Thursday, March 14, 2013

Using Tomato Seedlings or Germinate Your Own Seed

During the previous season (2011-2012) we decided to germinate our own seed. We obtained Divine seed (the name of the variant is actually Divine) and proceeded to plant them in polystyrene seed trays. And waited. And waited. The seed germinated slowly and by the middle of November we were nowhere near transplant stage.

I did an internet search and could find only a few places to buy tomato seedlings. And all of them were more than 200 kilometres away. After phoning around I happened upon Terra Nova Seedlings, situated a mere 50 kilometres away. The seedlings also cost about a third of what the seed did. We planted the seedlings inside the tunnel at the end of November – directly into the soil, enriched with fertilizer and Pine sawdust a couple of weeks before.

Tomato Seedlings in High Tunnel
We set the tomato plants 45 cm from each other and planted the next row 60 cm from the first. We planted the seedlings diagonally from each other in the two rows close to each other. The space between the rows was 1.6 meters.

Not having any way to find the correct fertilizer, we used a general purpose fertilizer for vegetables that you buy at your local farmers shop (Afgri) and used it as a foliar spray. This we did at three -week intervals. For bugs we used Malathion and for fungus Funginex.

The seed we planted germinated and by 17 December 2011 they were at last ready for transplant.


These seedlings we planted outside on 4 January 2012 with no protection. We staked the tomato plants with Poplar saplings. Here we planted single rows with the plants 60 cm from each other and the rows 1,5 m apart. The only problem we had with the tomatoes planted outside was to control the amount watering when it rained.

By the end of December the seedlings in the plastic covered tunnel had grown into huge plants and the fruit began to set. Using baling twine we guided the plants upwards with the help of 20mm plastic pipe cut into 3cm pieces. This proved to be ineffective due to the high temperatures the inside of the plastic vegetable tunnel reached. The stems slipped through the slit cut in the plastic and caused the entire plant to topple over.

The tomato seedlings planted outside only reached the same stage as those in the plastic tunnel about 6 weeks later. The photo above was taken on 12 February 2012.

The photo above was taken on 29 December 2011 inside the tunnel. We were excited about the rapid growth of the plants. Little did we know that in the space of one week, our elation would turn to despair when the unpruned plants outgrew us. The photo below was taken on 3 January 2012. Five days made the difference between manageable and out of hand.

For days all we did was prune the plants into shape again. This was a lesson well learned and one we vowed not to repeat. Having to prune the plants in mid-summer heat also brought home the fact that the plastic tunnel had too little ventilation and the temperatures were much too high for successful tomato production.

As to whether we will germinate our own seed or buy seedlings - I think the answer is obvious. It is definitely more economical to buy seedlings than germinate your own seed. It might not be as rewarding, and if you have a small garden it is worthwhile going that route. But for mass production in a high tunnel, buying the seedlings just makes more sense.

Next time I share what we learned about pruning.


Thursday, February 28, 2013

Growing Tomatoes in High Tunnels

To my horror I realized that I haven’t posted to this blog in quite some time. Hmm… two years qualify as a pretty long time. Since we moved to the farm, live has catapulted us into a rat race unrivalled by that in the city. It’s no excuse though for neglecting some of my friends. (Grovelling will surely be required to fix the situation)

 Tomato Grown in High Tunnel

Since my last post we erected the vegetable tunnel in 2011 and promptly planted tomatoes -late in the season – it only went in around 21 November. Despite reading like crazy about the growing of tomatoes in high tunnels, we made a bundle of mistakes. And paid the school fees.

Tomato Seedlings in High Tunnel

The Highveld of Mpumalanga can get scorching hot. Combine that with the plastic covering of the tunnel and inadequate ventilation and you get tomatoes that burst their seams. Now, I suspect that the inadequate watering (my miscalculation) added to the crop being damaged. We did however manage to sell enough of the crop to recover our costs.

Naturally over the Christmas period we sort of left the tunnel to its own devices except for watering it. BIG MISTAKE. We returned to the tunnel in January only to find that there were no passages left, the tomatoes had grown to such an extent that it resembled a tropical forest. Being already large, we spent most of January trying to prune the plants back into shape. I wouldn’t advise anyone to leave their tomatoes grown in a high tunnel covered with plastic for more than a few days.

No Pruning Leads to Overgrown Tomato Plants
In any event, we were determined to grow the tomatoes well and when someone offered us another second hand high tunnel, we bought it. Over the next couple of weeks, I will let you in on how the production went. The previous season taught us well and this season, we were more prepared. Although no expert, I can only share what we have learned.

Until next time.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Personal Projects for 2011

For the last couple of weeks, since December 2010, I have been setting goals for the year 2011. Well, you might say, this is nothing new, everybody does this. My goals, however, keep shifting in timeline.

I made a firm promise to myself that this year I would do the following and it is not negotiable:
1. Publish a novel or at least get one accepted by a publisher,
2. Produce enough vegetables to not only supply our own household – I am already doing that, but to sell and supply to needy families in the local community,
3. Get my African Grey parrots settled on the farm and have them start breeding again. All of this needs to be done while still working a full time job at DKP Investigations and helping on the farm. 

This doesn’t seem like much of a goal, but life has a strange way of getting in the way of realising your goals.

The two novels I have finished, need to be edited. I HATE EDITING and I keep finding more important things to do – like updating the blog! I am itching to start with a new novel, but have to finish editing the others first. Finding the time to read your own writing and being critical about it, is not that easy. One tends to read over the mistakes or start doubting your own abilities.

As for producing the vegetables, I have to wait to get the tunnel installed and at the moment, the men just don’t have the time to prepare the earth for the project. We are located on a hilly slope and the ground has to be levelled first. So now I wait…and wait… and wait. Hopefully this will get done before the end of the month, but at the rate we are progressing now, that timeline might also shift.
Home Vegetable Garden
The African Grey Parrots were supposed to be relocated by the end of January, but again, construction on their housing haven’t even started yet. I love it when we have African Grey parrot chicks in the house as it means I am forced to work until their 2am feeding time and the house is quiet from 10pm onwards. Many of my novels were written during that time.
African Grey Parrot Chicks are Inquisitive
Well, I hope to have the novel edited before I go the Kruger National Park in the first week of March so that I can celebrate my anniversary with a clear conscience. I’ll keep you posted on how I get along with realising the goals. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

How Much to Feed African Grey Parrot Babies When Hand Rearing

The amount of formula to feed an African Grey Parrot chick and the times between feedings vary from bird to bird.As stated in a reply to a previous post, African Grey chicks are like children – each has their own needs and personality.

How Often Should you Feed the African Grey Parrot Chick?


The general rule of thumb is to feel the chick’s crop. If the crop is nearly empty, it is time to feed the baby.

What we usually do is to start feeding every three hours from the time we take them from the nest – usually at three or four weeks. We monitor the crop clearing carefully during that time to make sure the crop never completely empties. You should also take care not to leave too much food in the crop as this could lead to illnesses in the chick.

When you find that the crop is empty after two hours, you need to decrease the time between feeds and if the crop is still relatively firm after three hours, increase the time between feeds.

Here is an African Grey parrot chick with a nearly empty crop.

African Grey Chick with reduced crop

And here is the chick with a full crop.

African Grey Chick with full crop

Your bird therefore mostly dictates how often he/she should be fed.

How Much to Feed your African Grey Parrot Chick

When the chick is still very small, you need to feel the crop to make sure you don’t under or over feed the chick. When the crop is feeling stiff, not hard though,  the chick will have enough formula for the time being, Overfeeding can lead to the chick bringing up the excess formula and underfeeding will be detrimental to the bird as it would stem development of the bird. As the parrot babies get older, they will stop feeding when they’ve had enough.

They will also begin to show interest in other foods like shelled sunflower seed, fruit and a boiled mixture of other seeds. From about six to eight weeks we introduced these foods slowly before and after feeding the formula to get the birds accustomed to a variety of other food except formula and sunflower seeds.