March 19, 2012

Plastic Mulch and Tomato Planting

Well officially it is still Winter, however today we were finally able to get our tomatoes in. I have been trying to do this for over a week now, It just takes so much time. You don't just dig a hole in the ground and throw in your plant. I wish it was that simple! Usually it is a long process, but it has been unusually long this year as Linda has been working/observing at the hospital and I am trying out some new things on the growing front.

One of the big things is plastic mulch. I hope it saves more time than it took to put down, as my knees are really paying the price tonight. I used plastic mulch, on a limited basis last season and had great success. This year I am increasing my plantings in plastic mulch and I hope it pays off. The advantages of plastic mulch is weed suppression. However, the best advantage, especially in the early spring is plastic mulch helps warm the soil beneath it. Since warm weather plants, such as tomatoes, like warm soil to grow in. The minimum soil temperature I like to go with is 60 degrees. At 60 degrees, I plant tomatoes. Well this year, inside the high tunnel without any mulch it is already over 60 degrees, I hope this will speed up the growth of these plants and maybe we will have tomatoes by Memorial Day! Ok, maybe even sooner if this weather holds!

So here is what I have been working on for the last 4-6 days.

Step one, dig all remaining carrots in the building. We had lots of carrots left. While they were still growing and getting bigger, I need the space for a new crop. In addition, I needed to remove any and all plant debris, weeds, carrot tops, the last of the lettuce and Kale and any thing else in the tunnel that is green. I know I have had some problems with aphids over the winter, and I don't want to start off on the wrong foot this year. I will be monitoring these plants very carefully for the next few weeks and treat them if the aphids come back. I REALLY hope I was able to get rid of them. It would make me a happy camper!

After all the debris is removed it is time to remove all the drip lines, (3 runs per bed times 6 beds or 18 lines). These get pulled out into the yard. After they beds are clear I till up all the beds. Turning up all the unusual ( lost butter knife for popping plants out of cell packs and toads) to the usual root balls and missed carrots.

Once this is done, usually 45 minutes to 1 hour later, it is time to spread out the compost and add any soil amendments. I always add sulfur to help lower the pH of my soil and I add some epsom salts ( helped with preventing blossom end rot last year, thought I would try again this year). The compost is carried in one scoop full at a time or one bucket full at a time. I am getting better at this and it only takes 45 minutes or so. I add an inch or two to the center of the bed and now it is time to work it in. This is where I remembered to start taking pictures!

Beds cleaned out, drip removed, tilled up, added compost and sulfur, tilled in

A close up view, I see I missed some bindweed and henbit.

Now time for the drip tape reinstalling (sorry no pictures, I forgot) I pulled two lines for each bed in from the yard and laid them out and connected to the header line. Then I turned them on to check for leaks. I had several, so I put in a splice. Now that the lines are in, time for plastic, nope, not yet. I had to bury the drip lines a few inches below the surface. So 12 more furrows for drip tape, spaced 12-14 inches apart and them cover them all back up. Now time for mulch!

Time for helpers too. I had the girls come out and help. Their jobs varied from bring me this or that, to hold this, sit here to, Please don't fall down and get hurt!

We finished two beds, then I remembered to take some pictures.
Step one of laying the mulch, dig a 2 to 4 inch deep furrow on each side of the 3 foot bed and on the ends.

Next set the 4,ooo foot roll of plastic down on the bed. Yes it comes in smaller rolls, but it is cheaper if you buy it in larger rolls and I will use it all, just hopefully not this year! You bury the end under the dirt and then start to roll it down the bed. We usually go 12 feet and then pull the roll tight and the girls sit or hold the roll tight. I then go back and bury the edges, pulling it tight as we go. Then you repeat the process until you get to the end of the bed and then you go to the next one.

All of them helping hold the plastic in place on the second to last row.


This is what it looked like when we got all the beds covered.

Now it is time to plant, not quite. We had to lay out the rows on the plastic. To do this, we snap a chalk line on the plastic and it marks the center of the bed. This is a super easy and simple way to do this. Next you have to measure out the spacing (18 inches) and either cut an "X" or a "T" in the plastic with a utility knife. NOW it is time to plant.

I like to remove my plants from the cell trays and set them by the holes, about 15 to 2o at a time. If I had helpers, I would have them do this and I would plant.

As always my pictures start in the day and end in the night! Here we are all done.

Hopefully in 60-72 days we will be picking tomatoes. However, it is usually a little longer.

So the next time you get a tomato from us, we just didn't throw a plant in the ground, there was a lot of time and work that went into getting that tomato to you. We haven't even talked about trellising and pruning or even covering with row cover for cold nights and uncovering during the day, or picking or hauling to market, watering, pests, etc!!!!!!!!!!

No matter what, I still enjoy what I do. Now I wish I had a mulch layer!