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Protection and Growth Aids To “Jump Start” Your Garden

Many gardeners, and especially those of us who have been planting seeds for a number of years, are always looking for a “better mousetrap” system that will give us that slight edge on our neighbors so that we capture those bragging rights for the area’s first vine-ripened tomato of the season. If one didn’t know better, it would seem that to claim this first tomato trophy is equivalent to that of a child’s or grandchild’s birth in the family, and this “gardener’s syndrome” appears to be a quite common inherited genetic trait.

Some 40 years ago when we were back home operating our greenhouse bedding plant business, we had two senior (one in his mid-80s) men “master gardener” customers, who each had their own special growing systems to get those local bragging rights. The older gentleman always wanted our oldest (18 inches in one-gallon pots) Better Boy tomato plants to be delivered by March 15 (last frost date April 15), and he would plant them in the garden, protected by wooden box frame “cages” covered with burlap fabric. The other gentleman would prepare his tomato beds in mid-March by deep-plowing a very large furrow 12 or more inches deep, lay in our oldest transplants and cover all but the tip of plant growth and then secure a sheet of plastic across the top to protect them from wind and cold. Both were happy and proud with their results.

In a neighboring county, we knew a produce grower who would use a similar practice to “jump start” even cold sensitive crops like summer squash, utilizing half-tent-like wooden frames covered with burlap positioned to deflect the prevailing winds. In their own ways, all these gardeners were creating protective “micro-climates,” especially in the area right around the cold-sensitive plant tissues, and their perseverance would result in a 2-4-week reduction to first harvest.

At Seeds N Such, we have searched to find what we feel are the best early-season protection and growing aids that we feel will help you capture the first vine-ripened tomato trophy in your neighborhood, and all efforts are founded on starting your seedlings indoors 4-6 weeks ahead of your last frost date. We like the time-tested Jiffy-7 Peat Pellets, because everything you need to germinate your seeds, including controlled-release fertilizer, is “built into” the compressed peat moss, and all you have to add is water to expand the peat moss encased in the strong netting for support. Just drop in your seeds, and place trays of pellets near a bottom heat source, such as the top of refrigerator or water heater until seeds begin to germinate and then move to well-lighted window area or under “grow lights” to prevent stretching.

Once your seedlings are of size for transplanting and have been carefully hardened off to adjust to much cooler conditions outside, and after the average last frost date for your area has been reached, it is time to plant them in the garden. But most veteran gardeners know that not all spring seasons bring perfect gardening weather, and some gardeners just want to give their plantings every advantage they can to insure an early and big harvest. Either way, they will be wanting to utilize our growth and protection aids when it’s time to transplant.

Our newest addition is our Red Mulch Film, which “increases tomato yields by up to 20% by reflecting red wavelength light up into the plant to stimulate growth.” This film can also be used like a row cover and placed on beds up to two weeks before transplanting or direct seeding, which helps warm the soil, retain moisture, deter pests and control weeds. The 24-foot long by 3-foot wide roll can be used full length as a row cover or can be cut into eight 3-foot squares to be placed around newly transplanted tomato plants.

An improvement to the long-time gardener’s favorite “Wall-o-Water,” the Season Starter features a circle of plastic tubes, which are filled with water and placed around each new transplant. The water absorbs heat from the sun during the day and releases it at night when temperatures drop drastically. By transplanting earlier and utilizing Season Starters for protection, that first tomato will ripen much earlier. “Protects down to 24 degrees F.”

The Red Tomato Tray (formerly called the “Automator”) is also used as a growth aid on tomatoes by reflecting red wavelength light, similar to our Red Mulch Film. Yield increase by up to 40% have been recorded, and trays also help protect plants from cutworms and drought. A tray holds a half-gallon of water and features four holes at the corners to hold timed-release fertilizer, which, in turn, provides consistent feeding during each watering. “Split-tray design makes for easy installation around plant stems.”

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