You Say ‘Tomato,’ I Say ‘They’re Planted!’

Baker Creek Heirloom SeedsLife is busy lately, putting a crimp in my gardening vibe.  I’ve been fitting things in here and there, but long for an uninterrupted day to catch up on a few projects.  I started to worry that I’d never get the tomatoes into the earth.

Timing is everything when it comes to planting. April is prime seed-starting season in our neck of the woods so I needed to get to it. This week I did!

Once again, I started my crop in a pair of City Pickers. Much like the Earth Box, but double the size, the City Picker is an all-in-one planting system. Further, the boxes are portable, so they can roll from place to place for maximum sun.

My friend Doug, a nurseryman at a local garden center, gave me half a dozen Baker Creek heirloom tomato seeds a few months back. He received two sets of seeds from the Baker Creek rep and generously passed on one of the sets to me. I am one lucky gardener.

Of course I’m a stress case now, because the pressure is on. Will they sprout? Will they grow big and tall?  Will the squirrels, birds, rats, mice, snails, etc., let them be? The seeds sat on my desk for several months, full of promise and potential.  Now they’re out in the real world, no longer abstract. Grow babies, grow.

You say ‘tomato;’ I say ‘please grow.’ I’m thinking of changing the name of my blog to ‘The Worried Gardener.‘ What do you think?

City Picker Tomato Collage

Here are the steps for planting your City Picker:

1. Assemble as shown
2. Fill with potting mix (not potting soil) to about two inches below top
3. Add a thin layer of Dolomite (Agricultural Lime)
4. Create a two-inch trench down the center of the planter.
5. Add 3 cups of organic fertilizer.
6. Mound with dirt.
7. Plant
8. Cover with plastic mulch
9. Stake your tomatoes early. After a couple of hot days, you’ll turn your back and they’ll have grown like weeds.

Garden Guffaw: Plotting Tomatoes

Heirloom Tomato Seeds

Heirloom Tomato Seeds

I walked the garden with my husband this morning as we made summer plans. We’re enjoying a warm, sunny day with highs climbing into the seventies. I wish you could be here along with me, especially those of you snowed in.

In order to maximize the planting boxes, we’ve agreed on a place to relocate the raspberry vines. I’m always angling for more planting space out back, so I’m pretty excited.

This year I’m planting all of my tomatoes in the City Pickers.  They worked great last year. The ability to move them around as other garden plants grow larger is a boon.  It feels great putting a plan in place.

My sister sent me the following funny story a few years ago, about planting tomatoes. It always makes me smile. I don’t know the origins, so I’ll extend thanks to the universe and the anonymous writer of this tongue in cheek tale. Enjoy!

Plotting Tomatoes:

An older gentleman living alone in New Jersey looked forward to planting his annual tomato garden, but it was very difficult work. The ground was simply too hard. His only son Vincent would usually help him but he was in prison. The old man wrote a letter to his son describing his predicament.

Dear Vincent,

It looks like I won’t be able to plant my tomato garden this year. I’m just getting too old to be digging up a garden plot. I know if you were here my troubles would be over. I know you would be happy to dig it for me, like in the old days. I’m feeling a little sad. I hope you are well.

Love, Papa

A few days later he received a letter from his son.

Dear Papa,

Don’t dig up that garden. That’s where the bodies are buried.

Love, Vinnie

At 4 a.m. the next morning, FBI agents and local police arrived and dug up the entire area without finding any bodies. They apologized to the old man and left. That same day the old man received another letter from his son.

Dear Papa,

Go ahead and plant the tomatoes now. That’s the best I could do under the circumstances.

Love you, Vinnie

I hope you’re smiling, too.

Growing Tomatoes

Growing Tomatoes

Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes. ~Author Unknown

Tomatoes and Basil, Together at Last

My husband made a delicious Caprese salad for dinner last night with store-bought tomatoes and basil. It’s one of our favorite dishes. He found plump, flavorful heirloom tomatoes, filled with juicy sweetness. Today, at last, we have our own ripening tomatoes on the vine and a healthy crop of basil.

I planted three organic starter plants on one side of the City Picker planting system, and three sets of seeds on the other. Everything came up. When the pumpkin vines took over the area between the garden beds, I simply rolled our tomatoes to a sunny spot on the walkway, something I couldn’t have done otherwise. I’ll definitely plant tomatoes in the box again.

Okay, all you tomato growers: are your tomatoes ripening on the vine?  Ours took 94 days from seed to red fruit.

Tomatoes and Basil from the Garden

Tomatoes and Basil

Tomato Quirks: I learned a thing or two from this article.
The Green Grower: Bonnie vegetable starters now come in biodegradable “pots” that go straight into the ground with the plant.  No more plastic pots!
The World’s Largest Tomato: A record holder at over 7 pounds.
Insalata Caprese: My husband usually just wings it, but here is a recipe similar to the one he prepared.

City Picker Update: Tiny Green Tomatoes

Early Green Tomatoes

As the pumpkin vines continue to populate the vegetable patch, I was once again grateful for the City Picker boxes.  I simply rolled the entire planter box of tomatoes to another sunny spot, and let the pumpkin vines continue to grow.  (As if I would stop them!!!)

Unfortunately, one of the two boxes leaks when I fill the watering tube.  I can’t do anything about it now, but I’ll investigate at the end of the planting season to see what’s up.  I planted three starter tomato plants on one side and a variety of seeds on the other.   Eventually, I thinned the plants to an even six to the box.

Here’s how they’re growing:

City Picker Tomatoes: June 23, 2012

City Picker Tomatoes: May 23, 2012

City Picker Tomatoes: May 1, 2012

Help! There’s a pumpkin vine chasing me!!!

City Pickers Update: Week Three

Things are looking good in the City Pickers. I planted three starter tomatoes along the front of one box and seeds along the back. The tomato plants sprouted last week. I thinned them to one or two per planting. The second City Picker holds a different variety of seeds. They don’t seem to be performing as well, though I’m not sure why.

In addition to the tomatoes, I added one pumpkin seedling. So far, so good. Temperatures remain on the cooler side by Bay Area standards. We had healthy plants and poor production last summer for the same reason: very little heat. Here’s hoping the new planting system coupled with the reflective heat from the house and gravel add up to a warmer environment.

City Picker Tomato Boxes: May 1, 2012

City Picker Tomato Boxes: May 23, 2012

City Picker: Grow Tomatoes on your Porch, Patio or Deck

City Picker

A few years back, a friend raved about an Earth Box, a self-contained planting system for vegetables.  I’m not sure if they were hard to come by at the time, but I never stumbled across one in any of the garden centers I frequent, or I simply didn’t take the time to look.

Our raised beads spread out across the back of our house in past years, but they were too close together making it challenging to get around them without getting your foot caught between them.  When we refurbished our back yard this winter, we widened the path in front of the beds, to make room for our summer pumpkin vines.  We added gravel, since part of that area isn’t easily plant-able due to pipes, irrigation shut off valves, the electric box, etc.  It was a great place for a chair in the cooler months, with the sun reflecting heat off the side of the house.  Hoping to capture that trapped heat for our tomatoes this summer, I went looking for an Earth Box.  What I found instead was a City Picker, virtually identical in every way, but almost double in width.

City Picker’s are perfect for urban gardeners, since they are a fully contained system in a portable box.  The planting box comes with casters, a ventilation tray, a watering tube and plastic mulch.  You can roll it around your patio or deck to maximize sun, while at the same time containing the mess.  No need to worry about watering your downstairs neighbor!

Here is our setup:

1.5 CU FT. Organic Potting Mix

Dolomite Lime and Fertilizer

Fully assembled City Picker

Fill with potting mix to about two inches below the top
Add a thin layer of Dolomite

Organic Fertilizer:
Make a two-inch trough in the center of the box
Add three cups of organic fertilizer

Mound Potting Mix:
Cover fertilizer with mix, about one inch above the box

Plastic Mulch:
Cover with the elasticized plastic mulch
Clip in place with the enclosed binder clips

Cut Holes in Plastic Mulch:
Cut a hole for the irrigation pipe
Cut additional holes and plant seeds/seedlings

Ready to Grow

I’ve provided links for the Earth Box and the City Picker for feature comparisons.  Please let me know if you’ve tried one in the past, or if you plan to set one up this season.