Tomato Ladders and Cucumber Trellises

I have finally given up on tomato cages. Over the years I never seemed to have any luck using them. They always seemed to fall over right when the tomatoes were ready to pick. Then, in order to keep the cages up-right, I would drive several stakes into the ground, but it always seemed that no matter how many stakes I would use it was never enough. The cages always fell over with the weight of the tomatoes. I just found using them frustrating.

The solution to my frustration was to build tomato ladders. This is one of those simple projects that I have wanted to do for years, but the timing was never right until this year.

Tomato ladders with a cucumber trellises.

As you can see, these tomato ladders are not complex to build. I built these tomato ladders from some standard 2 X 4s and basic hardware. The ladders are about 6 ft. tall and 2 ft. wide. I placed three rungs on each side about 18 inches apart. I applied several coats of boiled linseed oil to the ladders to protect them from the elements.

Our plan is to grow one tomato plant up each side of the ladder, securing the plant to the rungs as it grows.

Tomato Ladders with cucumber trellises.

Because of our limited space, we decided to try growing cucumbers vertically on a trellis. It only seemed natural to use the ladders to support one end of the cucumber trellis.

The cucumber trellises were also made from 2 X 4s, I ripped down several strips that were 3/4″ thick by 1-1/2″ wide and 48″ long. I then placed the strips together to form a simple grid pattern. Like the ladders I applied several coats of boiled linseed oil to the trellises. I secured them to the ladders with several zip ties.

Tomato ladders with cucumber trellises.

I will keep you posted on the success and failures of the tomato ladders and cucumber trellises this season.

Happy growing…

Transplanting Heirloom Tomatoes

Once my heirloom tomato plants start to grow their second set of true leaves, I transplant them from the small seed starting cells to larger pots.

Tomato Transplant

The transplant mixture that I use in the new pots is a combination of my standard seed starting mix and perlite. I usually mix about 4 parts seed starting mix to 1 part perlite. After the mixture is combined I wet it with water before placing it in the pots.

Transplant Mix

I place a little transplant mixture in the bottom of each pot. Note: make sure that whatever pot you use, there is a drainage hole in the bottom. I usually use a pot that is between 3 inches and 4 inches in diameter at the top. I have used a wide variety of pots over the years, from yogurt cups to standard green plastic pots. Recently I have been using a natural, biodegradable, and OMRI listed pot, they work really well.

Tray of transplant pots.

Once I remove the transplant from the seed starting cell I cut off the bottom leaves from the transplant. When I place the transplant in the new pot I make sure to bury the stem deeper then it previously was, to help encourage the development of a stronger root system. I only let the top leaves and a little of the stem stick above the mixture in the pot.

Tomato transplant with lower leaves removed.

Note: make sure to move the plant labels with the transplant so you don’t forget what was planted in the pot. I place the completed transplants back into the seed starting tray and place them under the grow lights. In a few weeks they should be ready to harden off outside.

Tray of completed tomato transplants.

Happy Growing…

Seed Starting Time

I began growing my own plants from seeds several years ago when I became frustrated with the selection of plants that were available at the greenhouses. Over the years I have had good success with starting a wide variety of herbs and vegetables. The following is the process that I use.

Seed Starting Supplies:
– Seed starting tray with cover and tray cells (if cared for, these can be reused for several years)
– Organic seed starting mix
– Standard fluorescent shop lights with some way to adjust the height above the seed starting trays.
– Last but not least the seeds, the following is the list of the seeds that I started this year.

The Seeds for 2012: 
– Heirloom Tomatoes: Red Zebra, Cherokee Purple, Hillbilly, Gold Medal, Mortgage Lifter, Amish Paste, Large Cherry, and Cherry Roma
-Peppers: Bull Nose and Fish
-Herbs: Dill, Cilantro, Summer Savory, Genovese Basil, Sweet Basil, Large Leaf Italian Basil, English Thyme, and Greek Oregano.

Seed Starting Supplies

Seed starting supplies

The first step in my process is to fill a tub with seed starting mix (the approximate amount I need to fill the cells) then I add water to the mix until the mix is really saturated.

Seed starting mix in a tub

Seed starting mix

The next step in the process is to fill all of the tray cells with the seed starting mix. I fill each cell about 3/4 full with the mix. Then I make plant markers to label what plant is growing in each cell. I put the plant markers in first so that I don’t forget what seeds were planted in each cell when I am all done.
Once all of the plant markers are in place, I begin placing a few seeds of the variety in each cell to ensure germination in each cell. After the seeds sprout, I will go through and thin out the seedlings in each cell. After all the seeds have been placed in the appropriate cells, I take some dry seed starting mix and cover up all the seeds so the seeds are the correct depth. Then I take a spray bottle filled with water and mist the top of all the cells.

Seed tray filled with seeds and mix

Seed starting tray filled and ready to go

The last step in the process is to cover the tray with the clear plastic lid and place it under the lights. I use a standard 4 bulb fluorescent shop light, with standard bulbs. I have used this light system for the last 5 years with great results. My light hangs from a simple stand that gives me the ability to adjust the height of the lights as the plants grow. I usually keep the light only a few inches above the seed trays to start.

Seed starting tray under lights

The seed tray under the lights

I leave the clear plastic cover on until the first seeds start to germinate and push through the mix. Not all the seeds will germinate at the same time, so I make sure the cover is removed once the first seedlings push through. Once the cover is removed it is important to make sure that the seedlings are kept moist. I use a spray bottle filled with water to mist the seedlings.

I will keep you posted on the progress of my plants.

Happy Growing…