A Garden Blog by Kevin Milaeger

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Tomatoes are Claustrophobic!
May 15
, 2015     
(See below for archives)

At Milaeger’s greenhouses, our crew is constantly transplanting plants. (That is, replanting them in a larger pot, to ready them for sale.) Sometimes two plants get put in a pot when there should have been only one. Later, on the sales lot, I sometimes see customers seeking out the “doubles.” I presume they think they are getting a bonus plant. I don’t blame them---who doesn’t enjoy a freebie? But in the case of tomatoes, a double is undesirable. The plants could be separated, but that can be injurious to the roots, especially if the plants are well established. If left as is, they will be way too crowded. Better to choose a pot that has one plant. I am often asked what size containers should be used for growing tomatoes. At home I use 15 gallon pots, so that is what I recommend. The follow up question is “How many tomato plants can I put in there?”---the answer is “One.” Seasoned gardeners know that most tomato plants get huge by summer’s end. They don’t like crowding---fruit production will be higher and there is less chance for disease when they are given plenty of room.

You are probably counting the days until you can plant your tomatoes and other heat loving plants. It is sensible to wait until night temperatures are above 50 degrees, and some even say 55. If you want to get your hands dirty I would suggest repotting (transplanting) your plants into larger pots. Experience has told me what a huge benefit that is. Transplanting is especially good for tomatoes. We sell most of our tomato plants in 3” pots. I just selected my personal plants and I repotted them into 7” pots. I set the plant directly on the bottom of the larger pot, and fill it up with soil; it is then about twice as deep as it was in the 3” pot. Someone new to gardening you might think I am planting the tomatoes too deep. If you examine a tomato plant that is, say, a foot tall, you will often find bumps at the base of the stem. These are the beginnings of roots. If they come into contact with soil, they will develop into feeding roots. When I plant the tomato twice as deep, I will get approximately twice as many roots feeding that plant. Doesn’t that sound great? When you are finished transplanting, place the plants in a sunny spot and they will “root out” to the edge of the larger pot in no time. If the weather is warm, set them outside, but bring them back in if the temperature drops or if wind is excessive. Some folks set their plants on a wagon, and pull them in and out according to the weather. At the end of May, if the ten day weather forecast calls for all nights above 50, go ahead and plant. And don’t forget to fertilize. I use two kinds of fertilizer. I like the organic Jobe’s “Vegetable and Tomato” granular fertilizer because of the added calcium, which helps control blossom end rot. I apply it shortly after I plant the tomatoes outside. I supplement that with the liquid “Algoflash for Tomatoes” several times over the growing season. Later, I reapply Jobe’s.

Pepper plants are similar to tomatoes in their basic requirements. They need plenty of sunlight, a warm temperature before planting, and decent soil. Unlike tomatoes, they tolerate, maybe even thrive, when planted closely. If you are from Racine, you may know Dr. Mark DeCheck. He is a longtime close friend of the Milaeger family, and he is an avid gardener, to say the least. If you visit his office in summer, you will likely be greeted by an enormous bouquet of flowers. Mark plants his peppers “bedding style.” (I grow onions the same way.) That means a wide row of four plants, with the plants spaced only about 8” apart. The next row has three plants, staggered from the first row---that is the most efficient method for high production. This pattern is repeated row after row for about 140’. Yes, you read that correctly---he grows over 800 pepper plants in that space. The close planting helps with plant support and the leaf cover keeps the bell peppers from getting sun scald---a common problem, especially in hotter summers. The funny part is that the good doctor doesn’t even eat the hot peppers, which make up the larger part of his crop. He just enjoys growing them---a true plantsman. The garden bounty is given to friends.

In the trial garden at Milaeger’s I put in just a row or two of peppers. That is usually plenty for me, and if I run out I know where I can get more. The trial garden is very exposed to wind, so I use a small cage around each plant to protect them from breaking off, which sometimes happens late in the season when they are laden with large fruit. Also, the cages protect them from hoses.

This coming weekend is the final weekend of our Vintage Veggie program for this year. This is a very limited offering of interesting edible plants that are new to us. We grew about sixty varieties this year, with no more than 100 plants of each. Some are already sold out---it’s tough to predict which ones will be popular. Here is a link to a spreadsheet that shows what we grew this year. It’s always fun to try something new. Of course, we’ll be “growing out” all of these varieties, so you should be able to sample them all at Tomatomania---this year it is scheduled for Saturday, September 12, so mark your calendar!

Please email me (kevin@milaegers.com) if you have any questions or comments.


Archives  (Click on the green text for links)

May 2015 - A Little Chilly, but it's Rhubarb Time!

May 2015 - Joan's Rhubarb Torte Recipe

April 2015 - "Ketchup and Fries" plant video

April 2015 - Early May in the Vegetable Garden

April 2015 - What Vegetables Can I Plant Now?

April 2015 - Making Salad Interesting

March 2015 - Ready... set... GROW!

March 2015 - Unusual Potatoes --- Not Just for Tots Anymore!

February 2015 - Next Month is Spring!

February 2015 - Greens to Grow 2015


September 2014 - Tomatomania Review 2014!

September 2014 - Tomatomania Results by Category or Cummulative

August 2014 - Kale! Kale! The Greens are Here! Click here for Recipe

August 2014 - The August Harvest Begins

July 2014 - Greens to Grow for Fall!!!  Click here for Spreadsheet

July 2014 - My Tomatoes are Blushing

June 2014 - Some Tomato Concerns

May 2014 - Garden Update --- the Cold Weather Experiment

May 2014 - Is it Time to Plant Tomatoes?

May 2014 - Vintage Veggies #4 and Vintage Veggies List 2014

April 2014 - A Chilly Spring... What Can I Plant Now?

March 2014 - Start Growing Your Own Food Right Now

February 2014 - Greens to Grow   Click here for Spreadsheet


October 2013 - Keep Calm and Garden On!

October 2013 - Autumn Vegetables

September 2013 - Tomato Popularity Poll Results Blog

September 2013 - Tomatomania Category and Cumulative Results

September 2013 - Tomatomania 2013 Blog, Video and T-Shirt

August 2013 - Greens to Grow and Spreadsheet

July 2013 - Spaghetti Squash

July 2013 - New Tomato and Zucchini Recipe Blog
July 2013 - Tomato and Zucchini Recipe

June 2013 - Cold Spring - What it Means for Vegetables
May 2013 - Tomatoes in Containers
May 2013 - Vintage Veggies 2013
April 2013 - My Tomato Garden Preview 2013
April 2013 - Don't Forget Rosemary!
April 2013 - It's Planting Time
March 2013 - Onions
March 2013 - Vintage Veggies
March 2013 - Greens to Grow Update
February 2013 - Hot Peppers
February 2013 - Grafted Tomatoes
February 2013 - Greens to Grow

September 2012 - Tomatomania Results
July 2012 - Compass Plant
July 2012 - Heat Wave
June 2012 - Okra
June 2012 - Potato Onion
May 2012 - Gas Plant

May 2012- My Tomato Garden
May 2012 - Vintage Veggie Fest
March 2012 - Growing Raspberries in SE Wisconsin
March 2012 - Winter Tomato Project
February 2012 - Success with Sweet Peppers
February 2012 - Vegetable Cukes Miniature
January 2012 - Tomatoes New Varieties

September 2011 -Tomatomania Review 
August 2011 - Tomatomania Preview
August 2011 - Racine Vegetable Garden Tour
Summer 2011 - Vegetables in my Garden
July 2011 - Vegetables - Squash and Tomatoes
June 2011 - Vegetables - Diseases made Simple
June 2011 - Vegetables - Container Growing
May 2011 - Vegetables - Squash and Tomatoes
April 2011 - Vintage Veggie Fest Event Preview
March 2011 - Vintage Veggie Fest Announcement

September 2010 - Tomatomania Review 
August 2010 - Flowers Late Summer Color
July 2010 Vegetables Cukes and Tomatoes
June 2010 Tomatoes New Varieties

September 2009 - Tomatoes End of Season Review 
September 2009 - Tomatomania Review
July 2009 - Tomatoes General and Fruit Set Problems
June 2009  - Tomatoes Fertilization
June 2009  - Tomatoes Personal Experience
May 2009 - Tomatoes General
May 2009 - Tomatoes Diseases
May 2009 - Tomatoes Selecting and Growing
April 2009 - Tomatoes General

Any questions or comments, please contact us at: gardenquestions@milaegers.com