Monday, October 26, 2009

October is for Tomatoes - another experiment

While surfing around the gardening web this summer, I saw references to others in temperate climates rooting some slips of their summer tomatoes to grow a new fall crop. Hmmmm. Our warmest weather is always August - October, so back in August I took a couple of cuttings of Early Girl. Not my favorite tomato obviously (see Mr. Stripey), but a reliable early producer and handy. One cutting did very well, and a month or so later was ready to repot.
I also became fascinated with SIPs - Sub-Irrigated Planters, similar to the Earthbox. I spent a lot of time reading blogs and Gardenweb's Container Gardening forum
. My garden was in the ground, but I decided to try to make a SIP for the fall tomato experiment. One blog in particular popped up with encouragement and links, Inside Urban Green. Long story short....I made a planter out of a 18 gallon Sterilite bin from Wal-Mart.
There are many, many photos of these around the web, and instructions much better than mine. Since I wasn't thinking about documenting this except for myself, I didn't take pictures of each step. The basic idea is a waterproof container deep enough to provide a water reservoir in the bottom, a platform between the soil mix and reservoir, a pipe or tube to keep the reservoir filled, and a couple of "wicks" - in my case, yogurt containers which will be filled with the soil mix and will wick moisture up to the main planting chamber. Also used: a throw-away plastic pot, and a piece of PVC pipe. I used the lid of the bin cut with a box cutter to fit into the bin where it would rest on the plastic pot, and cut holes for the yogurt containers to slip into from the top. I also cut a hole for the pipe, cutting an angle on the bottom of the pipe so it would not sit flat on the bottom. I drilled some holes around the pipe below the lid level. The plastic pot provides support, and all the drilled holes allow water to flow through the reservoir. After I took this photo, I also drilled some holes in the platform, in case we get some rain this year and the water needs to drain down, not up.

I drilled a 1/2" hole in the side of the bin, just below the platform. This serves as an overflow drain, and tells me when the reservoir is full.

I then packed the wicks (yogurt containers) with moist potting mix (not potting soil or garden soil), and filled the container with more mix. This mix has fertilizer already in it, so I didn't have to add that to the plan. (There are multiple ways to add fertilizer to SIPs ....I went the easy route.) I planted the rooted Early Girl cutting, set the bin in the sunniest part of the garden, and filled the reservoir. Other than filling the reservoir through the pipe a couple times a week, I've pretty much ignored it for six or seven weeks. I made it out to the garden yesterday to poke around a bit, and discovered the new cutting covered with blossoms, and a few small green tomatoes. If you look at the photo below, you can see the fill pipe. I need to rig up a support, since this plant is obviously growing well. Even more exciting (in our temperate but fickle climate), the plant is setting fruit.

Cost: $4 for the bin, $1 for the pipe, $6 (I think) for the planting mix. I'm hoping for a couple more months of fresh tomatoes! If this works as well as I hope, I'll probably plan a SIP garden for next summer. Or maybe spring....

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