Monthly Archives: December 2011

Why Good Drainage is Important for Your Garden

This is just one of the reasons that we are renovating our demonstration garden:

The tracks are from several weeks ago, when we were working to remove the remaining concrete from the wheelchair garden area. There had been a little bit of rain a few days before, and the bobcat left these ruts. Ugh. Since then, they haven’t drained. Granted, a lot of this water is from yesterday and today. Still…it isn’t even pretending to drain. It’s just sitting there.

The first part of our garden renovation is going to be putting in drain tiles that will help move water away from the garden, especially through our lovely, sticky clay, compacted construction pad. When our building was originally built, this area was compacted like the foundation area. Then a little topsoil was added and proclaimed “ready to garden.” Yeah, not so much. These conditions are why we have always used raised beds and worked hard to develop a high organic matter loam soil in those beds. Even with the added drainage, these conditions are also why we will always use raised beds in our Demonstration Garden and also why we recommend that almost all home gardeners in this area also use raised beds.

Many parts of Sedgwick County naturally have a very heavy clay soil like is below our demonstration garden. If you can dig a hole in your garden or yard and fill it with water, and it takes more than 24 hours to drain, you absolutely need either a different location or a raised bed or berm to make your garden successful.

Why does it matter? Isn’t it just water that the plants can use? Actually, it matters a lot. Plant roots need oxygen as much as we do, and if the soil is full of water, there is no space for air! Water can smother the roots of the plants and increase the ability of some problematic diseases to move around in the soil and infect plants.

It might seem ironic to be talking about drainage as a problem after such a dry year. But if your soil is compacted and poorly drained, even a dry summer doesn’t protect you from problems. If anything, it makes it worse because your soil is either soggy or rock hard.

Improving soil drainage and structure. The reason we recommend raised beds so often is that they are a relatively quick solution to a problem that might otherwise take many years to fix. The way to actually improve your soil as it is will vary with the exact problems, but it would include a combination of deep tine aeration/ripping, incorporating organic matter by the ton, and probably planting some deep rooted cover crops like winter radishes that can break up the soil over several years (and incorporating them for more organic matter). Even then, you will still have a heavy, clay soil, albeit with better organic matter and drainage. Given all that work, raised beds seem like a good choice, don’t they?

Holiday Tomatoes?

Erica commented on the previous post with a link to a Star Tribune article about the potential for growing container tomatoes as Christmas decorations! Here’s the article for your reading pleasure.

I think tomatoes could be a hit as Christmas decorations/gifts if they find that they can be consistently and cheaply grown at this time of year. The real challenge with tomatoes in the winter is that they need lots of light and warmer temperatures. (So maybe not all that different from poinsettias, when you get right down to it.) I’m sure they would take less time on the bench in the greenhouse to reach fruiting stage.

Tomatoes – coming to the holiday store near you!

Snowing Blog

WordPress does this thing where your blog “snows” during December. (You can turn it off, but it is kind of fun.) However, I think the juxtaposition is kind of hilarious when I post about tomatoes and have a big picture of a tomato plant at the top of my blog, while there are snowflakes swirling around.

2012 – Year of the Hanging Basket Tomato?

I alluded to this in a brief post last week, but there are a lot of interesting, new hanging basket tomato varieties out there. So many, in fact, that we may have to try some of them out next summer. Here are the varieties that I’ve seen in catalogs so far (and it isn’t even 2012 yet!).

Tomatoes for hanging baskets are almost always some type of cherry/grape tomato, and the plants usually have some type of dwarfing characteristic that makes them perform well in a hanging basket. The “trailing” characteristic is also touted widely, but I’m not sure how much that is breeding versus the natural habit of the tomato vine.

Most of these varieties are available from more than one catalog, so you don’t have to buy them from any particular one.

Tomatoes for Hanging Baskets/Containers

  • Cherry Falls (red cherry) – Grows only 6″ tall, but cascades for 36″ of vines. Indeterminate.
  • Red Rambling Stripe (red with green stripes cherry) – trailing, 14″ tall and 36″ vining; high yields
  • Gold Rambling Stripe (gold with green stripes, cherry) – trailing, 14″ tall and 36″ vining; high yields
  • Little Sun (yellow cherry) – 10″ tall and 14″ wide; dwarf determinate, not trailing; early (50 days)
  • Lizzano (red cherry) – 2011 All America Selections Winner; semi-determinate; disease resistant; trailing 20″ long and 20″ wide; yields late into the season
  • Terenzo (red cherry) – 2011 All America Selections Winner; compact determinate, 16″ tall and 20″ trailing; crack resistant; yields all season
  • Sweet ‘N Neat Scarlet Improved (red cherry) – 10-12″ tall; compact determinate; very high sugar content

Also of interest, but more for a larger container than for a hanging basket would be the Container’s Choice Red tomato which is a 6-8 oz beefsteak tomato that is a compact determinate.

I can’t believe I’m talking about tomatoes again only 2 months after we gave up and pulled our tomatoes out after this horrible summer!