As is evidenced by the above photo and yesterday’s fashion choice, I took the plunge yesterday and planted my tomatoes out in the garden. Too early, you say? Perhaps. I don’t really know; it’s a total gamble. However, I felt I didn’t have much of a choice anymore. They were just too huge and had jillions of roots coming out of the blocks every which way and trying to climb right out of the tray.
The biggest lesson I have learned so far in 2010 is that if I’m going to use every nifty seed-starting trick known to man, then I’d better start them later. Standard recommendations for starting tomatoes from seed indoors range from 6-9 weeks before the last average frost date. Here in Vancouver, WA, our date is April 12th (yesterday, the day I planted). Last year, by the time I planted my starts out, they were teeny and puny and half dead. This was due to my starting them in traditional peat pellets in a windowsill. But, I started those on Valentine’s day 2009 and I started them this year on February 27th & 28th, a full two weeks later than last year, and officially only 6.5 weeks before our average last frost date. To be honest with you, I really thought I’d started them late. Boy, was I wrong.
Of course, it’s not all my fault. The 4″ blocks are supposed to hold them up to two months. I should have had plenty of time for it to warm up outside. But somehow, after only one week, mine had roots out the bottom and sides. Somehow I have created giant, monster, mutant tomato plants. But enough about that.
The point is, they had to go. So, I spent all of last week hardening them off. I put them outside in the shade for a bit one day, then out in the shade and partial sun for longer the next, then shade to sun and rain for a full day, then eventually out all day and overnight. My progress was somewhat impeded by the two days with freak, crazy hailstorms and insane winds and icy temps. The first of these storms blew in without warning and battered my poor plants before I knew what was happening. I bought them back inside and under the light for about 24 hours to help them recover, with only minor leaf damage. I think of it as a learning experience for them – you never know what life might throw at you, young plants, but sometimes it’s going to be cold, wet, and windy.
Anyway, the morning after I left them out all night, it started cool and misty and then warmed to bright sun and breezy with high clouds. I hemmed and hawed all morning, obsessively checking the weather reports for the next two weeks, as I had been doing everyday since I started hardening them off. A frost could spell disaster. Mostly, I fretted over the overnight low of 35 degrees predicted to come about a week from now. Other than that, it looked like smooth sailing. Some books and seed companies recommend that you don’t put tomatoes out until overnight temps are solidly over 50. However, up here, that day may never come, and they’ve gotta go out sometime. Besides, they’ve been selling tomato starts at the farmers’ market for at least three weeks now (of course, I have to say, that seems like a scam to me. Buy it this week, it will die in the frost, then buy a new one next week, etc, etc.).
This is where my secret weapon comes in. You see that white fabric in the background? It’s called Agribon and it was a gift from my mom. She got me the medium weight, which provides up to 6 degrees Fahrenheit of frost protection. You just stick the metal hoops in the ground, toss the fabric over them, and stake the edges. Voila! Floating row covers that act like mini greenhouses. I have to say, it gets downright toasty in there, while allowing in sunlight and rainwater. ‘Tis lovely, for sure. And so, my baby tomatoes are tucked safely in my raised beds, snuggled up with straw mulch, and blanketed securely with Agribon AG-30 from Peaceful Valley. I am still a worried parent, picturing dead tomato plants each time I walk out to the garden. But my Agribon security blanket does give me some peace of mind. If they die, I guess I’ll just have to break out the heat matt, soil blocks, and grow lights and see if we can’t start all over again.
I REALLY hope I don’t have to do that.
Sadly, this pic is from 11 days ago, and it is the most recent I have. I have been so wrapped up in getting pictures of my plants and transplanting, and row-covering, and weeding, and dirt-moving, and garden-expanding, and holiday-having, etc, etc, that I just haven’t taken any baby pictures. I will get some for you soon. Thirteen is 10 weeks old today, which is about halfway to egg-laying age (assuming it’s a girl)!
Starting yesterday, I noticed grown-up noises coming from the baby. One-Three still peeps like a baby, but she intersperses some croaky clucks in there too now. Voice changing… it’s chicken puberty!
I have been contemplating the move into the big coop. I almost did it today because Sofia and One-Three were hanging out in there with everyone, and so I closed them in. Everything was fine for a while, but then Sofia hopped up on an outdoor perch with the other ladies and Thirteen started running around on the ground, peeping desperately. Then good ol’ Rory cornered the baby and once again attempted murder. With a tuft of little black-and-white feathers still in Rory’s beak, I promptly went in the run and chased Sofia and the baby back into their own coop. Dang. I was really hoping it would be easy. Maybe I’m a paranoid mama. Perhaps I’d leave them in there and they’d work it out without bloodshed. I’m just too afraid that I’d come out in the morning to a dead baby, and I don’t think I could handle that.
I know Sofia’s ready to be done with the mama gig because she more than happily ditches the baby during free-ranging and hangs out with her old friends nowadays. The baby keeps a safe distance from the main flock, but happily hangs out with the roosters and sometimes Pol Pot or Lady B, who seem to keep any murderous impulses under wraps.