Tomatoes in Southern California: Feb-2014

psient(9b)February 7, 2014

Spring is just coming up in another month. Last frost date here is Saint Patty's Day. Have my seedling tomatoes at 4" for the first planting.

Garden is 155 X 40. Area for tomatoes is 20 X 30. 3 Beds are 30' in length @ 32" wide. Plants are in cages (32" X 40") with 2 per cage planted on the 40" diagonal. My planting beds are sequential with

Bed 1: planting Early Season
Bed 2: planting Mid-Season
Bed 3: planting Late-Season

My seedling starting dates usually are

Bed 1: Mid January
Bed 2: Late February
Bed 3: March
My transplanting dates usually are

Bed 1: Mid March
Bed 2: Mid April
Bed 3: Early May (1st week)

Part of the deal is the late varieties take 95-115 days from setting out to mature. Thus, March transplants are harvested in June/July and May's in September through November.

The entire garden is irrigated by a drip system. The garden has 4 zones with in-line programmable controllers on each zone. I use drip tubing not tape. The emitters are at 9" intervals. I usually string several lines on a single bed to ensure a uniform plume of moisture sub-soil. I mulch with alfalfa that is too poor as feed for the horses. I rototill each winter and add the appropriate level of admixtures to ensure ph and NPK levels. I also will add micro-nutrients from time to time. I remove the previous season's litter before rototilling.

I rotate so no crop sees the same area within 3 years running.

AS I have horses my main addition of organic matter each season consists of pulling from a large stock of well-rotted mix of barn waste (box-stall bedding, horse do-do & pee, and alfalfa). I will use some Chicken manure and chemical fertilizers as well.

I will judiciously incorporate pesticides and fungicides to protect my harvest. I am constantly monitoring insect/fungus problems as best I can. I have aphids, white flies, and an annoying type of beetle. To control populations I rotate chemicals. I use permethrins and malathion. Ever since So Cal sprayed Malathion to suppress the fruit fly with no consequences I disdain the popular culture notion that all chemical pest control is tantamount to using DDT.

I have tried soaps and oils but do not get sufficient results from that.

I was a teen in the 60s but I am not fearful of SCIENCE (no hippie delusions).

Being a native Californian I am constantly bombarded with fads. I have no fear of science although I respect what the title can hide given the outrageous lack of ethics possessed by corporations. This cuts both ways as corporate culture is no less strong in the Organic fad than in the non Organic method.

I have a small number of friends who support my efforts and share my enthusiasm for land use in agriculture. It is hard to find rational folk here. The suburban population of California contains more misguided Kooks per square mile than most areas in the US I imagine.

'What is a Kook?' Says you.

Well . . . as a research scientist with a terminal degree in Psychology from the University of California and formally declared breadths in Neuroscience and Quantitative Methodology, I am qualified to judge. A nut is a nut Says I! Unlike mars I never 'feel like a nut' most of the time I don't . . . although empathizing with others sometimes makes it seem so.

I am thinking of setting out my tomato plants late February as our weather here is rather unseasonably warm. So I'm pushing the transplanting date by a little less than a month.

What says ye'all?

Feedback and commentary (constructive please) is appreciated. I am in the INland EMpire.

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It all sounds fabulous, but you don't say what varieties you are growing and whether they are new to you or old favourites.

I am interested that you grow two plants per cage. I have read that you get 1/3rd less fruit per plant by doing that, but you are still ahead by1/3rd.

I wish you a great growing season!


    Bookmark   February 7, 2014 at 10:26AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

What jumps out at me -

Plants are in cages (32" X 40") with 2 per cage

Sounds way too short and way too overcrowded unless you are doing extensive amounts of pruning on the plants in which case they are definitely way too short. That's a determinate only size cage IME and they don't get pruned. Can you elaborate?

I also will add micro-nutrients from time to time

How often and at what stages of plant development? Using what?

my main addition of organic matter each season consists of pulling from a large stock of well-rotted mix of barn waste (box-stall bedding, horse do-do & pee, and alfalfa). I will use some Chicken manure

As long as it is well-composted (90-120 days) and you monitor the soil for salt build-ups from the manures. I prefer a more diverse ingredient compost when using manures.

Malathion Sorry, just can't buy into the use of that particular chem when less toxic, pest specific, and just as effective are available. It is a last-ditch chem only IMO.

So I'm pushing the transplanting date by a little less than a month.

That's a BIG push. Be prepared to cover. Even a 2 week push, which i have done several times, can be very problematic without protection. Mother Nature likes to sucker us in. :)

Good luck with your garden this year.


    Bookmark   February 7, 2014 at 12:53PM
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I plant between 10-20 varieties each season. My best producers have been German Queen, Ponderosa/Red Brandywine, Opalka, Super San Marzano, Super Italian Sweet, Delicious. 2 years ago I had fabulous luck with Mexico. I might try again this year. Last year . . . not so great the Mexicos.

I haven't decided the entire planting list yet. An example of what I currently have = SSmarzano, Matina, Delicious. My seedlings are at 4-5" started indoors on a heating mat.

I'll begin hardening them off starting this coming week. They'll be in the ground in about 2.5 weeks. Mulching with alfalfa makes for a good barrier; buffering the vagaries of weather and a fine strategy for me.

The daytime temps are above 65 and evenings are about 55 or so. Next week it's predicted we'll be up in the mid 70s. Either way its warm. It is not uncommon to have no frost in Feb or March.

I've been doing this for some time now. It really helps to have lots of experience along with a background in hard science. I need to think when deciding what to do. As a result, things go well for me here in California. Looking forward to ongoing reports on my success. I always welcome other people's views on what they would do if they were me. I can always use the help of good constructive thoughts. Better with more than one head.

That said:

I think I'll be very sufficient with the spacing and architecture of my supports within the beds. I used to space about 3' between cage centers but have recently increased this to 4'. If you look at the placement on a grid the staggering of the plants within each cage provides a good degree of separation and light penetration. I am leaving about 3'+ between beds. I remember one year I grew a plant (German Queen) in a 35" diameter X 8' tall cage constructed of heavy concrete reinforcing mesh. The plant was over 12' in length. Lots of tomatoes and foliage. Big Big fruit!

Appreciate your critiques/musings. Keep those good times rolling! May your gardens be full this season!

Thank you for your input.

BTW I just got my first soil blocker. I'm makin soil blocks tomorrow I think! Thank you Johnny's Seeds! Anyone have a good source for Oxidate? The best shot I have so far is 175 USD for 2.5 gallons shipped.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2014 at 5:03PM
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Let me add that the cages are over 6' tall made of reinforcing mesh welded at the seam.

They are somewhat elliptical or perhaps rectangular with large rounded corners? The dimensions I gave earlier where those of the rectangle yes? Be fun to see what happens this season.

What chems do you use Dave?

thanks again for the responses Linda and Dave.

This post was edited by psient on Fri, Feb 7, 14 at 17:10

    Bookmark   February 7, 2014 at 5:07PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

Just by the title (Tomatoes in Southern California:), and without reading all the post, I think SOCAL has perfect weather for growing just about any kind of tomatoes, granted you have good soil and irrigation. I have family members living in SanDiego area. Summer day highs are rarely too high and at nights it cools of quite a bit. I think SOCAL has the most gardener- friendly climate almost 12 month a year. It is like "Open Book" final exam. LOL


    Bookmark   February 9, 2014 at 12:13AM
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hoosier40 6a Southern IN


I use pyrethrums, Bt, and even Sevin dust when plants are young and not in bloom. Malathion is a big gun and as Dave said a last resort type of thing. I'm talking like a plague of locusts or army worm type of thing. Three things you need to do is identify the pest, learn the life cycle, and find the easiest, least expensive and least toxic means of control. I am not against chemicals, in fact I have a certification and use them regularly in my job so I am not a kook. :)

    Bookmark   February 9, 2014 at 8:51AM
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Thanks for the responses. I have used permethrins and sevin but these don't seem able to control the sudden and extreme whitefly populations my garden is heir to. In fact I logically alternate applications of permethrin and Malathion in order to avoid generating tolerance.

I recently looked at Arbico's products for whiteflies and aphids. We have been using biological pest control on our ranch for a long time with respectable levels of successes. However, in my case this is a change that would preclude any acute-problem treatment using chemicals.

My several hundred dollar investment would therefore inhibit immediate use of chems to hit the problem hard behaviors. This cannot be overcome by reasoning-out what the complexities are to ensure both could exist.

Without going into an academic monologue let me put it this way. Whereas money has the highest contingency mediating behaviors in the systemic learning environment, I would have to reject the rewards in place. These of course are instantiated by the construct usually referred to via a lay postmodern behavioral construction termed 'capitalism'.

To make a long story short the science does not show ill effects from using chems I select, although developed tolerance must be seriously considered IMHO.

I agree that growing Tomatoes in California is a surd. My experiences have shown me that reliance on chemical pest and Dipel works. I also find that a mix of chemical fertilizer along with organic compost enhance with Chicken sh#t works to keep the soil from becoming exhausted.

Drip irrigation is a must in SoCal. This place will fabricate shortages for profit at the drop of a hat (remember Enron?). IN the city where I live we have a history of orange production going back to the late 1800s. This means we have dedicated wells feeding our city only. In the most devestaing of times we still have adequate water although neighboring cities will fall short due to their reliance on water districts subserviant to LADWP. Water conservation (drip irrigation) is an adjunct of the rabid notion that California is a desert rather than a deconstruction.

I use drip and will continue to do so. Let's see how well my tomatoes do when put out in 1.5 weeks. Tues-Fri it is in the 80s at day and the 60s at night.


    Bookmark   February 9, 2014 at 9:23AM
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I wouldn't be happy about using Malathion. I'm pretty sure it's been outlawed where I live, along with many other pesticides and herbicides.

You don't mention the use of mulch and I wonder if the use of one of the reflective plastic mulches that are supposed to repel aphids and white flies might help a little in your situation while, at the same time conserving moisture.


    Bookmark   February 9, 2014 at 9:44AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

I have a great deal of difficulty understanding your latest post. However I get the distinct impression that you are convinced your methodology is perfect and are not really open to making any changes despite your initial request for "Feedback and commentary (constructive please)"....

Apologies if I am misunderstanding but if I am correct could you then clarify for us what your questions, your original intent, in the opening post are?

The dimensions I gave earlier where those of the rectangle yes?

Ok. Unusual as height is the most relevant measurement and assumed to be the second measurement, but ok. No problems there other than the 2 plants per cage aspect. But you don't mention how much, if any, pruning is done? I would find your spacing to be wasteful of space but if you have it to waste, great!

Mulching with alfalfa, if one can get it, is excellent. Nothing wrong with drip irrigation of course. And the Malathion issues is clearly not open for discussion.

We have been using biological pest control on our ranch for a long time with respectable levels of successes. However, in my case this is a change that would preclude any acute-problem treatment using chemicals.

Yes, of course it would. Just as the Malathion in the garden is eliminating any and all beneficials that could, with time, control the problem for you..

But whatever works for you.


    Bookmark   February 9, 2014 at 10:04AM
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hoosier40 6a Southern IN

From Spectracide Malathion label:

Environmental Hazards ��" To protect the environment, do not allow
pesticide to enter or run off into storm drains, drainage ditches, gutters
or surface waters. Applying this product in calm weather when rain is
not predicted for the next 24hours will help to ensure that wind or rain
does not blow or wash pesticide off the treatment area. Rinsing
application equipment over the treated area will help avoid runoff to
water bodies or drainage systems.
This pesticide is highly toxic to bees exposed to direct treatment on
blooming crops or weeds. Do not apply this product or allow it to drift to
blooming crops or weeds while bees are actively visiting the treatment

Since tomatoes are constantly blooming there is considerable danger to beneficial insects during infestations. There are other means of control that are far less hazardous.

Some other controls you might consider:

    Bookmark   February 9, 2014 at 10:17AM
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Leave the passive aggression behind please. It is uncivil.

I don't prune at all.

I am not sure you are in my corner. Lets try and ensure I remain receptive to your attitude my friend.

Remember that I lived through blanket spraying to kill the fruitfly. I saw no ill effects with this but did see a lot of hysteria. This has an impact on my psychology. You may not understand it but that is not a negation. Try and be tolerant amigo.

I am not arguing here only pointing out that staying open minded is a virtue while being nasty is a vice.


Thank you for the link to the whitefly spray. I'll buy some and try it.

Science has delivered its findings to the IPCC for over 2.5 decades. I know the evidence as I have some expertise in SEM.

I also would suggest that it is naive to tout labels as evidence. Rather they are more likely a mix of evidence and homage by lawyers to profit and dominance of market share. Science is not the driving force or functional as a political exigency. I find that it is better to be open minded than be guided by emotivism or will to power. Authority is an interesting issue as Milgram demonstrated. Those seminal findings are still very valid. Shock until the learner drops is axiomatic and what the evidence suggests. Self-confirmation bias notwithstanding.

I was hoping that you'd be interested in finding out how I did using your feedback. I'll keep posting how my tomatoes are doing using the strategy I've developed. I am sure it will be interesting and perhaps have some merit.

Thanks for the responses all. Keep on gardening this spring!

    Bookmark   February 9, 2014 at 11:19AM
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hoosier40 6a Southern IN

While I'll agree that there is some erring on the side of caution on the labels, the fact that an insecticide that is effectively used on a wide variety of insects being dangerous to bees and other beneficial insects is intuitive. Bees are a pretty hot topic and if misuse is deemed to be a problem I can guarantee that it will be pulled from the general use category. Therein lies the most basic reason to follow the label in that regard. Use it too much for minor problems and you lose it for major ones. Anyway, good luck in your fight against the pests, and yes I look forward to your reports. Pics would be great as well.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2014 at 12:04PM
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Yes I agree.

Let me say that my situation is a 5 acre property ensconced within several square miles of orange groves. This area is severely restricted in its development with 5ac being the minimum acreage for a residential lot. Furthermore the zoning constrains any use to strictly agriculture. Thus, beekeeping is a part of this area as well as chemical pesticides. Spraying is constantly going on as it has for over a century.

I recently watched a TV documentary on bees and the descending populations. I have a heuristic that suggests Television/Movies all for profit media is mainly entertainment. There are some exceptions. For instance University of California TV.

Anyway, this production suggested that the issue is a convergence of factors. Thus, this problem is extremely amenable to large sampling techniques of statistical control. What that means is evidence for cause and effect may be developed using convergence of several streams of data and methodologies . . . quasi experiments, experiments, correlational data . . . all consideration to be given to Type II error. The problem is there can be no government funding. Hell, there was almost no farm bill again!

Anyway, one has to consider that in my area, agriculture is busy and bees are only in support of it. Thus, as in most arguments nowadays, there will be no commensurable discussion of positions. This is an artifact of liberal pluralist individualism evolved in direct lineage from ideas promulgated within postmodern effigies of rationality. Thus, any instance of what 'should' be done is inevitably doomed to the exigencies of emotivism and will to power. Arguing, in my historical environment that bees should be protected reflects the simulacrum of reasoning as support of position derives as the 'truth' touted as first rights claims (a fiction).

Given my living circumstances in these orange groves, I choose the logical and rational way of saying my larger 'rational self interest' be interpreted as the self's survival rather than an insular position concerning the benefit of bees . . . as others.

What I've been asking for here is a means by which the strength of stereotypes, prejudice, and (as of yet no indications of) discrimination be overcome so that a civil and calm discussion of what to do emerges. Any possible solution will derive from that atmosphere, not one charged with emotivism.

I will try the whitefly spray. However, when the temp gets over 90 degrees day after day (from late June through October usually) the whiteflies and mites will overtake anything not separated by several hundred yards. I have found that walking through the garden very carefully spraying with soaps, permethrins etc. will not slow them down. Malathion will produce a good knock-down but only for a few weeks or so. As I will not spray continuously it only serves to deliver a respite during crucial development.

Now my strategy this year is to not form raised beds with my Keulavator. Rather the seedbeds are only elevated by 2-4 inches. Also I have spaced the beds a little further apart (approx. 24-36 inches).

My suspicion is my typical practice of raised/elevated beds means the soil at a depth of 3-5 inches is still getting up in the high 80s-low 90s and the plants are struggling for the months of hot weather. Even though I mulch it is impossible to affect the ambient air with it's 90-110 degree heat. Watering isn't an aswer as the soil becomes super saturated and heats up anyway. IN such a stressed condition the plants do only marginally well. This quickly degenerates to doing very poorly when subjected to pests. If I can get an increase in the plant's vigor maybe the pests will not take over.

Thanks for responding,


    Bookmark   February 10, 2014 at 7:58AM
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hoosier40 6a Southern IN

I think you are on to something in your last paragraph. The only time I notice a severe effect from white flies is when the plants are small. Once they a bigger and vigorous they seem to shake off most of the effects. I doubt I have anywhere near the infestation that you describe though. Our climate here varies wildly from one year to the next. It seems to be extreme drought and heat one year and very cool and wet the next. I am going to do raised beds this year for the first time as the cool wet years are far more disastrous than hot and dry. If it is 110 for days on end this summer I might rue that decision though.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2014 at 4:44PM
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Have you any familiarity with the Kheulavator? Agri Supply carries them.

It takes some doing to get a variety of widths on raised beds and so I really can't recommend one. However, I've dealt with one for about 10 years now.

I have a Kubota L4400 with a Lands Pride rototiller. After I rototill the garden I use the k'vator to hill the row/bed. I then rake it by hand to level it and establish the width and height. Usually my beds are about 10-14" above grade. The width can be anywheres from 8" to 36" wide. Wider than that isn't really practical and it's actually easier to just use the rototiller.

I recently decided to design and build a bed shaper to fit on the tiller. I typically will ask the community at '' to assist me with the design, under the appropriate forum(s). You can't cross-list so I try to ask specific design questions rather than one general question.

I've been doing raised beds with a drip irrigation line arrangement for a long time. If you'd like to share info on them we could start another thread here or share on tractorbynet.

I need to start taking pictures of the garden and progress anyway. I'm not the best a) housecleaner or b) photographer. I get a little shy of taking pictures of my garden as there is always some level of chaos i.e., tools scattered around along with drip fittings, pvc, implements, dying vegetation etc. Inhibits me from shooting pics.

However I am sort of computer literate and can handle the upload side of stuff usually.

This year I decided to put into use my jang jp3 seeder. I just did leeks and bulb/bunching onions. CAn't comment on singulation or skips as they're just starting to germinate after 2 weeks.

I have a good assortment of rollers and look to use the seeder this season in order to get familiar with it. I have had it sitting unused for the last 10 years. The reason is the raised beds aren't really accepting of a multi row hand seeder. It also was binding on the rollers to the extent that you could not push it down the row cause the driving wheels would stick!

Pretty lousy for a 1k USD machine. This year I hand sanded the rollers and their receivers until enough movement was created to allow the seeder's use.

Johnny's seeds has been goofing around with them. They have a good cross referenced EXCEL sheet with their suggestions for type of seed/roller correspondence. Makes roller selection better than guessing although the top of the seed hopper has indentations for seed/roller identification.

If setting up a thread for discussion sounds amenable to ya let me know ok?

Is there a way to PM on garden web?



    Bookmark   February 10, 2014 at 7:55PM
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hoosier40 6a Southern IN

Thanks for the info. I had in mind something similar as far as height and probably just wide enough to accommodate my cages. I till with a 3 point tiller and have a two bottom plow that I might use to throw a hill up, but that might be a little much. Most likely I will do it by hand. I plan on having 4 or 5 50' rows for tomatoes. I doubt I spend too much on equipment until I see how it works for me.

If you want to start another thread or just keep it here, it's up to you. I know what you are saying about the pics, last year my tomatoes were sure not pic worthy.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2014 at 5:30PM
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psient, I wish you'd leave. Talk about uncivil. Rude, condescending, the works. You come across as being hysterical.
This is gardening. Not brain surgery. Not one of us will feed the world with our gardening. Or change it much either.
Before you hyper up and start typing, please know that I won't be on this thread again to read your oh so pithy response.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2014 at 8:08PM
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I am starting my Mid Season Tomato crop today. I am using Soil Blocks. I am also starting them in row trays as flats. More on this later. I will list the mid season varieties I select.

Yesterday I re-potted my early varieties and will continue to harden-off these this week. By next week they will be in the garden. I will mulch them and perhaps use floating row cover to protect them from the rabbit population here. Thus, by the third week of February my tomatoes will be starting their progress towards harvest!

Best to all of you regardless.


    Bookmark   February 12, 2014 at 9:43AM
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I think I'll try to photograph and then upload pix of the rows I've made. I am still trying to figure out how to end-stop the beds where the drop-off to grade is about 1.5'. I believe it is best to use a wooden retainer that can be lifted out when the end of season arrives. This is necessary to till in the beds for next season. Maybe 2 or 3 2x6s of redwood, screwed to cleats that are also stakes. That way I can use my tractor to lift them out and set them aside. If I stain them well they should last a long time, being reused for many seasons. Do you understand what I am talking about?

The area for my garden is graded level. However the native fall is about 2' in 40'. So a 40 X 150 area that is level will have one side well above the native grade. When watered, any runoff will collect at the lower side of the garden. This saturates the beds at that side making them likely to suffer erosion. Soil retainment then becomes an issue yes?



    Bookmark   February 12, 2014 at 9:48AM
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    Bookmark   February 13, 2014 at 12:49PM
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Have you started your tomatoes yet? Do you have your garden on drip due to the drought?

Have a good season.

Isn't Sun City a retirement community around Hemet? Lots of tract homes there if I remember.

I think I looked at a horse there once. Didn't pick it up there was a matter of extended flaccidity. Very poor tone where it mattered, yes that was the case.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2014 at 9:20AM
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What Dave said.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2014 at 9:19PM
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I have my tomatoes in the beds at about one foot tall. This year I've raised the beds much less than before (4" above grade with dimensions of 40" wide and 30 feet long). The beds have been double tilled down to a depth of 24". At this time soil sulfur and all purpose triple 15 fertilizer were incorporated to the same depth. This area was fallow for approximately 2 months.

The entire surface was, spread with 3-6" of well rotted manure and roto-tilled to a depth of 8". When marking out the beds,(immediately after roto-tilling) several pounds of Bone Meal were added along with an additional dressing of triple 15. Beds were well watered and allowed to partially dry out for a month before planting.

The beds are completely mulched with a layer of alfalfa as has been done for the previous 3 seasons of plantings. I have 3 drip lines the length of the 30' bed. The irrigation lines are : embedded emitters at 6” spacing 1/4” brown drip line from DIG Corp with a flow rate of .52 GPH @ 15 PSI and .65 @ 25 PSI (product copy from the Drip Store's web page).

I staggered the 10 plants so there is a minimum of 40" between each plant. I will cage them when they need support. The varieties are: Sioux, Delicious, Violaceum Krypni-Rozo, Matina, Super San Marzano, Super Italian Paste

These plants are buried with 3-5" of main stem in the earth. The placement involved digging out a 12" diameter X 8" deep hole. At the very bottom was a triple 9 mixed in with the soil. Then a layer of soil free of fertilizer. The remaining area was filled in around the plant with a mixture of existing soil mixed with a small amount of rotted chicken manure and compost. The top 2" of soil out to a distance of about 12" was dressed with a timed release balanced NPK fertilizer.

The bed is in full sun. NO tomatoes in this area for 3 years. Last year's plantings consisted of radishes and carrots. Previous to that; garlic. I have two more beds ready to receive 2 more rows of tomatoes. The first of these next plantings will be at the end of March.

I hope all of you are moving forward in your gardening lives.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2014 at 6:51AM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

I have my tomatoes in the beds at about one foot tall. ..

That is great. Well, you are in zone 9, SoCal , of course.
The way you've described your soil prep., sounds exceptionally good. ..24" deep, with all the amendments and nutrients.
About 900 miles up north in Seattle, WA, I am 2 to 3 weeks away from plant out. Maybe longer.

Good luck to you all !

    Bookmark   March 19, 2014 at 2:07PM
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