The air is warm, the flowers are blooming…but nothing really says “spring” like a dump truck full of potting soil!
This was, by Tien standards, a very modest amount of soil – three cubic yards, delivered in a cute little dump truck. (The ten cubic yards of compost that I ordered the last time I had a tomato farm made a much bigger pile, and arrived in a big-daddy dump truck.)
Nonetheless, this tiny pile of potting soil was still enough to fill twenty 31-gallon self-watering totes:
And 21 self-watering 5-gallon pots:
You’ll notice that there is still some potting soil left! Yay! I’m going to make two more of the big blue totes and fill it with the leftover soil. And plant more tomatoes in it, of course. (Because anything worth doing is worth…oh, you know the drill. 😉 )
I sorted out my seeds last week – not just the tomato seeds but all the seeds we’ve bought over the last six years. It was a monumental task to get everything straight – so of course I needed help:
After sorting through all the seeds, I planted all the tomato seeds into soil blocks on Tuesday (the 20th):
A few words of explanation:
First, soil blocks are great for growing seedlings because they’re inexpensive and the roots come out healthier than they do in small pots. Roots trapped in small plastic pots rapidly start going around and around the edges of the pot, creating a “root-bound” plant. However, in soil blocks, the roots reach the boundaries and stop naturally because they are exposed to air. Nurseries don’t use them because the soil blocks are too delicate to manage commercially, but I like them better. To make soil blocks, you take your seed starting mix, wet it down thoroughly, and (using your soil block mold) stamp out a bunch of blocks into your seedling tray.
Second, you may have noticed the unusual names on the labels in the foreground. These are the seeds that I’m growing for the Dwarf Tomato Breeding Project. It’s an intriguing project to breed tomato varieties that are well-suited for small-space gardeners. Most tomatoes have one of two growth habits. Indeterminate tomatoes never stop growing, and ripen their fruit gradually over the course of the summer. They’re not well-suited to container growing because they’re huge.
Determinate tomatoes, on the other hand, stop growing partway through the season, and ripen their fruit all at once. Because their size is self-limiting, they’re often recommended for container gardening. Unfortunately, determinate tomatoes don’t generally taste as good as indeterminate tomatoes. That’s because indeterminate tomatoes have a ton of leaves and a few fruit ripening at any given time, while determinate tomatoes have less leaf surface area and ripen all their fruit at once. Since foliage is where tomato plants get the energy to make sugar and flavor compounds, a lower ratio of foliage to fruit typically produces tomatoes that are not as sweet or flavorful.
From the perspective of the home gardener, the other disadvantage of determinate tomatoes is that you get your entire tomato harvest at once. Determinate tomatoes were mostly developed for industrial tomato farmers to make harvesting more efficient. Commercially grown canning tomatoes are harvested by spraying herbicide to kill the plants once the tomatoes are starting to ripen, then coming back a week or so later with a mechanical harvester that strips the partially-ripe tomatoes off the dried-out vines and takes them off to the factory. Obviously this works much more efficiently if the entire crop ripens at once.
However, most home gardeners would rather have a few tomatoes at a time over a long growing season than a two-week avalanche, then nothing. So determinate tomatoes aren’t great for container gardeners either.
And that’s where dwarf tomatoes come in. Dwarf tomatoes are indeterminate tomatoes with a gene that makes them short. So they are container sized, but they produce their fruits over a long season. They also have a higher ratio of foliage to fruit, so the tomatoes taste better.
However, there weren’t many dwarf varieties ten years ago. So Craig LeHoullier and Patricia Nunske Small started the Dwarf Tomato Breeding Project, enlisting tomato growers from around the world to help develop new varieties. This help basically consists of growing out the children of various crosses, reporting on their growth habits and fruit flavor, appearance, etc., and sending back seeds. This sounded like fun to me! so I signed up and will be growing three plants each of three breeding lines, to see what happens.