Yesterday I transplanted over two hundred 3″ seedlings, mostly tomatoes, for friends and neighbors. Tomorrow I will transplant more. It always is important to be respectful for our bounty and tithe to the greater community promoting how to garden for food and health. As you may re-read in a previous article, I start my plants by placing commercial starter soils, or home made starter soils, in flats that are bottom watered, smoothed out and mini-rows indented to sprinkle seeds. Some seeds are so dusty fine you can only sprinkle the seed on the surface, and at best, press lightly into the soil medium. Generally, we look at any seed in nature?s wonder that just falls to the ground where the wind and water gentle covers it with worm castings and topsoil for spring germination. By this rule we can only cover seeds no more than just their thickness in soil.
We transplant the seedlings when they show true leaf development, as then the roots are starting to lateral out. The first two leaves were sun leaves and you can show the children how they turn to the brightest light.
I use a pencil and pry under the root level bringing up several plants at a time, and lay then gently beside my potting area.
I use 22 oz empty dog food cans that my Great Pyrenees gleefully cleans out for me every day. What he misses, the little Terrier inspects again. I use an electric can opener and that ensures a finished-smooth no cut opening. Dog can openers may be had at thrift stores very inexpensively. Remember to clean them too, often, as the most dangerous-deadly thing in your home is a can opener containing botulism.
The empty can is turned upside down and whacked with a straight claw hammer leaving two holes for watering. I no longer use a knife, or screwdriver, having had the experience, at my age, of impaling my hand. The hammer method works safely for me.
Next I turn the can over and fill with potting soil, either commercial, or homemade. If I am up to speed, the Fall before, I would have made a special compost of tomato plants, top soil and aged bunny/chicken manures, Kelp and rock powders, insuring a low Nitrogen level and a pH of 6.5. We will be making a rotary herbal/special compost maker this year so you can make your own in the future. Basically tomatoes grow best in their own compost. Think ahead and locate two 55 gallon plastic barrels for the project.
After bottom watering in a home made six foot long X 6? deep, plastic lined giant flat, or the Lowe?s? plastic cement tubs, I use a pencil and center hole the potting soil, pick the seedlings apart and place the largest down into the hole so that is the only the top leaves are showing. Roots will grow out of the stalk. Gently squeeze the hole shut. Let soak for a day. Then remove to a dry similar watering giant flat, let the cans dry out for a few days, and then repeat the cycle. Another option is to place the cans in homemade carry flats you can switch back and forth for watering and drying.
No matter how many plants, or how few you are transplanting, you must label each can. It is not surprising that you lose track of what is what; so you must label each can. I think the plastic sticks in the dirt labels are the best.
Note that I am not promoting water sprinkling, or misting, as this promotes fungus and problems since most of the rural area does not have chorine in the water. Bottom watering also keeps the surface dry and insures the potting soil is thoroughly wet.
The secret is not to over water, or over dry. Do not leave in standing water or the plants will choke in a week. Return smaller plants to the growing flat for the eventuality that you will need more in case of a freeze-it always happens sooner or later.
Before removing the can for garden transplanting, bottom water again. That insures that the drier garden soil does not suck the moisture out of the root ball. This is a good time to add fish solution fertilizer to the bottom watering, as there is always a small shock to plants at this stage.
My apologies for not giving you pictures at this time. My camera is loaded, but VISTA does not like my camera. So we are working on it for you.
The bigger the root ball, the healthier the plant. Most tomatoes will be a foot tall when you set them out next May. Even if you buy some small starter packs of tomatos at the Garden Center you will be ahead if you transplant to cans now. Tomatoes actually seem to do better with transplanting. Tomatoes are high bright light lovers. Keep them happy.
The best source for Open Pollinated (OP) tomatoes, and peppers, is: www.totallytomato.com . Not only do they have benefits of taste, we can save their seeds, wherein with hybrid, and such, you cannot.
Copyright: 2008, Back2theLand, Mark Steel