Friday, May 13, 2011

Soil Blocks II: The Heirloom Tomato

Today, we continue the saga of the little soil blocks that I planted back in early April.

This week, I started transplanting the tomatoes into one of our greenhouses. Susan grows a lot of tomatoes – we have nearly 600 tomato plants in soil block form. The farm sells them to Fresh Link, a local wholesale outfit that supplies restaurants in DC, and at local farmers markets. We mostly grow heirloom tomatoes, although Susan does have a couple hybrids that she likes.

I was planting Purple Cherokee and Mortgage Lifter tomatoes, which are both heirlooms.* The first step is to water the soil blocks with fish emulsion mixed with some water. The fish emulsion is brown and chunky and smells rather a lot like fish, which gets all over your hands as you plant so you smell like you took a swim in Baltimore's Inner Harbor for the rest of the day.** 

While the starts were soaking up their meal of fish guts, I prepared the beds by setting up the irrigation hose along both sides of the two rows I would be planting. For tomatoes, we use a drip tape that slowly releases water at one foot intervals along the hose, for a nice, gradual soaking that allows the water to reach the roots.

Then, using my trusty trowel, I dug pretty deep holes every foot and a half or so…

…then planted the starts.

The reason the holes have to be so deep is that with tomato starts, you actually want to plant them up to their “neck”, or right under the crown of leaves. The stems underneath will sprout roots, which gives the plant a bigger, better root system.

The next day, I got to mulch these little guys in with old hay, but here you can see them peeking out, all happy and green in their new home.

*The story goes that the guy who developed Mortgage Lifter tomatoes was able to pay the mortgage on his house with the proceeds from his work.                                                           
**Good thing I didn't come to the farm expecting to get my MRS degree or anything.

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