Container watering issue

Grim42December 27, 2012

First time poster here. I live in Colorado at about 8,500 alt.(zone 4b I think) As a retirement project, I started growing tomatoes in my garage as a way to have them year round and to mitigate our short growing season, intense sun, hail, etc. I'm trying several approaches with several varieties with varying degrees of success.While in the future I'm going to try some of the approaches listed elsewhere in this forum for creating your own potting soil, I could use some advise about my current plantings.

I'm using fiber-based bags from Hydrofarm, with Eko potting soil mix. My problem is that the bottom portion (about a third to a half) stays very wet while the upper half is very dry. Water passes straight through a bleeds out the side of the bag but, it doesn't really moisten the upper half well. My poor plants don't know if they are over watered or under watered (smile). I've tried to poke holes in the soil, similar to aerating your lawn but, I would appreciate any suggestions to balance out the soil moisture for these plants until the next go round with a more appropriate soil mixture.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions!

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nycgarden(6)

Sounds like a perched water table. Most of us have had good results using a self made potting mix called after its creater, Al's 511 mix or Al's gritty mix.

If you search through these forums you can get more information on each mix. You may also find Al's posting on PWT and the science of soil interesting which is a few postings below this one entitled, "Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI".

Lastly, I have never used the grow bags myself, but have heard that they do not drain well. You may want to try another container and see if that helps.

-Dan

    Bookmark   December 27, 2012 at 2:04PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Hey, Grim, I'm sorry you're having trouble.

I agree that the 5-1-1 Dan mentioned would be well worth the time and effort to get the ingredients.
But in the meantime, I would recommend some sort of wicking system to remove excess water from
the lower layers of your bags. Any chance you could post a pic of your set-up so that we can make
suggestions?

Perhaps Al himself will see this post and offer suggestions.

Josh

    Bookmark   December 28, 2012 at 1:32AM
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Grim42

Thanks Josh. I'm going to try the 5-1-1 mix for my next cycle of plants.

Here's a shot of the setup in question. The tomato variety is Siberian. The white material under the container is styrofoam to provide a little insulation from the cold concrete. The container is from Hydrofarm and the two plants sit under a 4', 6 tube T-5 fixture. The silver background is mylar sheeting.

It's 15 F outside ATM but, the garage stays between 50-60 during the winter. The other problem I have with this is that the upper layer of soil seems rather hydrophobic. I definitely wouldn't use this product again. I hadn't seen this thread about making your own prior to the start of this round of tests.

What type of material would you use for the wick?

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   December 28, 2012 at 12:43PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

I use smart pots, which are similar to your containers, to grow tomatoes outdoors in the summer. They work best when placed in direct contact with the ground, which acts as a giant wick. I've never experienced drainage problems using them. You might be able to get a similar effect by placing your pots on an absorbant material, like several layers of newspaper or heavy felt.

A couple other observations: when the plants are small like the one in your photo, the roots don't reach down into the container, so moisture in the bottom of the pot will take longer to dissipate. If you allow the top half of the potting mix to dry out, the roots will reach deeper to get to the moisture, which is good. If I were you, I would wait to water until the plant comes close to wilting.

In addition, tomatoes are heat lovers, and do better in temperatures between 75 ad 85 F. My tomatoes seem to go dormant when night temps are below 60. If you could raise the temps in your garage, the evaporation rate and growth rate should both speed up.

Finally, I would get the lights as close to the tops of the plants as you can without burning the leaves. I grow tomato seedlings about 3-5 inches below T5 lights.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2012 at 3:47PM
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Grim42

Thanks for the ideas Ohiofem. I've actually had pretty good luck with my other plants. I have San Marzanos that are still producing in the 50-60 degree range. The Siberians in the pic are supposed to be cold weather plants so, we'll see how they do. I'll make the light adjustment (closer) as well.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2012 at 6:55PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Good tip from Ohio.
I'd recommend a stack of newspaper below the growbag just to get that moisture moving.
When you do water, try spritzing the soil surface a few minutes prior to watering.
When you actually do water/fertilize, use just slightly lukewarm water. This will
help overcome the hydrophobia of the mix.

Josh

    Bookmark   December 29, 2012 at 3:40PM
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