Monday, May 27, 2013

2013 Container Garden Wrap Up and Updates for Upcoming Posts

With my container garden season nearly finished, I wanted to dedicate one more post to wrap up the season.  I also want to take some time to share on what to expect next season as well as what I will be doing in the off season.

One of the most exciting changes is that my wife, Ren, will be now handling most of the photography; it seems she has a natural talent for composing pictures and capturing details.  She is currently learning to use her new Canon SX500 PowerShot and is capturing some amazing images which I will share in an upcoming post. All but one of the images I am sharing in this post were shot by her.

Ren also indicated to me that she would like our patio to be more functional, in other words, not cluttered with plants and containers. She would like instead for us to have some outdoor furniture so we can have our morning coffee on the patio. I love this challenge and have come up with an idea to make the garden fit in with the patio furniture and add to the functionality of our outdoor space. This means the container garden will only be occupying the east end of the patio which is perfect for sunlight control and airflow.  I will be building a 2ft x 2ft x 6ft cedar planter with a reservoir underneath that will allow for self watering. I am also toying with the idea of putting a pump in the reservoir for misting and watering.  This will help with the low humidity and watering problems associated with container gardens in Arizona. I will also replant the fichus tree and move it to the west side of the patio to help filter some of the sunlight which really helps container garden vegetables. I’m really looking forward to this project and have already begun designing it.

I also wanted to share some of the pictures Ren took recently of our garden and to give an update on our gardens new resident, Mother Dove.  Yes, last week I was out watering when I discovered two miniature white eggs in the herb box.  I wasn’t sure exactly what kind of bird they belonged to until later that evening when I snuck out to see if a mother bird was sitting and sure enough, there on the eggs sat a female mourning dove! We are expecting new babies any day now so I will sure to post the pictures when we get them.

I’m also happy to report that the tomatoes and chili pepper look fantastic and are about ready for harvest.  I do believe that the peppers will go through the summer, but I am not sure about the tomatoes.  The Rosemary is doing well and will also be repotted and the chives are blooming and about done for the season; I will replant the bulbs in the herb box in the fall.  Also, the poinsettia is thriving in the warm weather and partial shade, and it looks like it should be spectacular this Christmas.
These two dove eggs were a pleasant surprise!

Our Newest Resident, Mother Dove, on the Nest
Another Shot of Mother Dove
Three Beautiful Tomatoes; I can't wait to taste them!
These Chili Pepper Plants did Fantastic; I will Plant them again
Next Year!

Well, that’s it for the container garden this season but I will have many more exciting posts to share this summer including my visit to La Paz Waterfall Garden in Costa Rica and the progress of the new garden planter.  Until the next time, ~Happy Gardening~

Saturday, May 18, 2013

My Attempts to Grow Tomatoes in Arizona's Low Humidity

For the past several years I have been attempting to grow tomatoes in Arizona's desert climate, and I have been very successful in establishing healthy plants and setting fruit.  However, I have not been able to  grow sizable tomatoes which, I have to admit, puzzled me. Then I started to learn a little about hydroponic gardening and learned about the relationship between plants and humidity. Suddenly it dawned on me, to grow sizable tomatoes  in Arizona's dry climate, I have to find the right plant to humidity relationship.  In other words, I have either find a way to elevate the humidity in my garden or find tomato plants that will thrive in lower humidity.

Tomato plants grow well when the humidity is above 45 percent.  The humidity in Phoenix has been around 10-20 percent since about the first week in April which is right about the time the fruits began to set.  Once the humidity goes below 45 percent the plants automatically pump more water through the leaves to cool themselves; this process is called transpiration. If the humidity becomes too low, the plants begin to get stressed and if they can't transpire enough water,  their leaves begin to die.  Container tomatoes are especially susceptible to this because they cannot form a large enough root system to overcome this phenomenon.  In other words, while a large, bushy tomatoes plant with a a large amount of foliage may look great in February or March, when the warmer, drier air of April and May arrive, this same plant will struggle in a container.  The tomato fruits themselves do not receive enough moisture to gain any size before they ripen, and often the plant itself will die before this happens. This means that, in theory a plant with sparse foliage should do better in hot dry conditions and should also produce larger fruit. This idea has proven itself true in my container garden this year almost by accident!

In my February 21, 2013 post, "Container Garden Planting Spring 2013," I mentioned that I had a volunteer tomato plant which sprouted in my poinsettia plant.  I get quite a few of these every year because I compost my kitchen waste and use it to fertilize the potting soil.  Anyhow, to make a long story short, I ended up with a tall, spindly tomato plant with about half the leaves of a normal plant.  I really didn't think this plant was going to produce anything at all, but I was dead wrong.  Now, even with temperatures over 100 F, this plant is still thriving with 3 large tomatoes on it while the other plant has all but withered and died. I think this is because the plant had to transpire as much water and as a result, was able to produce larger tomatoes.  The tomatoes on this pant, although few, are about 3 times the size of the ones on the store-bought plant.  I am waiting to see what color they are once they ripen, if they are red I will call them poinsettia heirlooms and will save the seeds.  Either way though I will definitely grow them again next year.

Three Lovely Tomatoes from an Ugly Plant
Heavy Foliage equals small tomatoes in container gardening.
This spindly plant produced three good sized tomatoes
showing that less vegetation equals larger fruit.

My store bought tomato cannot take the heat and
low humidity.
On a side note, the chili peppers are doing quite well!

Speaking of next year, I will be doing away with the dozens of containers over the summer and building a single planter out of cedar.  My wife wants a functional and presentable patio so my goal is to build patio container garden that is pleasing to the eye and functional.  I also will be adding a few features to help with the humidity problem and will be adding a bird feeder to keep the insect population at bay.  In the meantime, here are a few tips to help with growing tomatoes in a hot/dry climate.  

  1. Select a variety suitable for a hot dry climate.  Look for a plant that has sparse vegetation.  These can be found at many local garden centers but you may have to ask.
  2. Tomatoes are sun lovers but in Arizona and other desert states, the sun and low humidity are just too much for them.  Use filtered sunlight by either incorporating a shades screen or planting under trees. 
  3. Set up a misting system if possible to help cool the plant and reduce the rate of transpiration.  Put it on a timer to run from sunrise to sunset.
  4. Prune away about 1/3 of the branches.  This may mean less tomatoes but it also means a lower rate of transpiration meaning larger tomatoes and a healthier plant.
  5. Start the plants indoors late in the year so they are blooming and setting fruit in early February when it is safe to set them out. This will help you to avoid the hot dry weather in late spring.
For more information on plants and humidity, you can visit Crop-King's article on relative humidity.  They go into great detail on the effects of humidity on tomatoes and other plants.   You can also visit ALL ABOUT TOMATOES for a bounty on info on growing, preserving, and cooking with tomatoes. I hope this information has been helpful and that you have much success in growing tomatoes and other plants. Until the next time, ~Happy Gardening~