truck. It grows grass wonderfully.

- The seeds I got from Jung sprouted, but never really took off. They lost their first set of leaves, got 4-5 branches with nice leaves, but they were just not as robust as I've seen them. I was afraid to set them out too early, so I think I remember setting them out the 2nd week of May sometime to harden. I let them harden till the last week of May, letting them stay out for a few hours and then setting them inside at night. I was getting married the first week in June, so they had to be out one way or another by then. The store bought plants I planted when we got back, around the 3rd week in June. Too late?

- The rooting hormone I used was a liquid mix that you dilute. Now that I think about it, I don't think it was a hormone per say, "Root Stimulator" was what it was called. I used it on my transplanted annual beds, just a quick water, or with my new dormant strawberry plants, soaked in a mixture and planted. I think it was just a 4-10-3 fertilizer to give a little boost. Does it work? I honestly couldn't say yay or nay.

Maybe I was so stressed out with the upcoming wedding and planning that I didn't pay enough attention to the little things. I never saw any wilting, but that doesn't mean that the seedlings weren't stressed at some point and I didn't notice. This year I will be like a mama hawk!

(I feel like I'm in a Sherlock Holmes chapter with all these questions! This is awesome!)

    Bookmark   November 20, 2013 at 6:26PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I'm probably better as a Watson than a sleuth, LittleLizzy.

It takes some time and to garden successfully. Just keep at it - think of it as exercise until things really start goin' right!

Vermiculite is mined - I'm pretty sure they heat process it. Perlite is not mined. It is obsidian, which is mined. Perlite is made from heat processed obsidian. Don't know much more than that . . .

Water? I try to put 3/4" of water on with the sprinklers, twice a week. I am certain that things would do better if I could put nearly that much water on at a time but do it 3 times a week. However, my soil drains quickly! How many gallons is that??

Well, I can't reach the calculator ( *Sheesh! It is about 1 gallon per 1 square foot! Not quite, but it was close to that - as I remember. I couldn't haul several thousand gallons to that garden. But, that gives you an idea of about what every square foot of your garden needs. Depends because weather, how your soil drains, etc.


    Bookmark   November 20, 2013 at 7:23PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Greenhouse, metal roof?
Hi, I'm in Victor, ID at 6500'. My husband is building...
Great Backyard Bird Count - 2015
Great Backyard Bird Count - Cornell Hi all, It’s...
Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado
Raised Bed - How to Deal with Dogs
We purchased a house a couple years ago that had a...
Sean Hull
RMG - How do I do it -- Where do I find it thread!
Hi all, I just thought I'd start a thread here for...
Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado
Help me plan my Colorado sunshed
This spring I'm converting an existing shed into a...
Golden David
Sponsored Products
Pop Scented Candle
$38.00 | Horchow
VegiBee Garden Pollinator Express - VGP-02
$29.99 | Hayneedle
White Tomato Slicer
$6.99 | zulily
Hang 1 Drop Mirror by Blu Dot
$299.00 | Lumens
Emerson Rectangular: 5 Ft. x 7 Ft. 6 In. Rug
$199.00 | Bellacor
Accent Rug: Bergen Tomato 2' x 3'
$43.99 | Home Depot
Roma by Weston Food Strainer and Sauce Maker
Cherry Tomato White Drum Shade Ovo Table Lamp
Lamps Plus
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™