Potting On

Today is grey, chilly and totally not allotment weather. So I’ve been transplanting my tomato seedlings. Working in the garden greenhouse is fantastic, as I can make as much mess as I like and I’m still out of the extremely cold wind that’s blowing in Sussex.

We don’t grow tomatoes outdoors, or haven’t until this year. We certainly won’t on the allotment as the site is blight-ridden and every year we watch people lose their entire tomato crop to the blight and it’s heart-breaking. At home we never grew tomatoes outdoors because little Falco dog would eat them (he also dug up carrots and parsnips and ate those) but as he’s no longer with us, perhaps we’ll try a few hardier varieties in the south border.

Anyway, today I had Yellow Submarine and Orange Heart ready to be moved into the next size of pot. I have a confession to make now, just to prove I am an honest gardener. The Yellow Submarine have gone into little pots because I only intend to keep two plants and will be giving two away. When I was writing “Minding My Peas And Cucumbers” I got involved in trying to work out whether you could actually make a profit from running an allotment and had an awful realisation. I was calculating up the amount I spend on sowing and potting compost and it seemed awfully high for the volume of medium that was actually around the plot. Then I saw the truth—because we pot everything on and give lots of seedlings away when we have decided which we want to keep—I have, for years, been giving away about half the compost that I buy.

So now I have become mean. I pot all the seedlings that I’m not sure I’m going to keep into little pots so that when I give them away I’m not donating most of my compost too!

On the other hand, the Orange Heart tomatoes will probably all stay with us, so I’ve put them in bigger pots.

One thing that I notice with novice vegetable growers is that they make a couple of mistakes with potting on: one is that they don’t bury the stem almost right up to the leaves when they repot a plant. Tomatoes and peppers need to be sunk right back into the compost when you transplant them as this makes them stronger and less likely to snap as they grow and become heavy with produce. As you can see, that spindly stem that the seedling has produced is now deep in the rich soil that surrounds each plant in its own pot.

The other mistake is that beginners tend to keep a large ball of compost around the roots of the seedling when they move it into a bigger pot. It’s only my view, but I think this can lead to problems, particularly if you’re using a medium like John Innes #2 to germinate seeds. The reason I think it’s wrong is that those seed-germinating mixes seem to run out of nutrients really quickly and by the time the plant has put out the first true leaves it’s pretty well exhausted the food in the soil, so if you move that soil over into the new pot, you’re going to have an area of nutritionally depleted compost in which the roots are sitting which can check the plant’s growth.

So my babies are growing up and some of them are going to need new homes soon!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Blogger Joanna said...

We used to grow amateur bush tomatoes outside in Derbyshire most years, I think the only year it didn't work was a really wet year.

April 5, 2011 at 8:33 AM  

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