Sunday, July 5, 2009

Deck Gardening

Someday I'll have a plot of land big enough for fruit trees and maize. In the meantime, I'm making do with my second story, western exposure deck.

This season I have two heirloom tomatoes (Hank and Black Plum), a sunberry, a ground cherry, green beans, snap peas, carrots and a salad mix. I'm also making an attempt to compost in the three black pots (an admitted long-shot). The minimum recommended size for compost piles is generally 3' x 3' x 3' but I'm gonna take a shot anyway. Maybe if I partially cover the tub in plastic it'll retain some heat during the winter...

I direct seeded the cold-weather species (carrots, peas, salad mix) at the beginning of June, following local recommendations. I started the warm weather fruits and beans in the greenhouse and transplanted them a few weeks later.

Shortly afterward I noticed that many of them were beginning to look pretty yellow/pale. Nitrogen deficiency was the first disorder to come to mind. Iron deficiency was also possible, but less likely since my plants did not retain green veins. Since plants are able to relocate some nutrients/micronutrients within their bodies (but not others), it can be an important clue if only the new leaves show symptoms, or only the old leaves. Overall, nitrogen deficiency is a common disorder and produces symptoms consistent with those observed.

Despite this, I was slow to believe nitrogen deficiency was the culprit since I had JUST planted the seedlings in new soil and because both legume species (pea and bean) are able to obtain nitrogen from the air through symbiotic rhizobia bacteria, which live in their roots. We had received a tremendous amount of rain the previous week, so it was also possible that the roots were not functioning well due to flood-induced oxygen deficiency. To test these hypothesis, I poked lots of holes in the soil in 2 containers to aerate them, and shredded clover roots (another legume growing in our lawn) into 2 other containers to inoculate them with the local microbes.

Unfortunately, the plants began to turn white over the next two days so I had to end my experiment and take more drastic action - by buying cheater-fertilizer. With plenty of nitrogen, the garden greened right up.


  1. Wow, I sure hope that isn't a picture of your container garden - if so, that is pretty weak. My tomatoes - in a 5 gallon bucket - are about 3 feet tall, with about 30 tomatoes set on 4 plants. I have a super high density bucket (4 plants per bucket), a medium density bucket (2 plants per bucket), and a low density bucket (1 tomato with 1 pepper plant). All plants were planted from seed and correspondingly thinned on the same date.

    So far, the Super High Density bucket is greatly outperforming the other two in tomato set and fruit number. It just takes a lot more water!

    My pepper buckets didn't do so hot (no pun intended) - I think Rhizoc or Pythium took out most of my seedlings. I have a few left - hopefully enough to make some salsa!

    MAYBE I might be able to produce enough produce to make the $40 I spent on supplies worth it...
    @ $.33 a pound for tomatoes at a local market, looks like I would need about 120 pounds!

    Updates will follow on production...

  2. Oh yeah? and when did you start your seeds California? February? We were having freezing nights up through May.

    That's an excellent yield though (assuming these aren't cherry tomatoes...). Our farm field peppers are barely beyond their second set of true leaves but our tomatillos, for some crazy reason, are almost waist high.

    Our maize wasn't knee high by the 4th of July either.. too many dark, rainy days.

  3. No I was a late starter - I think i got them planted in May. Tomatoes love heat, so once they germinated, they really took off. I am going to measure yields to see if there is an effect on fruit size. I already am assuming that the super high density will produce more weight, but I am interested about the sizing of the fruit.



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