Tuesday, May 10, 2011

the elusive perfect tomato

Ah, summer tomatoes - the prize for a long (and sometimes difficult) growing season.  There is nothing like it.  They don't come easily though.  Although tomatoes are not particularly difficult to grow, there is something artistic involved in doing it "right" as far as I'm concerned.  This isn't a discussion about hybrid vs. heirlooms as both have their merits in the home garden. It's all about the process, and what a process it is.  Did you know that you are supposed to prune tomato plants?  That's getting a bit ahead in the process though...

So back in early April, on a random nice day I started my tomato seeds.  Here's the thing though, I started them differently than I have any other year, and am now reminded that anything that sounds too good to be true probably is.  So Gardeners Supply, which is a super reputable company that I use all the time was offering a kit this year to make "seed starting even easier" and I bought it.  Not that seed starting is hard, but anything that makes it easier is better right?  So this system utilizes cow pots (yes made from composted cow manure, which are awesome, I've used them for miscellaneous projects before) that sit on a special mat which "wicks" moisture from a reservoir below.  No need to repot, because the pots are big enough, no need to feed, because there are nutrients in the pots, awesome, right? So while plants do take in moisture from below (their roots) this system, similar to what I've used with peat pots in the past, just wasn't looking right.  As a failsafe, I started another batch of seeds in jiffy pellets in those little plastic "greenhouses" that you can get everywhere, one week after I started the cowpot version.

After several weeks this was the result....
uneven germination, lanky plants, most haven't formed true leaves in the cow pots
and some funky orange mold or fungus growing on the sides of the pots, yuck!

Started one week later in jiffy pellets, looking exactly as they should.

So last week I repotted the plants that were looking fabulous, although outgrowing their space in the jiffy pellets, into peat pots, just like I've always done.   There were a couple of plants that I repotted out of the cow pots, but I think that it was 3 out of 24, not good odds.

Happily repotted and back to the basement for a few more weeks under the lights.

So much for shortcuts, huh? Sorry Gardeners supply, on this product I'm really not happy.  Oh, and when I went to leave a review on your website this product is surprisingly (or not) "no longer available".  In about 2-3 weeks, depending on weather, these babies will get moved outside, and that's when the real fun begins!

On a completely separate note - if you are contemplating growing vegetables this summer it's not too late (especially with the cool spring we are having) if you are in the area and need help, I'll be teaching an Organic Gardening 101 class at Sport Hill Farm in Easton.  I'd love to see you there, click here for more details.

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