Mari's Dirty Fingers

A Newbie's Garden Experiment

Tomatoes, Tomatoes, and more Tomatoes

We weren’t very successful with tomatoes in the school garden last year.  Only 2 tomato plants  were planted; one cherry and one beefsteak.  The cherry tomatoes produced okay but the teacher did not cage them and they spread all over the garden box and onto the path.  We lost many fruit to pill bugs, slugs, and rot.  The beefsteak was very productive but it had a little 2 feet tall tomato cage that did little to support it.  Unfortunately,  some parents picked most of the tomatoes before they could fully ripen or be harvested by the students for their salads.

Tomatoes in reused/upcycled pots for our garden fundraiser.

Tomatoes in reused/upcycled pots for our garden fundraiser.

We’re off to a much better start this year.  Students started tomato seeds in February and March.  We used a few in our garden and the rest will be sold to raise funds for garden equipment.  Some of the varieties started: Black Plum, Juliet Hybrid, Persimmon, Large Red Cherry, Sweet 100, Brandywine, and Fox Cherry. We are  trying a variety of different plant supports this year.

For the Black Plum we are using a trellis.  

  • Tomato info: indeterminate tomato (continues to produce fruit throughout the growing season) grows 4-6 feet and produces brown/black plum sized fruit good for salads and drying.
  • The trellis is made from a metal EMT conduit frame and nylon garden netting.  Here is a good Trellis How To by Brian Sell at Living Well Now.  We made ours in a similar manner.
We are using twine and pruning to train this tomato to grow up the trellis.

We are using twine and pruning to train this tomato to grow up the trellis.

For the Large Red Cherry we are also using a trellis.  Tomato info: indeterminate tomato that grows about 8 feet tall with small cherry shaped fruit used fresh in salads.

For the Sweet 100 we are using a tepee.

  • Tomato info:  indeterminate tomato grows 4-6 feet and produces small cherry shaped fruit good eaten fresh and in salads.
  • The tepee is made out of four 6 feet tall bamboo poles tied together with twine at one end.
Tomato teepee. Students will add twine around the legs as tomato grows.

Tomato teepee. Students will add twine around the legs as tomato grows.

For the Persimmon we are going to use a remesh cage.

  • Tomato info:  indeterminate tomato that grows 4-6 feet and produces large yellow orange fruit good fresh, for slicing, canning, and in salads.
  • Here is an excellent Remesh Cage How To video by Emily at My Square Foot Garden.  We followed her instructions to make ours.
Remesh cage in action.

Remesh cage in action.

The school garden is accessible through the open parking lot during the hours the school is in operation.  I’m sure the  parents probably think, “Where’s the harm in taking just one tomato.”  The thing is, our school has close to 800 students.  It only takes a small percentage of their parents taking ONE veggie each to empty those boxes.  I’m going to have students make “Do not Pick” signs, or something along those lines.  If the parents see the signs in their children’s handwriting they may resist the temptation.

Please leave suggestions for the wording of the signs.  Something to the point but not rude. We’re not at the rude stage yet.


The Updates are Coming! The Updates are Coming!

I like visiting blogs as part of my gardening research. The big websites have valuable tried and true methods, but I love the innovation and experimentation of individual  people.   What I don’t like about some blogs is that you only see the enthusiastic beginnings of projects and never the end results.  I’m as interested in the failed attempts as I am in the successes.  There are lessons to be learned with both.  So, here’s where all my  pre-spring manic gardening attempts are as of today.  You can click on the bold title to link back to the original post.

Children of the Corn

Recap: Started corn indoors on 2/21/13 in newspaper pots for later transplanting in school garden.

Of the 45 corn seeds, only 37 germinated  (82%) and survived to be planted in the garden. We cleared a 7′ x 7′ section of lawn and mixed in a couple of wheelbarrows of compost. At almost 3 weeks old the corn roots were just starting to break through the newspaper pots.

corn growing

Corn at 2 weeks

Future home of the Corn

Future Home of the Corn

Students planted corn about 1 foot apart and then gave them a nice deep watering on 3/11/13. The teacher also planted some of the corn.  She is convinced she has a black thumb and says she kills everything she plants. She is very excited (but doubtful) to see the corn grow. 

Corn ready for transplanting

Corn ready for transplanting

Corn Field in the Morning Sun.

Corn Field in the Morning Sun

Prepping for March

Recap: Started tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and squash indoors in anticipation of warmer spring weather.

This update is mostly about yield.  I read that eggplant and peppers are difficult to grow from seeds and have low germination rates.  They require 1-3 weeks and 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit to germinate.  I kept my seeds covered with saran wrap under a 60 watt bulb. Here is a picture of what germinated (below).  Some eggplant and pepper seeds germinated after a few days and others are still emerging after 2 weeks.  All the squash emerged and will be planted into the ground next week.

Column Left to Right: 1-2 Eggplant, 3-4 Grand Bell Pepper, 5 CA wonder Bell Pepper, 6 Zucchini Squash

Germination Rates:

Eggplant 5 out of 12 (42%)

Pepper Grand Bell Mix 6 out of 12 (50%)

Pepper California Wonder 3 out of 6 (50%)

Zucchini Squash 6 out of 6 (100%)

Germination rates were actually higher but some plants died a day or two after they sprouted, so I’m not including those.  Even though the rate for eggplants and peppers are low, it’s still a great deal to grow plants from seed. I paid $0.25  for each seed packet at the Dollar Tree and I will end up with 12 plants for the school garden that would  normally cost me a few dollars each.


The Black Plum tomatoes where done in 2 batches. The first batch was started in egg cartons then transplanted to milk carton pots after the first true leaves appeared.  The second batch was sown straight into the milk cartons.  As you can see, the transplanted batch made for small weak plants while the second batch are all bigger and stronger.  If you have the space then I recommend you start individual seeds in larger containers over egg carton transplants.  I have never tried using commercial seed starting plugs so I have no opinion on those.

Left side: sown in egg carton then transplanted to milk carton. Right: sown straight in milk carton.

Left side: sown in egg carton then transplanted to milk carton. Right: sown straight into milk carton.


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