Return to the Growing Tomatoes Forum | Post a Follow-Up

 o
Newbie hoping to get tomatoes off on a good start

Posted by ColoradoSteph 5 (My Page) on
Mon, May 6, 13 at 23:59

Hi all,
This is my 2nd year attempting a vegetable garden. Last year I attempted to grow 3 tomato plants and failed miserably... I think we ate 4-5 tomatoes off of those 3 plants. Reading this forum and other online sources I think I know several mistakes I made (under watering, inconsistent watering, not fertilizing/feeding, planted too close etc) that I hope to improve upon this year. If there is a mistake to be made, I probably made it. :) I'm really hoping for a better outcome this year.

I bought 4 starter plants from a local nursery- Cherokee Purple, Sun Sugar, Sweet Baby Girl and Early Annie. I have a raised garden bed where I plan to plant the Cherokee Purple and Sun Sugar. I have 2 larger containers (estimating ~15 gallons each) for the other two. Our last frost date is ~May 21. I am in Colorado Springs at an elevation of 6800 ft. I was led to believe the nursery would sell out of popular varieties quickly so I bought the plants on Friday despite not being ready to put them in the ground.

An employee told me she won't plant tomatoes here without a WOW (Wall o Water). Having read about WOWs on here I decided to try that route. So I set up the WOWs however I'm hesitant to go ahead and plant them. We just had a couple of nights of lows in the 20s. The forecast for the next 10 days is looking better, lows in the high 30s and increasing to lows in the 40s. I know the idea of WOWs is to protect from freezing temps however I just don't think I trust it will actually work. In the meantime I have been trying to harden off the plants, I figure that can only be a good thing even if they do go in the WOWs.

I do not know what the soil temp is or how to measure it. I used a point and shoot temp reader but I have no idea if that is an accurate way to measure soil temp. I am guessing not.

So my question, what to do? Go ahead and plant in the WOWs since the temps look to be above freezing for the forseeable future? We have a few overcast days with potential for rainfall the next few days. Is it better to continue hardening off a bit longer and plant in the WOWs once the night time lows are in the 40s? I don't want to kill or harm my babies.

A bit more... I drilled 4 holes about 3/4" in the bottom of one pot and 5 in the other for drainage. Is that enough? I put EKO Outdoor potting mix in my pots. Should I add perlite? Fertilizer? I plan to use a liquid fish/kelp fertilizer on the plants in the containers. Should I also use it in the raised bed, or do I use a granular fertilizer there? When do I start fertilizing?

Clearly I need to keep reading up, I just don't want to screw up my plants this year! Any advice is greatly appreciated. :) Included a pic so you can see what I am starting with. I had no idea how to pick. I thought they looked healthy and not leggy... although I think they looked healthier the day I bought them (this pic is from today). Should I plant them deep?

I apologize this is so long! And thank you for taking the time to read if you made it this far. ;)


Follow-Up Postings:

 o
RE: Newbie hoping to get tomatoes off on a good start

I generally would not have selected those varieties of tomatoes; I prefer Parks Improved Whopper, Improved Beefsteak and a couple of heirlooms. But that is not important, you need a win! To get the most out of your tomatoes, you need good sunlight, warm weather (above 60 at night), fertile soil and an appropriate amount of water.

Temperature - Transplant you tomatoes into your raised bed after the night temps are above 60 degrees or at least above 45 degrees and cover them at night.

Sunlight - Your bed should be in an area that gets at least 6 hours of sun daily; but more is better.

Soil - If your bed soil has good topsoil with compost and manure your soil is fertile. If in doubt you can use Miracle Grow mixed with water or even make compost tea (see the internet) to help out.

Water - Keep you tomatoes watered but not overwatered. A WOW will work, but typical watering in the spring is once every 3 days; in the hot summer every 2 days. Water in the AM in cool weather and the PM in hot weather, but try not to wet the tomatoes since the hot sun may scald them.


 o
RE: Newbie hoping to get tomatoes off on a good start

Night time air temperatures need to be above 50 degrees F. The article linked below explains why.

There is some variation in the recommended soil temperatures for planting tomatoes, but many suggest 55-60 degrees. I know of someone who says if you can sit comfortably on the soil with bare skin for 10 - 15 minutes, then the soil is warm enough to plant tomatoes. Soil temperatures can easily be measured with a probe syle thermometer. Most soil thermometers have a pointed metal jacket on the end so that you can push it into the soil without damaging it. (The temperature needs to be measured at a depth of 6'.) These days many of them are the type with a dial on the top.

Betsy

Here is a link that might be useful: Cool Nightlife Bad for Tomatoes


 o
RE: Newbie hoping to get tomatoes off on a good start

Thanks so much for the advice. So it sounds like I should definitely not put them out this week, which is what I was thinking.

Next week when the lows are in the mid 40s and sunny daytime temps in the mid and high 70s, do I put them out in the WOWs? I guess where I am confused is I thought with the WOWs you were supposed to be able to put plants out weeks before the last frost date. Is this just not the case? I read somewhere it is supposed to keep the temp inside the WOW about 10 degrees warmer.

If I need to wait until night time temps are truly in the 50s, that will probably be in June. So in the meantime would I need to pot up the plants? Last year I definitely planted after the last frost... probably around the 1st of June, however I used no protection on them at all. Also, I received them at a later date so I was not responsible for keeping them alive until they went in the ground. ;)

Great link Betsy, thank you. And thank you for the explanation on measuring soil temps. I have a probe thermometer... but 6'? My bed is only 1' deep.

CharlieBoring, maybe next year I will try your suggested varieties. :)
In regards to your comments:
Temperature - Do the WOWs count as protection/covering them for the night?

Sunlight - my raised beds are definitely on the low end of sunlight. I think they get 6 hours, but not more. I don't know how I messed that up when selecting the location however I miscalculated somehow. :/ I can't move them this year, however depending how this year goes for me I might try to move them next year. The 2 tomatoes I am putting in containers however I can move and I am looking around the yard for a place that gets more sun and that my husband will find suitable (he is a bit picky about it, which is the reason my beds are on the side of the house).

Thank you again for all the advice, I really appreciate it.


 o
RE: Newbie hoping to get tomatoes off on a good start

Next week when the lows are in the mid 40s and sunny daytime temps in the mid and high 70s, do I put them out in the WOWs?

Yes, next week if temps are in the 40's you can put them out in the WOWs. Set the WOWs up several days ahead of time on the soil so they can be warming the soil then set them aside while you plant, then put them back on.

I guess where I am confused is I thought with the WOWs you were supposed to be able to put plants out weeks before the last frost date. Is this just not the case? I read somewhere it is supposed to keep the temp inside the WOW about 10 degrees warmer.

Yes they work that way but within reason. Weeks ahead of time? - maybe 7-10 days. 20 degree nites? - no. 30 degree nites - kinda, if it doesn't last too long and warms up well in the day time.

As Bets said - the goal is minimum of 50 to mid-50 degree nites (without cover) so WOWs let you go for mid-40 degree nites instead and get a couple of weeks head start.

I have had a surprise snow and late freeze hit my plants in WOWs and they survived but their health was never really good afterwards.

Dave


 o
RE: Newbie hoping to get tomatoes off on a good start

ColoradoSteph: from what I've read, soil temperature is taken at 6 inches rather than 6 feet.

You can warm the soil ahead of time with black plastic.


 o
RE: Newbie hoping to get tomatoes off on a good start

  • Posted by bets z6A ID (My Page) on
    Tue, May 7, 13 at 21:15

I swear I used a double quotation mark and GW stole one of them! LOL! Yes it is 6 inches.

I have a cold and I'm using my laptop instead of the computer I normally use. That is my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

Betsy


 o
RE: Newbie hoping to get tomatoes off on a good start

Yes they work that way but within reason. Weeks ahead of time? - maybe 7-10 days. 20 degree nites? - no. 30 degree nites - kinda, if it doesn't last too long and warms up well in the day time.

As Bets said - the goal is minimum of 50 to mid-50 degree nites (without cover) so WOWs let you go for mid-40 degree nites instead and get a couple of weeks head start.

Dave, thanks so much for breaking this down for me. Since I set them up, in the morning a few times I have gone out and stuck my hand down in it. It didn't feel any warmer than the outside air (real scientific measure I know, but during the day with the sun out I can noticeably feel a big difference on my hand). So I was having a hard time buying the advertisement. What you have said makes a lot more sense, and I am definitely getting the importance of warm temps for tomatoes! :)


LOL, Betsy. :) The first time I read your post I read it as 6"... but later I reread and was like, wait that says 6 FEET! I did wonder but given my brown thumb didn't want to assume. :D My keys sometimes change places when I'm typing. ;)


 o
RE: Newbie hoping to get tomatoes off on a good start

Good luck this year,Colorado Steph
About your plant choice, I should mention that from my experience Cherokee purple is one of the tastiests that I know but it is not very productive.

Never used WOW, but I have planted tomatoe many times when night lows were mid 40s. Tomatoes are pretty tolerant of cold. But on the other hand, with cold air and ground teperatures they will just hang in there and do nothing. Now that you have repotted them nicely, just wait and watchd the forecasts for 48+F night temperatures and in the mean time harden up your mators.


 o
RE: Newbie hoping to get tomatoes off on a good start

I am in zone 5 and plant tomatoes, with WOWs in mid March to early April.

Of course, I have to start my own seeds because it's difficult to find good plants that early.

I do this because I tend to get a few fruit before the heat sets in and sometimes during the heat. Then the fall comes and the plants take off with fruit production. Before WOWs, I would rarely get fruit at all.

I plant in ground when I can stand being outside in a t-shirt. I use a 5 gallon bucket, with the bottom removed, as a initial support for the WOW. Mulch (minced leaves or straw) helps to insulate the plants as well. Where I live, it's nearly ALWAYS sunny, so I shoot for noonish planting, allowing time for the WOWs to heat after planting. I also create a bamboo teepee inside the WOW in case it collapses.

So this year, initial planting occurred 4/5/13. Family did the planting for me and I forgot to instruct the need for mulch - so no mulching occurred. Black plastic was applied between the rows. A week or 2 after planting, the temps dropped into the single digits - super odd for April here. I tied the WOW tops shut but lost maybe 25% of my plants. I would expect that shaded WOWs would be less effective, but the dead plants were scattered - some in the sunniest spots. So, I don't know why ALL of the plants didn't die. I suppose I could have added a tarp or a blanket, but the logistics didn't make sense, and I have extra plants.

I think that the 16 degree limit is pretty accurate.

What I have found with the WOWs is that planting too early is also not good. In 2012, I planted in early March and our spring was so mild, many of my plants were taller then the WOW (growing out the top) when a spring snow storm hit. It damaged the plants to the point where it took a really long time for recovery.


 o
RE: Newbie hoping to get tomatoes off on a good start

hello Colorado Steph, your post caught my eye as I have an aunt and a cousin, who are referred to as "Steph"

I am just a little south of you in Pueblo and we share similar nighttime temps and sometimes, if the skies clear, we drop below what Springs cools down to on occasion. I have a few tomatoes out along a protected side of my house and drape blankets over the plant at night if a cold snap is forecast. You could take the previous poster's advice and use your WOW's within a bottomless 5 gallon bucket and drape over an old blanket over the bucket at night. Of course you need to remember to remove the cover the next morning before the sun gets too hot.

And I have some Cherokee Purples that I am growing for some friends outside right now that if it gets too cold I just bring them into an unheated garage and they are looking good. If the weather gets cold again you could place the plants you have under a fluorescent light leaving an inch or two space between the bulb and plant top and do just fine. In fact the majority of the tomatoes I have growing are setup in a similar way in the garage. Even when it was snowing outside, the temp didn't get below 50 at night inside.

It never seems good to rush things to plant too early, as you take the risk of losing it all or getting mixed results. Once it warms up the plants will soon catch up.


 o Post a Follow-Up

Please Note: Only registered members are able to post messages to this forum.

    If you are a member, please log in.

    If you aren't yet a member, join now!


Return to the Growing Tomatoes Forum

Information about Posting

  • You must be logged in to post a message. Once you are logged in, a posting window will appear at the bottom of the messages. If you are not a member, please register for an account.
  • Please review our Rules of Play before posting.
  • Posting is a two-step process. Once you have composed your message, you will be taken to the preview page. You will then have a chance to review your post, make changes and upload photos.
  • After posting your message, you may need to refresh the forum page in order to see it.
  • Before posting copyrighted material, please read about Copyright and Fair Use.
  • We have a strict no-advertising policy!
  • If you would like to practice posting or uploading photos, please visit our Test forum.
  • If you need assistance, please Contact Us and we will be happy to help.


Learn more about in-text links on this page here