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RE: How does Bonnie grow 'em chunky? (Follow-Up #13)

posted by: fusion_power on 12.28.2014 at 03:45 pm in Growing Tomatoes Forum

Growing thick chunky seedlings is relatively easy. Remy pointed out one important factor which is daily stimulation of the plants. An easy way to do this is with a broom handle brushed both ways across the tops of the plants. I agree with Remy that there are disadvantages to using a fan, primarily that it encourages rapid evaporation from the plants which slows growth.

"Thigmatropy is the name for an effect where plants alter their growth habits as a result of being touched. It was first noticed in greenhouses where plants next to the aisles were found to grow sturdier and healthier. The cause was workers walking down the aisle brushing against the plants. You can stimulate thigmatropy by rubbing your hands or a stick across the tops of the plants a couple of times a day."

Temperature is important because plants grow longer cells and elongate stems faster above 70 F. Drop the temperature down to 65F and voila, they grow at just the right rate. However, this is not the entire story. Plants benefit from temperature fluctuations with a daily routine down to about 55 and up to about 85 providing the optimum conditions. So work on growing solanum seedlings at an average of about 65 degrees and you will get slower growing stockier seedlings.

How much space each seedling is given to grow is the last important factor. A tomato plant needs approximately 5 square inches of space for the first 8 weeks of growth. The plant should reach 10 inches tall for most indeterminate or determinate varieties. Dwarf varieties will be about 6 inches tall. At that point, the plant has to be given more space to expand leaves. From 8 weeks to 12 weeks, at least 20 square inches is needed. This requires a 5 inch round cup. (.866*25 = 21.65 sq inches). During this 4 weeks, the plant should reach 18 inches tall. I recommend potting up seedlings at 6 weeks because it prevents the plant getting root-bound.

Here are the gotchas and tips to outperform Bonnie plants by 50%.

It is critical that the plant not get root-bound during early growth. If you leave it in a small container too long, it will trigger development of flower initials and the plant will transition from the early rapid growth phase into the mature reproductive phase too soon. This can reduce the fruiting potential of the plant by up to 50% so DON'T let them get root-bound!

Avoid setting out plants that already have blooms or small fruit. A plant that has switched to reproductive phase will not normally reach maximum productive potential. The objective is to grow a seedling and set it out so that it can go through the juvenile growth phase before setting any fruit. A healthy plant should be nearly 2 feet tall and spread over 1 foot across before it flowers and fruits. Getting a plant successfully through this juvenile growth phase is crucial to overall production.

Bonnie uses high nitrogen fertilizer on their plants to get that deep blue/green color. This stresses the seedlings and puts them out of sync with their natural growth cycle. The healthiest plant to put into the ground won't be blue/green from over fertilization. It should be green to dark green depending on variety. I encourage use of a fertilizer in the range of 18-18-21 to grow seedlings through 8 weeks old. You can use general purpose fertilizer of 15-30-15 but be aware that it is easy to get the plants out of balance with this formula. It takes 1/4 teaspoon of fertilizer to grow 48 seedlings to the 8 inches tall stage. Do NOT over-fertilize!

Deliberately don't water your seedlings at least one time between 4 weeks and 6 weeks old. This stresses the seedling which triggers a tropism to produce more and longer roots in an attempt to get more water. The plants should get dry enough that they begin to wilt. Don't let them go too far, just enough that the top of the plant starts to lean over, then water them well and let them recover. I do this to my seedlings twice which produces the maximum effect on the root system. The root growth effect continues over the life of the plant, it will always have a larger root system than a plant grown without the stress from lack of water. There is one caveat though, doing this to a plant slows growth down by about 10 days. This is probably why Bonnie does not restrict water to their seedlings, they are moving as many seedlings as possible which means they don't have time to lose 10 days growth. Did I mention that this trick can increase fruiting potential by up to 50%?

The last tip I'll give is that tomato plants benefit from brief periods of time below 45 degrees during early growth. If you dig around online you can find some studies that show cold treated tomato plants outproduce seedlings that have been kept warm. It is important to avoid letting them get below 35 degrees even for a brief period. Also, the plant needs several days at high temps to recover from just one night below 45. So use this one with caution, but in the hands of a master, it will give another increase in production potential.

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clipped on: 12.28.2014 at 08:39 pm    last updated on: 12.28.2014 at 08:39 pm

RE: How does Bonnie grow 'em chunky? (Follow-Up #14)

posted by: labradors on 12.28.2014 at 03:55 pm in Growing Tomatoes Forum

Thanks to Fusion for the GREAT growing tips!

I'm not sure that I would want to lose 10 days of growth with my shortish growing season, but I might try it with one or two seedlings.

Linda

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clipped on: 12.28.2014 at 08:36 pm    last updated on: 12.28.2014 at 08:36 pm