Not much of a crop... what did I do wrong?

ctnewbie08July 8, 2008

I'm reaching out to all you gardening gurus with the hopes that you can shed some light on what is ailing the plants in my SFG.

First, a quick description of my SFG. It's one 4x4 box, raised up to waist level on a cement patio. It's filled with Mel's Mix and has access to full sun. I live in southern Connecticut in Fairfield County.

Next, a quick disclaimer: I know little to nothing about gardening, so please forgive my ignorance! :)

Ok here goes:

I have a giant indeterminate cherry tomato plant growing in one of the corner squares of my SFG. I water the plant at the base daily and the plant is caged. All was going well and the plant grew quite large with lush green leaves and 9-10 clusters of a dozen or so little green tomatoes. Yesterday as I plucked two ripe, delicious tomatoes I noticed something strange. The roots seem to be coming up from underground. I scooped up some dirt from the empty adjacent square to cover the exposed roots, but was surprised to find roots in that square as well, which makes no sense to me since there had been nothing growing in that square all season. Are these roots from the cherry tomato plant? Is a SFG too shallow for this type of plant? Also, this morning I noticed some of the leaves on the plant are turning yellow and others have brown spots. What could be the problem?

I'm also growing sugar snap peas, which are growing well up some bamboo stalks. Peas are starting to form and the plant seems healthy from about the middle on up. Toward the bottom of each vine the leaves are brown and shriveled. Is this normal? I do my best to keep water off the leaves and to do my watering at the base of each plant.

I have three pepper plants (sweet, jalepeno and bell) that look EXACTLY as they did when I transplanted them in May. They don't look unhealthy, but they haven't grown at all. Should I pull them?

Lastly, cucumbers. I planted from seed on Mother's Day and the seedlings grew to about 3 inches high and looked great, but that's where we're still at almost two months later. Yesterday I noticed a little yellow flower on one of the plants. Is this what they call "bolting"? Shouldn't the plants be much larger by now and near producing fruit? Is there any hope for cukes in my garden this summer or should I pull the tiny plants?

I tried growing lettuce, spinach, radishes, carrots and beets and while everything produced seedlings, nothing grew beyond that. Not a great first attempt at SFGing, but I'll keep trying. Just need to learn the tricks of the trade, I guess. Appreciate your input!

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engineeredgarden(7, nw Alabama)

ctnewbie- the tomato plants have VERY long roots. I have accidentally dug them up 3 squares over from the plant. The little yellow flower on the cucumbers is a bloom. It should look like this (not the cucumber, but the yellow flowers) -

    Bookmark   July 8, 2008 at 1:23PM
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engineeredgarden(7, nw Alabama)

I would not pull anything, yet. If you can tell us some more info about your setup (depth, soil amendments, orientation to sunlight), all of us on this forum can help you figure out what might be wrong. The main thing is - you have plenty of time to correct the problem before planting the fall crop.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2008 at 1:31PM
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Engineerdgarden, thanks for your response. I'm pretty sure I provided most of the information you're inquiring about already... soil amendment = Mel's Mix, which is 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 peat, 1/3 compost; orientation = on a cement patio in Southern CT; and sunlight = full sun. The depth is I think 6 inches - just a basic 4x4, nothing fancy. The peas and tomatoes face North... I guess that's what you mean by orientation? Thanks also for your picture of the cucumber flowers - very helpful and provides lots of hope! :)

    Bookmark   July 8, 2008 at 2:42PM
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engineeredgarden(7, nw Alabama)

Ok, I think I remember your box, and it was on a concrete pad. I'm going looking for that thread now.....BRB

    Bookmark   July 8, 2008 at 3:57PM
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shebear(z8 NCentralTex)

What are the temperatures Peppers and cukes like alot of warmth so that may have slowed them down.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2008 at 4:34PM
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engineeredgarden(7, nw Alabama)

Ok, first of all- you mentioned that your box is 6" deep (i'm assuming you built the sides with 1x6's or 2x6's)and if so, the height is only 5-1/2" actually, and if your mel's mix settled any ( let's say 1")- then your soil depth would be actually only 4-1/2" deep. Can you verify this? I really don't think this is the real problem, but it never hurts to investigate all aspects of the situation. Next, the leaves turning yellow at the bottom of your tomato plant- My 6 better boy plants have done the same thing, but in my opinion - is no reason for concern. I have over 50 tomatoes growing, and should start harvesting ripe ones next week. I try to water every 3 days, with rain water that I save. I know from experience, that the plants respond much better to rain, than city water from a hose pipe. I'm wondering if the temperature in your area might be most of the reasons for your slow growth. Hmmmm, it's a possibility. I live in northwest alabama, and actually have more heat from the sun than I would like to have. Another question.....have you used any kind of fertilizer, like miracle grow, etc.? I'm trying my best to help you, but I must admit that there are certainly alot more people on here more qualified....Anyway, i'll help you get to the bottom of it- one way or another. Also, you can call me EG, it's easier to type.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2008 at 4:55PM
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Thanks again, EG! So helpful! Yes, you're likely right about the soil depth. The mix has definitely settled, so overall the bed is probably pretty shallow. Should I just throw some extra mix on top of those exposed roots? Could they be drying the plant out and perhaps that's the reason for the discolor in the leaves? The temps have stayed in the mid 60's at night and anywhere from 75-85 during the day. I thought for sure when the temp warmed up I'd see some growth with my pepper plants, but alas I have not. I used Miracle Gro for tomatoes on the cherry tomato plant only. Certainly appreciate all your input!

    Bookmark   July 8, 2008 at 5:13PM
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mrswaz(Z5A NE WI)

Be patient with your peppers and cucumbers. It seems like they don't do anything for some time and then wham- they start growing like mad. Peppers thrive in heat, so as it's warming up, they will start to do something for you.

Pea plants (as far as I know) die from the bottom up, and they are not heat tolerant. They almost have an automatic shut-off, that when it gets to hot, they start to die off. Your peas that are popping will continue to grow to the size you like, so wait for that, pick your peas, and then they'll be done for you.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2008 at 8:06PM
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peel(z6 CT)

I'm in the Waterbury CT area and my peppers have been really slow growing too. Just today I noticed the bell peppers have finally started getting some new growth, and I have the beginning of one lonely jalepeno as of yesterday. I'm hoping things start kicking into gear soon, and your story actually makes me more optimistic that I'm not alone!

    Bookmark   July 8, 2008 at 8:53PM
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engineeredgarden(7, nw Alabama)

You're welcome....I would definitely throw some more mix on top of the roots. I honestly believe it is quite normal for the bottom leaves on tomato plants to turn yellow, and most of the time- fall off completley. Mine have always done that, and although i'm not one of the gurus from the tomato forum, i've always been satisfied with my harvest for the past 15 years. I agree with mrswaz, there are some vegetables that really need higher soil temperatures to really start growing at an accelerated rate. Cucumbers and peppers are definitely 2 of them. Mine were that way, until the temps got up into the 80's and 90's consistently. Now, I have to go out everyday, and make sure the vines are growing up the trellis- and not thru the wire mesh to the opposite side. They really keep me busy. I'm not sure how many days of warm temps you have left ( being in connecticut), but I would definitely find out - that way, you could make a decision on whether to pull the current plants, or not. I personally think that you should be fine on the cucs, but they need to start running very soon. One thing's for sure, you should have no problem at all growing cool weather veggies. One thing to remember- since your box is on legs, it's just like growing in containers - you have to water a little more often.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2008 at 10:23PM
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Melissa Houser

CT, All of my plants hit the slow route for quite some time. I haven't posted pics of my garden in awhile because everything has germinated, but not much has really put on a growth spurt. However, I noticed this morning that my eggplant, green pepper, cukes, watermelon and cantaloupe have started producting flowers.

I almost pulled the eggplant and green pepper three weeks ago since each had produced one or two small fruit and then did nothing for about a month. I kept reading others talking about their harvest and was frustrated, but I figured I can't replant those spaces until September, so I may as well let the plants grow and see if they do anything and they have!

I'd add some more dirt/compost to the areas where your tomato roots are showing and watch the soil closely. I check my raised beds daily, then water only the beds that don't feel damp to my finger. Since we've had a lot of rain in the last couple of weeks, I haven't had to water in almost three weeks.

Sometimes the best garden amendment is patience on our part. I'm a novice gardener as well, so I'm really getting a kick out of eating things that I've planted from a little tiny seed. If you, like me, need affirmation that you will eventually get food from those plants, try planting some radishes. They grow so fast that it's a treat just to watch them grow! They taste purty good, too, as my granny would say! :)

    Bookmark   July 9, 2008 at 10:51AM
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ah, a group i feel a kinship to - i, too, have only one thumb-sized jalepeno pepper to show for my garden thus far (a 4x4 also, with peppers, beans, watermelon, cukes, tomatoes, strawberries, carrots, and cauliflower.) i planted everything a little over a month ago, and i'm realizing as i write this that i should be a little more patient.
my husband walked by yesterday as i was training the bean tendrils up the new trellis and said, "whoa, i guess i haven't seen the garden in a few days, huh? it got big!" he's right. patience is perhaps the biggest crop i'm growing this year.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2008 at 1:06PM
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susancol(7 Atlanta)

Me too! I've been struggling, behind what seems like everyone else. My cukes and squash are just putting out male flowers and are half the size of everyone elses pictures. I had determined that it was due to too much shade, so I had some trees trimmed and a couple removed to help that situation. Since then, we've had nothing but clouds and rain, of course, so no improved sunshine. But I have high hopes and I'll never complain about the rain.

CTnewbie, 4.5 inches of soil seems shallow to me, especially when you have a solid bottom. I would definitely add more soil where you can. If you built your box with 2x6's, maybe for next planting you can add another round of 2x6's on top to give you a better depth of about 10-12 inches. That will be much easier to keep moist and give more room for root growth, which will make bigger happier plants. Also, like your tomatoes, your peppers probably would love some fertilizer as well. If you're using Miracle grow, I've been told about once every 2 weeks is a good schedule.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2008 at 1:17PM
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I am in the Waterbury area too. My peppers have barely changed except a few leaves yellowing and falling off the bottom. My friends are doing the same. So I would just add some more mix and try to be patient.(I say try because I am one of those people who go out and check on the garden 2-3 times a day lol).
My toms that are in kitty litter buckets are doing great and have some toms on them, but the ones in my sfg (mostly compost and some peat moss) are less than 1/2 the size of the others. They are just taking longer. I believe it is just because they don't get quite as much sun as the others.

I planted my seeds for cukes on Mother's day weekend too. They are about 4" high cheap ones from $1 tree. The seedlings I planted are shorter and doing some funky stuff. They have about 10 female stems on them and no males and the plant is only about 5" long, the other is 15 female stems and 10" long vining. Just weird. They are a gurney's bush cuke.
Good gardening

    Bookmark   July 12, 2008 at 2:20PM
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fishymamas(z9, So. CA)

"I tried growing lettuce, spinach, radishes, carrots and beets", You can probally replant these now for a fall crop Generally if you eat the leaves or roots it's a cooler weather crop, if it's the fruits summer crop (peas are seeds, and an exception).
Some "bush" cukes only get 1-2 feet long (the spacemaster I've got now is fruiting on a 16 inch wine) so the variety matters on the length issue.

The bottom leaves of tomatoes die off, no stress, completely normal, if it bugs you snip them off once they yellow (use scissors, so you don't accidently, say snap off the fruiting below with a too-hard yank). The roots will grow anywhere they can, again, not to be upset by this.

Peas hate heat, replant now for fall crop, and you should do fine.

Peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, all have a "slow start" it's ok that they're not growing several feet a day, what they are doing is sending out roots, and preparing to grow (much like your kids will eat everything in sight a few months before a big growth spurt). Once the heat's on and the plant is ready it'll do it's thing.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2008 at 4:13PM
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penserosa(z6 NJ)

Have you fertilized? Last year I plumb fergot about such things, and when growth slowed waaaay down, I added some Tomato-Tone, and the plants took off again. I forgot again this year (perhaps I'm too ADD to garden?) until last week. Bought some Neptune's Harvest fish emulsion and used it Saturday morning as a foliar spray. The plants were already looking happier and putting out more flowers by Monday.

Just another idea.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2008 at 12:24AM
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Just fyi, it's a good idea to put a bit more mix in to top off your bed, but even 4.5 inches is fine. Go light on the compost on the tomatoes. You'd be better off adding pine mulch on top. Tomatoes need nitrogen to grow, but when they're fruiting, too much nitrogen can prevent the plant from fruiting correctly. When the tomato starts putting out flowers, it needs phosphorous. If you're going to use miracle grow, try the tomato version because it'll give the tomatoes everything they need (a bit of calcium, also). We're having a weird year, weatherwise. We have had a super cold season, and we've lost 14 days off our growing season. So, it gets a little tough to watch folks from California, who are having a hot year this year, harvesting and putting in a second crop when we haven't gotten the first one yet, lol. It's coming, though. On the tomatoes, any piece of the stem you have buried will become a part of the root system, lol. So, that's a piece of it, too. On the SFG website, Mel tells of his 3x3 that he travelled with that only had 3 inches in it and he was growing just about everything, so, don't worry about the depth, just add a bit more mix. Does that make sense?

Carolyn P

    Bookmark   July 16, 2008 at 10:04AM
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