Saturday, May 31, 2008

Mulch 'Mators

The perfect tomato is the Holy Grail of many gardeners. Especially in the coastal, marine-influenced climate where I live. I’ve watched neighbors plant tomatoes where the summer fogs are frequent and nurture, worry, persist and try every way they read in the books and magazine articles to eke out a handful of tomatoes. Probably at a real cost of $10 per tomato, or more. Whereas just 2 miles east, over the high hump of the land that captures so much summer fog, tomatoes thrive. So, I buy them at the farmer’s markets and save lots of money and elbow grease.

Back in the ‘30s a man named John Weaver had the patience to excavate entire root systems. He dug a trench along side of the base of each plant and proceeded to excavate, scrape, and dust his way through soil – much like an archeologist at work - to reveal in exquisite detail the full extent of a plants root system. He (or someone else – the book makes no comment as to who did the drawings that resemble etchings) mapped mostly economic vegetable crops. Weaver must have been the Saint of Patience. I often wondered if he had a wife (no search found any clue) who could understand his work and have the same patience he must have had.

In Weaver’s experience, a tomato seed planted in ideal outdoor soil, with no transplanting involved, can grow a taproot to the depth of 22 inches at a rate of one inch per day. The tomato is yet another vegetable that prefers to grow a taproot, which is often damaged during transplanting. Young seedlings transplanted several times into increasingly large pots before their final move into the garden will probably end up with a root system more fibrous than that of tomato plants planted by seed in the garden which are allowed to grow a conventional taproot. However, transplanting tomato-plant stems deep into the soil will produce many adventitious roots along the length of its stem (See Weaver’s illustration.), creating a great root system early in the life of the plant, more advantageous than seed grown in the garden.

The illustration is drawn on a one-square foot grid (Taken from my book Roots Demystified, change your gardening habits to help roots thrive.) and shows how massive the root system is for one plant. At seven feet wide it changes one’s perspective of how much mulch is required to keep all the roots happy. In cool climates you might experiment with paper from an office or home shedder to help reflect light into the canopy of the plant. Turn all those shredded unsolicited checks from your credit company into wonderful tomatoes!

I don’t know of anyone planting tomatoes by direct seeding in the ground. Do you?

Please post a comment - I want to know what you think.

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NOTE: The comments section at the bottom of the post has disappeared. Click on the "___ Comments" button or the title under the "Blog Archives". Thanks, Robert


Tracey said...

Hi Robert
Here in Australia (top of the state of NSW, 30 mins drive into the hills of rainforest) tomato's often germinate directly from seed, usually spread by birds spilling the seed as they pinch ripe fruit, or seeds just falling on the ground as they over-ripen. We mulch everything here, and tomatoes are almost a pest!
cheers, Tracey (great article by the way)

Anonymous said...

Hi from utah! I just discovered online last night a thread of people who have successfullu done winter sowing which is exactly what i needed to free sprouting space in my house for more veggies and flowers. A lot of them have winter sown many types of tomatoes successfully, and advocating transplanting the seedlings even as small as with only their 2 sprouting leaves on, so maybe their tap roots might still be planted whole since you could just cut the bottom of the styro/plastic cups they are sprouted in and plop them in your prepared soil. Finding this winter sowing method has really liberated my thinking and has given me so many options, like- if the tomato seeds can withstand the freezing temp thru a thin milkjug mini green house or a rotisserie chicken plastic container, -why not right in the ground where you want them, covered with the well anchored milk jug top or plastic top?check out and see the possiblilities!