May 14, 2010

It's Northern Nevada - snowed last week, tomato plants next week

I know it snowed earlier this week but still, in Northern Nevada it’s time to get ready to plant those heat loving vegetable plants. Plant when the snow is off Peavine, on or after Memorial Day, or after June 10th -- pick the tradition that works for you.

If you don’t grow your own transplants then you probably buy them. And likely from a big-box store - but we have better options.

I started learning to grow vegetables about 15 years ago, and really got into it around 2006. It all started like this...

One day, on the way out of my favorite supermarket, a rack of 1-gallon tomato plants caught my eye. Figuring growing tomatoes couldn’t be much more difficult than growing turf, I picked one up. By 2009 our entire back yard was converted to growing space for insect and animal loving plants, vegetables, and this year for the first time, perennial fruit.

Now, almost year round I walk out my kitchen door to pick whatever is growing. I also know so much more about how plants grow and adapt to a region, what challenges to expect, and the benefits of planting locally adapted plants.’s really convenient to buy vegetable and flower starts while you’re out picking up caulk and a 2 x 4, but buying locally produced seed and plants is so much better IMO, and here’s why.
Some local farmers buy seed, some save it. Either way they are choosing varieties that are more likely to succeed in Northern Nevada. Every season seed-saving farmers choose the seed that produces the best crop, saves it, and plants or sells it. Consequently each generation refines traits needed to survive the climate. Here in Northern Nevada, which is a high desert region, the major challenges are a short growing season (90 days) and a temperature swing range of 40-50 degrees. The plants our farmers grow successfully will likely produce great results in your backyard.

Many gardeners grow the same varieties year after year, developing their own region friendly versions and family traditions. Many of the heirloom varieties still available have survived because families grew them in their backyards. As companies like Monsanto focus on patenting seed and eliminating competitors, gardeners and small farmers care about diversity and the right to save our free seed without fear of litigation.
(Above is a picture of my favorite tomato grown from seed saved last year, Silvery Fir Tree. I started seed inside in March; it will have about 10-15 blossoms on it by the time in goes into the ground in a few weeks.)

Another reason? Seed and plant sales are another component of the farming business, so buying locally contributes to a healthy local economy.
On the scary side…plants purchased in big-box stores, or from any business that buys plants from industrial producers, are grown and warehoused in huge quantities and then shipped out nationwide. If any of those plants are infected with disease the disease jumps from plant to plant and is then shipped all over the world. Consumers bring it home to their gardens and their neighbor’s gardens. This system is widely viewed as the major contributor to the tomato blight problem many gardeners and growers experienced in 2008. Locally grown plants are less likely to be infected because a faulty product can be traced back to a farmer with a face, a small business to protect, and a sense of commitment to the customers he or she actually interacts with. Big-stores also work with growers who are less concerned with long term benefits to customers and land stewards and so are more likely to use seed developed by biotech companies. And you can forget organic! If an agribusiness is producing organic transplants I’ve never seen them.

So, on to the intent of this blog, which is sharing ways to can get/buy/produce locally grown food. Here are the two ways I know about.

The first option is to head down to the Great Basin Community Food Co-op event this Saturday to enjoy the festivities and buy local-farmer grown transplants and seeds. These plants will not have mingled with industrial plants and are the smartest bet.

A second option is to buy Hungry Mother Organics plants at either Moana Nursery (both the Moana and Pyramid locations) or Whole Foods.

There must be more options out there so ask, and then tell your friends. If you share with LFNN I’ll share too!



Terisu said...

So true what you are saying about spreading disease from the big growers. I got ambitious (stupid) this year and planted two trays of tomatoes in February. Well I need to do a bit of research for my latest project about Growing Tomatoes but it's been an education. I live in Seattle and only in mid-May have I finally put my tomato starts in the ground. What I've found is that tomatoes grow very well under ordinary fluorescent shop lights. Not too leggy and very healthy. Have started 12 varieties this year. I'm even going to try and grow the Mortgage Lifter this year. Probably a huge stretch in Seattle, though. Typically I've always planted small starts and only the cherry tomatoes would ripen before fall rains hit.

Shelley said...

I use fluorescent lights to get an early start too. Last year we replaced the second dining room table with a grow rack made from standard storage shelving units and shop lights. It's fantastic and a wonder to anyone who grows where the season is short. 90 days in the Reno/Sparks area. Good luck with the Mortgage Lifter! I'm all for trying to find ways to grow the "impossible".

Billy said...

I have 44 sprouted tomato plants that have survived in my kitchen since seeding them last March. Most of the local seeds didn't make it, but many varieties from Peaceful Valley seeds and Gardens Alive! are going great.

My southern exposure is in the front yard. I dasn't plant them in the sheet-mulched front lawn just yet as the HOA is already hemorrhaging. I've got a bunch of oak barrels with peas growing in them (about 100 plants). How do you think the tomatoes will do in them? I was planning three plants in each and maybe thin them to one or two.

I was scared to death of hardening off and I did lose about 10 plants, but the 44 are still going strong.

I'm going to start planting starting tomorrow, Tuesday, May 25th. No freezing in the forecast through Memorial Day.

I've got some Wall of Waters. I think I'll try them the first week. At what night/morning temp do you think they can come off?

Shelley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shelley said...

Hi Billy,

Good to hear from you! I applaud your efforts to front yard garden in an HOA environment. We need to start having more conversations about what qualifies as a "valuable plant" and neighborhoods are a great place to start. The only house in our sub development with solar panels (that I know of) also has Wall-O-Waters in their front yard, so I think I'll put a tomato plant out front and see what happens.

Here's my less-than-expert advice re: your tomatoes. You can grow tomatoes in pots as long as you keep them supplied with organic fertilizer, which leaches out of pots very quickly. Remove the bottom two leaves and plant the starts up to the base of the first set of true leaves. Roots will develop along the submerged stem creating a stronger root system. Thin them down to one per pot and trellis them. Keep them evenly watered to ward of fruit crack. Remove the Wall-O-Waters when night time temperatures remain above 50 degrees or more. Some people leave them on all year. The ideal soil temperature for tomato is 60 degrees, so you could cover the planting space with black plastic right now to give the soil a chance to warm a bit before you plant.

Weird about your local seeds; mine are going strong. This kind of thing serves to strengthen my farmer-love and appreciation for the people who continue to grow my food in this capricious environment.

Billy said...

Excellent advice, Shelly. Part of the prob for me is I have to follow the instructions to the letter until I get my NoNV plant bearings. Most of the local seed packets don't walk me through how much of this/when to do that.

I've been feeding the tomatoes 1/2 strength PVFS Liquid Fish and recently added Omega 2000 and Gardens Alive Sea Rich foliarly. I've been laying them down in the soil all along which is why I think they are as strong as they are.

I've got 5 really cool grow lights from Anything Grows. All were < $30 each. But I still think the prob was too little sun, though I thought daily hardening off the past month now would buff them up. Not so much.

I'm working on growing edible in my yard so I can move the success out to our "common" areas. Prob is they are irrigated with effluent which, by law, can't be used for food growth.

Public Works told me there should be no prob growing with effluent, we'd just have to change the legislation.

Anyone know any reason not to try to proceed with this plan? I've got Philip and Luanne Moore in my 'hood and we're working together to make this happen.