Keeping tomatoes growing in decomposed granite

HighDesertCalifMay 10, 2013

I live in Yucca Valley area. Its in what is called the high desert of SCal.
I live back in a canyon of sorts ,with aluvial fan sediment with thick growths of yucca,joshua Trees,cholla all growing naturally. Elev 3400 ft. Around the house where my garden will be i grow oleanders,queen palms,fruit trees , that shoud give some basics.
Problem I have is that water is absorbed at about the rate of no more than 2.5 gal per minute. As you can imagine I use alot of water,but everything grows,slow.Sometimes parts of the plants die off,but if I catch it early they pick back up.
Ok so now to the tomatoes....I'd like to slow down the rate in which the water drains out of reach of any new plants like the tomatoes Im about to plant.
My guess is that i could dig a big hole for each tomatoe plant,maybe one or 2 ft deep and 2 feet -3 feet wide. i could fill it with some sort of bulky soil enhancer mixed with the existing soil and it MAY work ok.
Instead,Id like to try putting some kind of rubber tray with raised sides around it (like a shallow bowl)to slow the water loss to the roots . I'd put a small hole in the pan so the water does drain,but is slowed down considerably allowing moisture to remain around the roots longer. Currently if everything isnt watered every day several times young plants just die . I even have citrus trees that after 5 years are only 3 to 4 ft tall and dont bear fruit and portions die off due to accidental irregular watering.The plants might miss a day or two accidently due to glitches in my automated watering system.
So what do you think of placing the barrier under the plant as I mentioned. Any ideas?

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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Have you considered using containers instead? Easier and eliminates all the soil problems.

Another option would be a slow drip irrigation set-up using 1/2 or 1 gallon per hour drippers. Set on an auto timer and you can provide a good consistent soil moisture level. How many plants are we talking about?

Another alternative - but less effective IMO - is the water absorbing granules mixed in with the soil. Moistearth is one brandname. Perhaps what you mean by "soil enhancer"?

The problem with your planned approach is it creates a pool. Water will always flow down, never back up and buried like that you have no way to monitor the water build up. It creates the same problems one finds using a container without drain holes in the bottom - root rot primarily.

This, if I understand correctly what your plan/need is. If not, feel free to ignore. :)


    Bookmark   May 10, 2013 at 8:28PM
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I'm going to respectfully disagree with Dave. I think
that your approach will work with an amendment, such
as Kellogg's AMEND, and will solve much of the problem.

I don't believe there will be any pooling in the holes due
to the decomposed granite nature of his soil. I have
caliche which is similar, but a bit more moisture retentive.
Water will drain quickly through the amendment and into
the local soil.

Not sure about the shallow pan part though. I'd put holes
in the sides of the thing so you would have a bit of a pool
to capture the water (maybe an inch above the bottom?).

I used to grow in containers here in SoCal and had saucers
below the pots. Most hot days, I'd fill those saucers which
were about 1 1/2 deep in the morning before leaving for
work and they'd be dry, dry, dry when I got home.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2013 at 4:09PM
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jimster(z7a MA)

How about this? (I hope I understand the posts above.)

Make holes about one foot deep. Place a tray (maybe a cake pan) in the bottom of each hole. Fill the holes with soil and plant the seedlings.

The idea here is to trap some water under the plant at the one foot level. This is similar, I think, to the principle of the earth box. Some of the retained water will wick upward if the soil has enough organic material. Also, roots will seek out the water in the pans.

Yes, undrained pots will rot roots. But I don't think there would be root rot in this situation. After all, roots don't rot in a hydroponic set-up or in earth boxes.


    Bookmark   May 12, 2013 at 7:28PM
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DAVE: slow drip irrigation set-up using 1/2 or 1 gallon per hour
yes that is what i just set up,but havent completed yet.
That may be enough as you suggested.
GAGUY: Dave had valid concerns that the holes in the pan may clog the drainage,but knowing my soil's massive perosity, i dont see that as a likely occurance. it could happen though,we're just sorta guessin here.
I think i may try different approaches on separate plants just to see.
Side holes is a good idea. Ill just have to pick somethin and do it,then Ill know for next time.
At first I dismissed you idea of raising the tomatoes in just pots. 1 because I have 5 plants. 2-not place to keep them without being a mess what with water dripping all over and tubing or pvc everywere. growing squash off the same line as the tomatoes. That seemed like too much work and a big mess.
Then i thought a bit and realized i could make basic barebones 2x4 shelves like I just did in my garage and attach them on the outside wall of my garage. There's plenty of space and its only dirt/sand around my garage so water dripping isnt an issue.
What I do need is to screen the plants in with 1/4 inch square mesh. That is easier and cheaper to do than doing that with a garden on the ground.
I have coyotes, chipmunks,squirrels,birds bugs that devour any and all fruit and plants that bear any fruit.Flower plants disappear too. I had gardens in the sacramento valley out on a small farm,and had just as many critters,(but they never even got close to being a problem to my garden.. Theyre like you'd imagine an invasion of locusts would do.
Your suggestion is what i tried to describe in my original post
thanks for the input all.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 2:22PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

If you decide to go with drip irrigation I have another suggestion for you to consider. It is something I implemented with some of my containers last year that I was having problems stabilizing moisture content in and it has worked well. No inground experience with it though.

I set up 2 separate lines to each plant. 1 line using 1 gallon drippers and 1 line using 1/2 gallon drippers. By combining and/or alternating lines used and times run I can get almost infinite control over the soil moisture levels.

Just something to consider.


    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 3:26PM
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jimster(z7a MA)

Your suggestion is what i tried to describe in my original post "

I thought it might be. Good luck, whatever you do.


    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 9:18PM
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dickiefickle(5B Dousman,Wi.)

"Yes, undrained pots will rot roots. But I don't think there would be root rot in this situation. After all, roots don't rot in a hydroponic set-up or in earth boxes. "

The roots don't rot because ....they get Oxygen

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 11:40PM
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