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Repotting of the century



I spent six hours repotting tomatoes on Saturday. And if that sounds right up there with a root canal, you wouldn’t be far off at all. I think I’ve about reached my natural limit of tomato plants I’m willing to nurture, and next year all the people I’ve started some for are absolutely SOL. The demands in time and effort are close to maxed out and it seems like forty adolescent tomatoes is all I can handle. See if you live in a normal climate, you’d start your tomatoes something like four weeks before last frost. They would have to be replanted once, from peat pods to four inch pots while they are still a manageable three inch size, and happily occupy maybe six square feet by the time they go outside.

Living in Calgary though, requires the starting of tomatoes in oh say, late March or so, while they won’t see the light of day until approximately oh say, June. In those three months, the baby tomatoes are guaranteed to outgrow their four inch pots and become hugely tall and root-bound. Apparently you don’t want that to happen since it’s bad for the roots, limits the uptake of nutrients, and is stressful for the plant, and who wants to eat stressed out tomatoes? Not me, man.

So when they reached what I thought was a good height of ten inches or so (although as with all my plans I was a week behind), I repotted the tomatoes into empty 2L milk and pop bottles. Why bottles? Well, I did mention forty tomato plants, right? And each large-ish plastic pot at the garden store (and the home hardware store, and the superstore) was approaching four dollars. You do the math. I could buy caseloads of tomatoes for those prices. Plus, and this is huge, I wanted to plant the tomatoes deeply, burying the bulk of each long stem because tomatoes are able to grow new roots out of the fine hairs they’re covered with, and a large root ball means a healthy plant. Well, every single 8” pot was wide and squat. Perfect for petunias perhaps, but completely opposite of the tall narrow pot I’d wanted for the tomatoes.

A container collecting frenzy ensued, with my boyfriends’ six-litre-a-week milk habit coming in quite handy.  (No I’m not kidding, I wondered if we should get a cow on several occasions.) Finally I had a table covered in clean 2L jugs with cut-off tops and punctured bottoms and it looked like the bottle depot exploded all over the table.

Then it was a routine of moistening potting soil in two huge bowls, removing the cat off the counter, adding some soil to the bottom of each container, gently shaking the plant upside down to dislodge it, dropping the plant down the well, adding more potting soil, removing the cat again, watering the plant, using a chopstick to poke a hole to the bottom of the container and watching half the soil disappear in a river of mud down to the bottom, adding more soil, water, label, and finally locking the cat in the bedroom. Repeat X 40.  I am not the most patient person, and the fact that I didn’t lose it once, speaks volumes to my newly cultivated zen-like attitude. Chop wood, carry water and all that.

The cool thing out of the deal is that in clear containers you can clearly watch the trickle of moisture down the sides and have a semblance of how dry your plants are getting. The downside is that my plants now take up a dozen feet of space and require some yoga skillz to water.  




***Speaking of watering, some of the plants (especially the paste variety – Ardwyna) were looking a bit…. ragged. They were tall and spindly, not bushy and in general looked like survivors of a tomato-pocalypse.  Some of their lowest leaves were yellowing too. I googled all the symptoms and the consensus was a mineral deficiency that can be cured with Epsom salt. So when I was done the Herculean task of repotting them, I watered them with a very dilute Epsom salt solution. Lo and behold, they all greened up, grew some more leaves and smartened up in general. I did not have this problem last year, so I am at a loss to imagine why they needed those nutrients, but there you go.

I’ve also started cukes and zucchinis this weekend, and they’ll be coming up too. God help me.

14 comments to Repotting of the century

  • Wow! I’m tired from just reading this post 🙂 40 tomato plants?! That is really amazing. You’re actually going to grow all these plants this summer? I am impressed, I tell you, impressed. And here I am afraid to try one 🙂

  • admin

    Awww WR – if you were here, I’d totally share. And I DID start a few for friends and even my manager. So all said and done, I’ll be keeping about 25 – still a lot. But given your affinity for plants I’d say give tomatoes a go – they’re like any other plant, they WANT to grow and live and be happy. The basics are all the same and the taste is beyond compare.

  • Wow! You’ve been busy! I’m going to pass on tomatoes this year. I’m not feeling committed to them.

  • admin

    Yeah, I’m sure I’ll reach that stage some day, but I’ve just started this venture, so not yet.

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  • Wow – you are very dedicated! But I love seeing how you re-use containers. What a great idea! Hope you get some spring weather soon!!!

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  • admin

    Thanks Marly, yep my dedication knows no bounds 🙂 I live through my stomach. Spring weather is cooperating so hopefully they’ll be outdoors soon.

  • You don’t need a lobotomy; you need to win the lottery – so you can afford help in the tomato plant growing dept. I start some of our tomatoes in our little greenhouse, but most of the 60 to 70 we plant ( some in Maine, more in NY) are grown to order from seeds I send to a small-scale commercial nursery.

    Meanwhile, the recycled containers are genius! Tall and skinny is great for the plants, great for space saving and of course all those green points. There are several high end mail order nurseries that grow and ship shrubs and trees in “tubes,” so you’re right up there with the big leagues.

    and given this level of cleverness and commitment I cannot for the life of me see why you’d be intimidated by peonies. They’re EASY, the only patience they require is the kind that involves waiting. Pretty much the opposite of tomatoes in the quick results department, but assuming you plant them carefully in a peony friendly place that’s it. Nothin’ for a year or two, then a few flowers then more and more for somewhere between 30 years and death. Yours, not the peonies’, which are famous for living on after the planter is gone.

  • admin

    Oh leslie, you won’t find any argument from me! Winning the lottery has long been one of my goals in life. I bow before your tomato growing prowess. How do you manage 60 to 70 tomatoes? Perhaps only going through one potting cycle rather than the two I have to do?

    I won’t argue, I feel pretty proud of my container recycling myself. I have less than zero experience with high end mail order nurseries, but clearly we’re on the same track. The containers fit the bill just right though, and I’m surprised the local stores don’t carry ‘tomato pots’ – future business idea, perhaps…

    Peonies only scare me because I know nothing about pruning. All the books I read try and explain it, but so far it seems like voodoo to me. I’ll practice on raspberries first, since they grow like weeds and seem harder to damage. But I’m sure I’ll get to peonies soon, the way this is going I’ll need a farm soon. 🙂

  • […] Life in Cowtown » Repotting of the century […]

  • found your site on today and really liked it.. i bookmarked it and will be back to check it out some more later

  • nandini

    its 2013. when r u starting ur garden works this year. i am waiting for ur updates

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