Monday, January 26, 2009

A Year in My Garden - Tomatoes ala SFG

One of the important things with the Square Foot Gardening technique is the spacings of plants ... These are a lot closer than you would normally do in the traditional line by line garden... So for example you can grow 16 radishes in one square foot or 16 onions or 4 broad beans etc .... Tomatoes, it is listed as 1 per square foot ... Well thats what I thought it said ... It's actually 1 per square foot in a line of 4 ...Then you can grow the up a trellis and they have plenty of space front and back .. just not so good a spacing side to side ..... 


 


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But I read 1 per square foot. And I planted a raised bed with 25 tomato plants .... It wasn't long before I realised this wan't such a good idea..Crowding of the leaves soon happened along with leaves yellowing badly from fungal growth ( i think) being wet and humid here in summer .... 


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I also then went on to create two other raised beds on the front yard to grow even more plants ...I'm trialing a number of heirloom plants ..... And of course ther were all planted at 1 plant per square foot .....


 


They had to be staked as well of course and a cane stuck into a little over 6 inches of friable soil over tarmac was not going to hold a 6 foot plus plant and 6 or so trusses of fruit ..... 


 


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There are cages you can buy for tomato plants and that was an option ...but for 50 something plants !!... 


 


And so this is what I've come up with ... A cage covering the whole tomato plant area... The canes are pushed in at an angle both ways so that as the plants grow up them they grow further and further apart from each other .....


 


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Not a pretty look ...But it does seem to be doing the trick. It's allowing more space and its staying upright in the quite heavy wind we've had the past few days ... 


 


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I had to do something with the base of the plants and the leaf die off. I needed to get an air flow through them (being windy wellington and on the side of a hill should be too hard a task) and so simply pruned the leaves away for about the first foot of the plants... I've seen commercial growers go further and take almost all the leaves off of tomato plants as it encourages more flowering ... But leaves produce sugars from the sun and photosynthesis and thats what I want in my tomato fruit...the taste of the sun.. ....Anyway they don't seem to be shy in flowering at the moment so higher leaves stayed on... 


 


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I should also have cut the flowers from the lowest part of the stems to stop the fruit forming and lying on the soil ...But I didn't ...And now the fruit is starting to ripen I've had to prop them up off the ground ..not hard to do ..just time consuming and a pain in the butt...


 


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This is one of two raised borders directly onto tarmac in the front yard ..... (The neighbours must thing we are pretty odd people ....)  8 inch wide planks of macrocarpa ....2 inches of straw on the bottom to retain moisture ...6 inches of compost soil ...The tomatoes are growing well and fruit set is growing well too... but the heat is a drawback and does suck the moisture right out of the soil .... Oh and I've two egg plants in the corners loving the heat .....


Oh and the other thing I did back in november was to buy a dozen plants from a church fundraiser (money maker and russian red).. Which is fine except that the 6 russian red are bush tomatoes not vine.. And not knowing I cut off all the lateral shoots (I thought there was a lot) ...Not so good a practice for bush Toms (but they would have rotted in the crowded bed anyways if I hadn't) ...so I will get a reduced harvest from them this time (not that we'll notice if all the others set fruit) ... I've let some of the side shoot grow higher up though where they have more space anyway albeit a top heavy plant they will be .... 


 


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Meanwhile the heirloom plants don't seem to set the fruit too well compared to the others ...they are also more likely to have fused flowers (which is where the giant tomatoes in competitions come from) .. We also have some leaf curl in those plants .. .doesn't seem to bad and maybe more climatic or envirmental rather than virus/bacterial .. but I will research that tomorrow and see if anything can be done .....


Open to suggestions of course from those knowledgeable ones :O) The plants are watered daily ...


 


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  Top tomato skin is shiny and smooth ... Bottom variety are almost hairy and dulled by the fuzz on them ....


And then there is the monarch catapillar .... We especially bought a defoliated swan plant just for getting a catapillar for the garden ... works out about $4NZ a catapillar !! :O) Since then we have two very happy monarch butterflies continously flying around the flower beds ...They love the dahlias etc ... more food than they could have ever wished for and a small forest of swan plants for their own catapillars ....


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 Err - the left side is the head side ... You don't want to know what I saw coming out of the right side ......:O) But that must have been a lotta swan plant leaves eaten !! :O)