Monday, January 07, 2008

Growing tomatoes a-z

This is a long subject.
If you build the sunken grow beds, and the deep soil is clay, will
it not fill up with water like a Bowl during heavy rainy spells and
rot the roots? Or even water too much not knowing it?

Am I to understand from looking at the HOt Bed Photos that horse
manure is being used in sunken beds to heat it up? Since horse manure
is strong stuff, will it not burn up the roots when they finally
reach the manure? SUch as tomato roots.

Just how deep should a sunken bed be dug for tomato plants?

I grow tomatoes in a greenhouse early to beat the extreme late Spring
and Summer heat. I am in the process of doing that right now, only
much earlier than I normally do.
The plants are 5 weeks old and about to be transplanted to bigger pots.
I was trying to figure out how to keep my soil warm in the greenhouse
grow beds but was told not to add fresh horse manure to my beds or it
would burn the roots and make the plants tall, leggy and decrease
production due to high nitrogen levels in horse manure. I need
advise. I can get horse manure by pick up truck loads for $35.
The greenhouse is 20x96. Two grow beds 3x76 ft with soaker hoses
for irrigation. Each bed is a double row of tomatoes.
I use the Mittleider Method for fertilizing by placing it under the
soaker hoses every week with a little dab of calcium nitrate.
I added 3 pounds of calcium nitrate to the mittleider mixture. The
plants grow huge and very productive Til the summer heat arrives then
they get heat scald. If i take the poly off the greenhouse-- -they get
foliage fungus due to rains. I even have a 30% shade cloth to help
lower temps on the greenhouse frame with poly off. Danged if I do and
Danged if I don't.

This is part of my Income. I must make it work on little income to
spare. The other part of my income is Greenhouse Business--growing
and selling veggie plants, bedding plants and hanging baskets. I do
all this myself with no employees. So much goes through my mind, I
dont know if I am coming or going.

I have about 3 acres to work with, the other 7 is horse pasture for
neighbor and land for our children.


Carolyn & Group:

We don't recommend sunken beds, nor do we use much horse manure, but we will sometimes build a hot-bed using horse manure for raising seedling plants. Here's how: Dig a hole 2' deep X 4' wide and 6' long (you can make it longer, but much wider is difficult to work with. 3' wide may be enough for some of you.

At the bottom of the hole place 1' of aged horse manure. Cover that with 6" of soil. Cover that with 6" of sawdust & sand mixture (2/1).

The aged horse manure will produce some heat - enough to warm the soil mixture, but not enough to hurt your plants, and the roots won't get to it to get burned.

Mix 16 ounces of Mittleider Pre-Plant Mix and 8 ounces of Weekly Feed Mix into the sawdust/sand soil medium.

Plant your seeds in the first 18" across one end, with 75-100 small seeds in each 18" row. You could have rows every 3" across the 4" width, giving you 17 rows of seeds, for a total of 1700 seedlings.

Place bent PVC pipe or heavy wire over the seeded portion of the hot-bed and cover with 6-mil greenhouse plastic.

Then cover the entire hot-bed with PVC pipe or wire and plastic, securing the plastic with dirt all around the edges.

The double covering over the small section will keep the seeds warmer - enough to germinate and start to grow.

Water well, and keep moist at all times.

After seedlings appear begin watering with the dilute fertilizer solution of 12 ounces of Weekly-Feed in 30 gallons of water.

As soon as the seedlings have their first set of true leaves and are ready, transplant them into the balance of the space in your hot-bed.

Detailed instructions for transplanting (and everything else you want to know about growing tomato (or other) seedlings is contained in Let's Grow Tomatoes, which you can get electronically at

You should space your seedlings 2 1/4 to 2 1/2" apart in your hot-house soil.

As soon as seedlings' leaves begin to overlap their neighbors, you must prune them back, otherwise the stems will stretch looking for light, and your plants will be leggy and weak.

As soon as it's warm enough in your garden transplant out of the hot-bed into the soil. For tomatoes this will be 6-8 weeks after you planted your seeds.

To keep your tomatoes from getting too hot you probably need to have the plastic walls roll up. This will greatly increase the ventilation and cool the plants somewhat. Splashing white-wash on the under side of the plastic can also add some shade. Be sure you use something that will wash off easily later.

Jim Kennard

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