Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tomatoes are planted and the greens are crisp!

I have finally finished transplanting my tomatoes from their smaller cup/pots into their final 5-gallon bucket sub-irrigated growing containers. It took me a little longer than I had thought it would because I originally planned on having some help with the process and the construction. That didn't happen so it had to fit into my schedule. I ended up finishing and cleaning up last night at about 9:30.

I really like the idea of these things. There are several benefits that, if true, will support gardening in the desert more than some of the other things I do. First, they contain soil and nutrients that are contained in a closed system. They don't have any native soil, what we have here is rocky and generally without any non-mineral content. Tomatoes don't do too well in that.

Second, there is the potential for an uninterrupted water source for the plant. By having a reservoir of water in the base of the pot, and thanks to the natural phenomenon of capillary flow, the plant can have a life of reduced water stress (a documented splitter of tomatoes here in the arid southwest) and can enjoy having temperature-adjusted water (no cold shock in the summertime).

Third, the dang things are entirely portable, even late in the season. Although I can't imagine having to move a fully fruit-laden plant around the yard or to some other location, if I need to, I can. Since this is my first year doing this process, I don't know exactly where in the yard the best locations will be so I expect to move them around a bit at first as part of my learning experience. It's not too bad, they're not too heavy and most have handles.

I read online about a company that has produced a commercial version of something similar to my buckets and the developer/inventor has some instructions that are different than some of the others I've read. One company places a plastic cover over the dirt with only the plant and the watering tube protruding above it. One advises to simply mulch heavily and depend on that to reduce the trans-soil evaporation until the leaf cover of the plant takes over and provides the shade to the soil. I don't see how either of these will work with carrots as they don't have a thick leafy structure and you would have to literally perforate the plastic cover to provide enough holes for the plants. On the carrots, I'm opting for the mulch concept.

On the tomatoes and peppers, I think I'll go with the reflective mulches, either the red or the silver. I may even go with aluminum foil. I've seen examples of that working well. (Plus, it's really inexpensive and easy to fit in the pot around the plant and the fill tube.)

Another thing that I have learned that works for me here which is different than what some of the commercial units' instructions tell you is that I have to top water the plant until the roots reach down to the more moist levels of the potting medium. Most indicate that you would only have to add water to the reservoir and the plants do well. Apparently, they've never seen what a desiccating wind will do to a young seedling here in the desert. By top watering until the plants were more established, I find that the plant suffers water stress less and grows more vigorously. The need tapers off as the plant gets bigger.

My ruby chard and my white chard are both doing quite well. I am having a hard time getting my kids to eat it, they didn't grow up with it so it's new to them. New vegetables are difficult for most people to try and like. It all goes back to the old saying, "You don't know what you like, you like what you know." Since they don't know it, the learning curve (or the liking curve) is pretty steep. But we'll get there.

My lettuce field has done phenomenally well. I can get my kids to grab a pair of scissors and head out to the garden if they need to make a sandwich. They aren't having too hard a time trying the different kinds of greens I have growing there, the cut-edge varieties and the reds and purples. They seem to adapt well to that.

I am still amazed at the flavor that comes in freshly harvested greens. You don't get that at the supermarket. I don't know how long that lettuce has been on the shelf since it was harvested but now it just tastes old. I really love the fresh stuff and I know that there is no pesticide, herbicide, fungicide or any other -icide to deal with. Heck, you don't even have to wash if off before you eat it, just blow off the dust.

My onions are doing quite well. The tops are strong and dark and the flavor of the ones that we pick for the salads and such is so intense. They aren't any hotter than store-bought onions, merely more flavorful. You gotta love it.

My wife made some really great salsa the other day with some black beans, some corn, some mango and some cilantro. The cilantro was freshly harvested from the back yard. Cost? Zero. Flavor? WOW! You don't need as much when you harvest it minutes before you eat it. Amazing.

I'm really liking this fresh food concept. Can't wait to take it to the next level.

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