Get Tough

It was wonderful to see family, friends, and repeat customers this weekend.  It makes all the hard work worth it to know that there are excellent people out there who share our values.

For those of you who bought plants this weekend, or intend to soon, we want you to be aware of some tough love that you should consider.

First, our plants were in a greenhouse till you bought them. For best results, they need to be "hardened off" in the 5-10 days before transplanting into your garden.  Hardening off is the process of acclimating plants to outdoor conditions of direct sun, wind, and cooler night-time temps.  This is accomplished by exposing them to an increasing amount of outdoor conditions until they tolerate at least 6 hours of it.  Start by putting them in a sheltered place, and take them inside at night if there is danger of frost.

Second, the minimum soil temperature that tomatoes will tolerate is 50 degrees F; the optimum soil temperature for tomatoes is 70-95 degrees F.  They make soil thermometers, but our tax dollars helped developed data available from the excellent California Irrigation Management Information System (CIMIS).  Average soil temps recorded during 2009-2010 in several representative counties tells it all:

(Soil temperature readings taken 6" deep)
March: 52
April: 57
May: 63
June: 69
July: 74
August: 73
September: 70

You might say, "But I plant my tomatoes all the time in April and get a great crop." True, but you might have gotten an unbelievable crop with more early warmth.  The good news is that it's possible to mimic the process.  In the 19th century, biodynamic gardeners placed these beautiful glass jars, called cloches, over individual plants.  It warms the soil and concentrates the solar radiation on the plant.  You can do the same more cheaply by simply cutting off the bottom of an appropriately sized plastic container (e.g., milk jug).  Alternately, if you have a bunch of clear glass panes, just place them directly on the soil.

Remember, tomatoes are from the tropics, so keep them comfy...