The last week of April and the first week of May I set aside time to “harden-off” my almost-six-inch-high young tomatoes. This gets the little darlings used to the outdoors with all its dangers–direct sun, wind, varying temperatures…it’s a jungle out there. Now clearly, I don’t consciously place them in jeopardy, but an hour or two in the yard, in nice calm wind, in partial-to-full sun, in gradually longer periods of time helps them to adjust to the REAL world–the outdoors!
Due to limited space, I will be using large, self-watering containers from “Gardeners’ Supply.” They are large enough to accommodate two tomato plants each and the self-watering feature is ideal for our dry climate. Tomato plants thrive when they receive EVEN moisture from the bottom. Uneven watering is one causes of ‘blossom-end rot’ and top watering or spraying can promote fungal disease (verticillium wilt and fusarium wilt).
Pre-conditioning the (sterilized) soil gets the plants off to a flying start. I like to apply my “Great Big Tomatoes” liquid compost to the container soil once each week for two weeks prior to planting.
I know that ‘microclimate’ is critical for tomato plants. They will only grow properly and set fruit in a small but critical temperature range–55 to 85 degrees F. When cooler or warmer, growth slows or stops, blossoms may drop, and no fruit will set. At my elevation (7000 ft.), this means providing extra heat, especially at night. I will locate the containers in my warmest micro-climate, which is a south-facing second-story balcony, with the containers, until nighttime temperatures rise, against the house, under the roof eves.
Contributed by Jim Mast