Category Archives: tomatoes

What Do I Need to Know About Growing in Raised Beds?

As our country grows and the dynamics of the rural landscape continues to change more people find themselves with a much smaller piece of real estate to enjoy. For those who still want some of nature’s bounty to enjoy the calculus about how to accomplish a garden becomes more complicated. One alternative to this issue is to consider growing your vegetables or even flowers in raised beds. These handy creations have loads of benefits and really aren’t that hard to erect.

HOW DO I GET STARTED?

I think the first question to ask is if a raised bed is right for you. The reasons for a raised bed could be many, including some of these: 1)I have a lot of issues with rodents (possums, groundhogs, rabbits, raccoons), 2) I would like to have the crops I grow higher from ground level to ease the picking burden 3) I would like to have more order to my garden.

In our experience 1 & 2 are true. For a few years at the beginning of our stay where we live now we had a great “critter dog” that kept the animals at bay, allowing us to reap great benefits from our traditional “in ground” gardens. But unfortunately this dog, Louie, had no respect for machines with heavy wheels and his tenure was cut short after 7-8 years.

I want to say that we have always enjoyed beans, tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, peppers, watermelons and more. So having everything at risk was just not a good plan. We tried electric fences, traditional woven wire fences and other devices, but our results were just nothing short of disappointing until we made the choice to “GO RAISED”!

WHAT SHOULD I USE TO MAKE THE BED?

There is a varied list of items you could use to create your raised bed and Pinterest is one of my favorite places to “shop” for ideas. I have used landscape timbers in the past when we build a smaller bed for strawberries. I would caution against treated lumber now because of the knowledge that the chemicals used to treat the wood can leech into your soil.

You could use the landscape stones that are intended for retaining walls. They will last forever, but the cost can be significant depending on the size of your bed. For our beds we chose to use regular untreated lumber, which is less expensive and foregoes the concern of chemicals.

HOW BIG DO I NEED?

This decision will come when you determine what you want to grow. When we started last year we were only intending to grow tomatoes. But we like tomatoes, so we wanted enough room for several. Many tomatoes recommend 18″ between when planting, so when we thought about planting twelve tomatoes we knew we needed to be 12-16 feet long and four feet wide. Using four 16′ 2 x 10’s cut at twelve feet allows us to make the 4′ x 12′ bed. The 2x10s made the bed 20″ off the ground. Think that is no big change, wait until your are fifty-something and your back screams every time you stoop to work on anything!

Our results were so good with our first tomato season we determined we wanted to expand our “raised gardens” area. We have them right beside an area where we grow dahlias and calla lilies, so we just planned for another 4′ x 12′ bed in which we could grow lettuce, onions, peppers and squash. Because the lettuce is so much earlier it was out of the way before the cucumbers sprawled across the space.

Our biggest question was how big could we make a bed? If we wanted to grow a large quantity of green beans could we use a long raised bed? I can’t say I ever saw such, so doing it was something of a try it and see proposition. Trying to be economical, I went back to the 2″ x 10″ x 16′ idea, but doubled the length so the bed is 4′ wide x 32′ long!

WHAT CAN I USE TO FILL THE BED?

If you think about the inner dimensions of your raised bed you can make a rough calculation of how much fill it will take. So for a 4′ x 12′ x 15″ deep bed you are considering 60 cubit feet of fill. But then we thought about our 4′ x 32′ x 15″ deep bed and you are talking about nearly 3 cubic yards of fill.

You could go to your local home improvement warehouse and by garden soil in the bag, but that can quickly get expensive and burdensome. We chose to move away from garden soil because of the way it will pack as it receives rain and sun. For best results you want your roots to be able to penetrate the soil as far down as possible to retrieve from the water table when the skies are dry.

In our town and a neighboring city we have local government facilities that create compost. For the money this was our best alternative and after the success of our tomato bed last season we knew it would work for our beans and second bed. One thing in my favor for this was a pick-up truck, trailer and Kubota sub compact trailer with a bucket on the front to aid in unloading!

ENJOY MY PICTURES OF RAISED BED SUCCESS

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When Can I Start Vegetables for My Garden?

 

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As you can see in the bottom right hand corner of the photo this was of my greenhouse operation that I called Potter’s Dream Greenhouses in May of 2006. By this time 11 years ago, meaning May 9th, I had seeded a few thousand vegetables, including tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, squash, melons and more. You learn very quickly if you want to succeed in the greenhouse business you have to provide the right plant in the desired state of development in the proper time frame.

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If you are seeding vegetables for your own enjoyment your schedule can be a little more loose. I have seeded tomatoes in the end of February or maybe a couple of weeks later during my greenhouse career, because I wanted bigger plants by the time the early birds came looking in mid-April when 70 degree days were the norm in the mountains of Virginia. Of course that did not mean we would not get frost up and through mid-May. In fact, during my first growing season in 2002 a late frost actually benefitted me as most of the known growers were sold out of plants following a third week of May freeze killed a lot of previously purchased plants.

This year we waited until the third week of March to seed our tomatoes. Part of this was just not getting to the task due to some other projects, such as cleaning out the greenhouse for the first time in way to long. So you can see the fruits of our efforts I will share some pics.

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We decided to plant our tomatoes differently this year. Rather than seed then transplant into single cell trays we are just going to grow them all in one mass plant and separate to bigger containers when the time is right. Here you can see the trays we utilized in planting.

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Yes, that is a tree branch in the middle of the left tray, which is actually separating the types of seeds. We chose three varieties originally, Roma, Beefsteak and an heirloom variety called Red-X. Since then I rounded up three more, Better Boy, Celebrity and a Yellow & Red Stripe shared with my father by a friend. I tried something different with these three varieties, adding about a dozen seeds to the bottom of a disposable plastic cup and then adding an ounce or two of water to see if I could accelerate the sprouting process. I will let you know if this works.

We also seeded cucumbers and zucchini on the same day. Tell me what you think about my high tech labeling system.

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The main thing to consider when trying to nail down the date for starting vegetables is to know a few of things:

  1. What is the average germination time of my seeds?
  2. Can I provide a sheltered environment so they have the best germinating situation?
  3. Once germinated how long until I can transplant?
  4. How long from transplant until I can plant outside (i.e. when is the frost/freeze danger over)?

Seeding your own plants can be fun as well as rewarding, you just have to understand all the components to successful seeding. Good luck as you take on this task!

 

 

Daily Prompt: Construct 12-2-16

via Daily Prompt: Construct I try to find a way to respond frequently to the Daily Prompt one word prompts. Sometimes it is easy, but in other instances it takes some time to decipher a good answer.

Early this spring we decided we needed to approach our gardening differently. For years I have worked up a large patch of soli so we could plant various vegetables such as potatoes, onions, beans, corn, tomatoes and melons. We have enjoyed various amounts of success many times base don the weather or the rodents that choose our garden as their salad bar.

But this year we made the choice to relocate our tomato growing efforts to a raised bed. My wife was the architect of this idea, I just had the task of making it happen. You need to understand how much we love tomatoes to get a sense of how important this new bed would be. Tomatoes are something I look forward to from the time the last is picked in the fall until the first new one is picked to enjoy the next summer.

As I began to think about how to do it I knew I wanted it to be big enough. I had to CONSTRUCT something large enough to provide the tomatoes we would use for soups, spaghetti sauce and to put on sandwiches all summer long. I benefitted from a generous friend who allowed me to borrow a tool that basically extends your truck bed in a way that you can haul longer lumber.

I drove to my local big box hardware store where I bought 4-2x10x16 foot long boards. When cut to twelve foot I had a 12 foot long by four foot wide by 20 inch deep raised bed in which to plant my tomatoes.

Once I got enough composted soil to fill up this large bed I was ready to plan the tomatoes I had been protecting from the elements in my greenhouse for a few weeks while they had a chance to grow larger than they were in the small packs when I bought them.

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The raised bed was a huge success as we collected more tomatoes this year than in quite a while. We even collected tomatoes into October, which has never happened before.

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This is my response to the Construct Daily Post topic. What’s yours?