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Alternative Gardening: Scraggly tomatoes

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Soquel, CA

June 21, 2012
10:06 AM

Post #9174377

So I'm brand new to straw bale gardening, and super excited! I'm located in California in the Bay Area- foggy and cool today.

I got my straw bales and prepared them according to numerous internet instructions (watered them for 2 days, added urine for 5 days, let them cool for a few days). The bales got up to about 130 degrees and cooled off.

I planted 2 tomatoes per bale with a big scoop of potting soil (gardner bloom) egg shells, tomato fertilizer. Plenty of water. No initial wilt or any signs that I was cooking the plants. A week prior I planted tomatoes in a planter box with gardner bloom soil and dirt as well. The plants in the planter do have a headstart, but they're also about twice as big. Much thicker, lusher, happier.

My straw bale tomatoes just don't seem to be growing. They're scraggly and much lighter green than the plants in the planter box.

The tomatoes have been in the straw bales for about 3 weeks. I added a sprinkle of tomato/vegtable fertilizer once, about a week ago. I didn't see much improvement.


Soquel, CA

June 21, 2012
11:14 AM

Post #9174452

forgot to mention, I was watering daily because I'd read that they need a lot of water. Now I'm realizing that where I live, I probably have to water LESS often- seems to really hold the moisture. I have TONS of mushrooms every day.
Wake Forest, NC

July 17, 2012
5:24 PM

Post #9209405

1. Forget the eggshells for any sort of calcium benefit to tomatoes. They can't absorb any of the calcium from that source.

2. Sounds like you watered too much and leached out any nutrients in bales. Plus, tomatoes don't like "cold feet" (cool roots) and watering the bales often will drive the inside temps down. Tomatoes in the box will hold their temps longer.

3. If the bales are moist inside then no need to water. It's that simple. Use your hand to gauge the moisture level.

4. Tomatoes are hardy plants and will bounce back if you let them.

5. Get a back of commercial manure (usually .5-.5.0.5 NPK) and spread out on top of the bales and water that in lightly.

Saylorsburg, PA
(Zone 6a)

July 19, 2012
8:22 AM

Post #9211304

You may also have not put in enough potting mix in the beginning. Friends who have tried this method have failed because they didn't add enough potting mix and the roots didn't like being so "loose". You might want to check for spaces where you planted and fill in a little. Kent's assessment of leaching out the nutrients makes sense. We have had drought conditions until recently and it was hard to determine how much water should be added so as not to overwater. When the bales are very wet inside due to rains I find that light foliar feeding early in the morning with a fish and kelp emulsion works best for adding nutrients. You can sprinkle some Epsom Salts ( a couple of TBS) around each plant as well to add to the manure Kent recommended. Hope things are going better!

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