Sad, Sad Tomatoes.
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.