[tomato] improvements in technique

Poris (Tomato@GlobalGarden.com)
Mon, 11 May 1998 16:02:18 EDT

   I just completed most of my spring planting (40 tomato plants, 28 species)
and thought I would share some of my improvements this year:
- I got a 1000W metal halide lamp with parabolic reflector and used a small
oscillating fan on my seedlings.  The light was about 4 feet above the ground
and the fan and light were on for 16 hours a day.  The fan helped cool the
plants since the lamp dumped out a lot of heat. 

- much improved stem thickness compared to double and quadruple 40 watt
fluorescent fixtures of years past.  

- sturdier plants either from the light or from the improvement due to the fan
"strengthening" the stems.

- more rapid flower development during the first eight weeks.  Usually just
Kotlas and Stupice show fruit during this period, but other species flowered
as well including red currant, galina, sasha’s altai, sun gold,...

- Because of the limited indoor seedling space (4’ by 4’), after 6 weeks the
density was greater than optimum so my seedlings were still slightly taller
than optimum.  I plant them in a hydroponic system with perlite, so they are
vertically supported right away.  I plant as deep as possible (the perlite is
only 3" deep) and roots grow along the buried stem for more roots anyway.  Two
20 foot rows, 15" wide hold the 40 plants with a mild slope for drainage.

- in years past I have seen a purplish color to the underside of my seedlings
after 2 weeks. It matches the symptoms of phosphorous deficiency in my books.
I used half strength of my standard hydroponic fertilizer (normal procedure)
and added some additional phosphorous (in the form of bonemeal) to the soiless
seed starting mixture (vermiculite, perlite, peat moss and a small quantity of
compost).  No purpling of the leaves at all this year!  Maybe this is due to
other conditions (light, nutrient intake,…?)

- because of the WET winter I have experienced (the Santa Cruz mountains in
Northern California) and extremely late rains (it usually only rains lightly
once or twice from the middle of April to the beginning of May), my plants
were slightly rootbound in their 8 oz cups waiting to be transplanted.  I
think I lost 2 plants due to this root bound condition.  They started to droop
even though they had plenty of water (no yellowing to indicate overwatering).
They slowly degraded over time and had to be put to sleep.  (Sahsa’s Altai and
Stupice).  My seedlings were too big for wall-o-waters because of the stronger
growth and extra 2 weeks indoors!

- my limited hardening off period (only 3 or 4 days) went much better than
normal.  The babies did not droop hardly at all as they acclimated from the
indoor halide to the outside sun in their 8 oz cups.  Even after transplanting
(the roots are washed in water to remove as much of the soiless mixture as
possible), the drooping was minimal.  I attribute this to the high light
intensity of the metal halide bulb. 
- Enough for now, I just finished planting my cucumbers and basil and thought
I would drop a note.

Jaime (in the Santa Cruz Mountains in Northern California where it is STILL
expected to RAIN)