Bonafide Farm

Update on the broody hens: Candling the eggs

June 28th, 2013 § 2

Today marks the halfway point in the incubation of the chicken eggs. It’s been ten days since I placed them under the hens, and my most respected chicken resource states that eggs incubated under broodies usually hatch in twenty days instead of the 21 days for mechanically  incubated eggs. We shall see. As it is things aren’t looking awesome in the brood coops, and my confidence in the viability of these hatches is waning.

One of the eggs in Oregano’s coop was broken when I checked earlier in the week, and then yesterday I found the broken shell of a Coronation Sussex egg—the prettiest one of the bunch. Boo.


I don’t know if they are breaking on their own because they are rotten or if she’s cracking (and possibly eating) them. That nest box didn’t smell horribly of rotten egg, so I suspect the egg was fertile when broken. However, I don’t know how many days it would take under the hen for an infertile egg to spoil. So that’s the situation in Oregano’s coop. She’s been getting off the nest, as evidenced by her “deposits” in the cage, and has lost a lot of weight already. Broody hens generally don’t eat much while sitting, and if they do get off the nest their poo has such a strange and horrible smell that it’s enough to gag you just walking into a room with it. Needless to say I remove it as soon as it’s discovered, to keep flies off it and to get it out of my life and into the compost pile.

Over in Dahlia’s coop, I found a major mess in her nest box. One of the olive egger eggs placed under her was broken, and it had made a horrid fermented/cooked mess in the nest. At least five of the ten remaining eggs were coated in dried egg goo. Not good, for several reasons. The incubating egg is a living vessel, and its shell needs to be clean to allow air to pass in to the developing embryo. To seal the pores of the egg could suffocate the embryo.

I was at a loss as to what do. I know the embryos need air, but I also know that to wash an egg is to remove its “bloom” or protective covering that helps keep bacteria out of the egg. In this case, though, I figured washing was probably the lesser of two evil decisions, so I gently scrubbed the dried egg off the dirty eggs.


Oregano had a few dirty eggs too, so I touched those up as well, trying to just wash the dirtiest areas. Then I cleaned out Dahlia’s stinking messy nest, filling it with clean pine shavings. I made notes in my log of which eggs I washed, which may be telling around hatch day.

Of course I started this project before suiting up with gloves, and the stink that was on those eggs was so strong I couldn’t get it off my fingers all night despite multiple scrubbings and soaking in lemon juice. In all, it was a fittingly disgusting ending to an evening that began by killing a black widow in the crawlspace. Ugh.

Tonight it was time to candle the eggs, which means I shine a light through them to see if they are developing into chicks. I made a candler out of a MagLight flashlight (with fresh batteries) topped by a taped-on piece of cardboard to concentrate the beam and cushion the eggs.


Then after dark I headed out to the garage to candle the eggs. All I needed was my candler, my record log and pencil, and a small dish to hold the eggs as I pulled them from the nest. I waited for the garage door lights to go off and began with Oregano’s eggs.


I removed each egg from under Oregano, enduring a peck on the wrist each time, bless her. I held the egg over the end of the candler, turning it until I could see something, or nothing. Most eggs looked like this, below, with some murky shape with no clearly defined blood vessels but perhaps the hint of a developing eye. Perhaps because many of them are Black Copper Marans eggs, which are dark to begin with and thus more difficult to candle.You can clearly see the air sack at the bottom of the egg.


Here’s an egg in which you can see some veins and perhaps a developing eye, right on the line between shadow and light.


Here’s an egg, unfortunately one of the two remaining olive egger (Oregano’s) eggs, that I think has no development:


Here’s a Black Copper Marans egg that appeared very porous. This porosity is thought to be an indication of a poor egg for hatching.


The clearest picture came from the last egg I candled, a Coronation Sussex under Dahlia. You can definitely see a healthy pattern of veins, and as I watched, I could even see the embryo moving within the shell.


I have to admit that holding this egg in my hand, in the dark, and seeing those veins pulse is a pretty freaking incredible feeling. It’s scary, to hold such perfectly planned beauty alive within that fragile shell.

Out of the 20 remaining eggs, there is only one (the olive egger) that I feel I can conclusively describe as not developing. The rest are big question marks, and I am not yet experienced enough to discard any eggs based on my judgement. I feel better about the clutch under Dahlia, my Black Copper Marans, than the clutch under Oregano, my olive egger. But that’s just a hunch. So they will all stay put in the nest, and we will wait the ten more days to see what becomes of them. As you can already tell, a lot can happen in the next ten days. And so I remind myself, and you, dear reader: “Don’t count your chickens until they hatch.”

Defeating death with a butter knife: More joys of home maintenance

June 27th, 2013 § 7

I was vacuming near the laundry room today when I noticed a musty damp smell that I traced to the pocket door opening. I couldn’t figure out what it was until it suddenly hit me. I was smelling…summer crawlspace.

Which made me realize that it is that wonderful time of year when I get to enter the crawlspace and jiggle/threaten the dehumidifier into voiding into the sump pump tank instead of just filling up and turning off until I empty it of collected water. For three summers this dehumidifier has had a checkered past of sometimes behaving properly and draining on its own, and other times it just shuts off when filled with water, its red alert eye blinking in the dark. Meaning it’s not working as it should to help keep the crawlspace dry.

My crawlspace is supposedly conditioned space, which means that its air is maintained by my HVAC system just as the air is in my house. That, and a sump pump, work pretty well to keep things fresh and dry until summer sets in and the rain, heat and humidity gain the upper hand. Thus the supplemental dehumidifier.

I suited up in my usual home maintenance outfit of tall boots, work gloves, and a skirt, and opened the crawlspace door, flashlight in hand. Thanks to some hard labor with my dad, I have a really nice crawlspace entry. Every time I go in there I think of mixing and shoveling 1,000 pounds of concrete in a heat wave. Good times. At least this time I wasn’t chasing an angry black snake!

With my flashlight held out front like a sword, I took a deep breath and plunged across the threshold, wiping spider webs from my face. The crawlspace is deep enough that I don’t have to actually crawl—I can penguin walk most everywhere, ducking under ducts, trying not to touch anything. I made it to the dehumidifier, which as expected was sassing me with its “tank full” light.


I took out its tank and dumped the collected water in the sump pump tank close by. Then I replaced the tank and the dehumidifier started right up. All good. Then I had a flash of insight whilst feeding the drain hose from the dehumidifier into the sump pump tank. I think the reason why it occasionally wasn’t working had to do with the the lower end of the hose not being low enough to create enough drop to drain. It’s a close call, I could tell that much. So I did my best to create the greatest possible distance between the dehumidifier outlet and the end of the drain hose, and sat back to sweep the crawlspace with my flashlight, checking to see that the mouse poison trays were still filled and whatnot.

As the flashlight beam hit the bottom edge of one of my two water heaters, at left in the photo above, I saw an unmistakable dark shape. Growing up in the country you don’t need to see a red triangle to know a black widow. Once you learn it, her shape and inky gloss are unmistakable, and they trigger a dilute version of the feeling you get when surprised by a snake.


Closer, but not too close, inspection revealed that this widow was a mama, and was guarding an egg sack. Great! Because what’s better than one black widow? Hundreds, of course!

Now let me just stop here to say that I know that spiders (and snakes too) are important cogs in the ecological wheel. They have great value, and I was impressed by the boneyard underneath Ms. Widow’s web—made up mostly of desiccated stink bug carcasses. However, I have value too, as do my pets and livestock, and I don’t want poisonous spiders or snakes living in, or even right next to, my house.

So I beat it out of the crawlspace to gather supplies. I grabbed a can of wasp spray, reading on the back that it kills scorpions. I knew scorpions are arachnids, just like spiders, so I figured it couldn’t hurt. Plus it’s one defensive tool that can be applied from a distance, in case the spider should run! Then in the kitchen I grabbed a butter knife, because it was the first thing I could think of that was about the shape and size I judged I’d need to fit in this little crevice.

Outside, the thought crossed my mind that there were other things I’d rather be doing than heading back into a dark crawlspace to go head to head with a venomous spider. But the idea of her living down there and hatching tons of babies was more frightening than that of war, so with the pockets of my skirt stuffed with my weapons of choice, I headed back into the crawlspace.

Ms. Widow didn’t put up much of a fight. Upon being jabbed with the butter knife, she did fall out of her web and attempt to scramble amongst the folds of the black plastic lining the crawlspace. It’s always a heart-quickening moment when an undead, pissed-off poisonous spider makes a break for it, especially when one is squatting in a skirt in a dark crawlspace with nothing but a flashlight beam and a butter knife for defense. But I had anticipated her flight, and was able to act fast to smear her into oblivion.

Then there remained her future progeny. I prized the egg sack out of the widow’s characteristically sticky web, and examined it by flashlight. It was about a half an inch long, shaped like a teardrop, and had a texture and color similar to that of a praying mantis egg case.


When I squashed it, it exuded a surprising amount of liquid and the case itself took on the appearance of a golden raisin. At least no baby black widows poured out, which I was kind of expecting.


And with that done, I decided it was time to stop looking around the crawlspace. So, I scooted out, grateful to see this most pleasant sight waiting for me just outside the door.


Even though he wasn’t in the trenches, sometimes it’s nice to know I am not entirely alone in all the stupid shit I get into around here.

And, silver lining. Turns out this little guy had fallen into the crawlspace pit with no way out:


All because of a strange smell while vacuuming, I was able to pick him up, and send him safely on his way. (And not into Tucker’s maw, as this photo would suggest.)


But not before he peed all over my hand. As toads will do.

Mid-June house garden tour

June 25th, 2013 § 4

We’ve had a nice, relatively cool spring with lots of rain, and the gardens are happy. Here’s what’s been happening in the beds closest to the house in the last couple of weeks. Those huge Muppet-looking Scotch broom plants to the right are slated for removal as soon as I can get a backhoe to the house. I tried to dig them out by hand, but no luck. They grew way too large for their space, and though they have lovely blooms in the spring, they are taking up real estate that is too valuable for what they offer.


The purple irises of May have been succeeded by beautiful red lilies. This colony has grown from just a couple of bulbs, and I love their look and position in the garden. I am happy with this view, below, in June. I like the pop of color from the lilies, how they pick up the color of my front door, and how they nestle between the Blue Atlas Cedar and the ‘Karl Foerster ‘ reed grass. Iceberg roses bloom at the foot of the lilies, and the red of lily blooms picks up the blush tints in the albelia ‘Rose Creek’ (at bottom left). A lot of neat textures happening in this view, and good structure.


Moving across the front of the house, I also like this little view. Of course I love my ‘Pat Austin’ rose, which has brilliantly responded to a rather harsh 18″ pruning done in April. She’s blooming full steam ahead, but needed some company to make her peachy orange blooms less lonely. So I added a few yarrows: ‘Pineapple Mango,’ which has coral orange blooms, and ‘Anthea,’ a nice, antique-looking yellow. When they fill out they will lend some more visual weight to this orange/coral theme I have going in this area.


Here’s ‘Pat Austin’ again with the yellow yarrow in the background. I placed it right in front of my ‘Black Lace’ elderberry so that the blooms will really pop against the dark background. I like the way it wakes up the beautiful elderberry, which despite amazing color and foliage has a tendency to recede into shadow…the bane of most dark-foliaged plants.


From dark foliage we move on the dark flowers. Black, in fact! True black flowers are pretty rare, so I was immediately smitten when I found this viola, ‘Black Out.’ There was hardly anything online about it, but I did read somewhere that it’s a 2013 introduction. And I found it, of all places, at a big-box store that starts with a “w.”


Lots of people love pansies in the garden, but if you don’t mind their smaller blooms, violas are a better investment. Violas are perennials, pansies aren’t. Pansies give up the ghost as soon as it gets warm, and some violas will keep blooming through summer. And they self-seed. That said, there is still a place for pansies. I kept a container of beautiful pansies alive on my front porch from last fall all through this May. Despite being frozen into popsicles several times, they just kept flowering. To have outdoor blooms in deep winter is a real treat!


Just last week I noticed my new violas were crawling with these spikey orange and black caterpillars. They were gorgeous. I figured they were something special, instead of the usual destructive pest, so I left them alone. A quick internet search identified them as Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia) caterpillars. Turns out that violas are host plants for these beautiful butterflies—bonus!


Over on the right side of the porch is my problem spot. This area lacks structure and needs a larger bush or small tree to anchor it. I have pulled out a couple of Iceberg roses from this area, to make a spot for said new addition. Now I just need to figure out what to put there.

I also have too much going on with the colors, so I am trying to edit that out to a coral/red/orange scheme to pick up some things on the left side of the house. That’s a tall order for someone who likes most all colors, but I will try.


Above, a clematis climbs a homemade support, with a ‘Cinco de Mayo’ rose at its feet.


My oakleaf hydrangeas are growing nicely. The plan is that they will soften this front corner of the house with three-season interest. They’re one of my favorite plants, and I like how they look with the variegated euphorbia planted between them. May have to work that in somewhere else too.


Finally, the newest section of garden. This is the side that runs along the east side of the house. In addition to a bunch of hydrangeas, I have viburnums, peonies, Solomon’s Seal, and some other random things in there. New additions are in the foreground, above, brunnera ‘Jack Frost.’ A totally gorgeous plant that since planting doesn’t seem too thrilled. Though it’s labeled for shade/part-shade, I think this side of the house really isn’t as shady as I originally thought it was! I hope these brunneras make it, as they are magical-looking and gorgeous, and they have small blue blooms in spring.

So that’s how the garden is shaping up as we head into summer. Now that it is three years old, I am really starting to see certain things fill in and to identify problems in other areas. As always, the garden is a work in progress and a learning experience. One can never be bored making a garden—it’s a lifetime aesthetic and intellectual challenge.


June 24th, 2013 § 0


I was standing in the driveway in my pajamas around 10:00 p.m. last night taking photos of the supermoon rising over Buck Mountain. When I shoot at night I usually use the self timer on the camera to avoid any camera shake that would come from depressing the shutter button during long exposures. While the shutter was open a random car turned around in my driveway and I caught it on film…along with the supermoon.


Happy Solstice!

June 21st, 2013 § 0

It’s the longest, lightest day of the year, and a lovely one at that. I spent the afternoon processing strawberries picked yesterday in Nelson County.


Summer fruits are the best, but you know what’s even better? Strawberry shortcake, baking in the oven right now. And the chickens definitely enjoyed the strawberry trimmings!


I’ve got a couple of growlers of Devil’s Backbone in the fridge and new friends on the way with fried chicken. We’re doing this Solstice up right with a good old-fashioned porch party on this beautiful evening.

Whatever you’re up to today, I hope you get a chance to celebrate the Solstice. And lest the sun hog all the astronomical attention, don’t forget to check out this weekend’s Supermoon!

Looking good in the garage

June 20th, 2013 § 1

Just want to report that both broody hens seem to have accepted their clutches. Despite dreaming Tuesday night that I awoke to find they had smashed all the eggs, everything was quiet when I opened the garage. Both hens are in the broody zombie state, and all looks good.

I forgot to mention a little ringer I threw into this project, just to keep it interesting. On Tuesday afternoon I met a lady at a gas station off Route 29 in Madison for a quick deal. She jumped out of a maroon minivan with a taped-over tail light as I pulled up behind the building. She handed me an egg carton containing six eggs, I forked over a $20, and lickety split, we separated and hit the road in different directions.

It was at its heart a true CraigsList deal. A few e-mails exchanged beforehand, a quick phone call, an arrangement to meet at a blessedly public place. My prize? Six Coronation Sussex hatching eggs.

Now, if you’re not familiar with the Coronation Sussex, allow me to introduce you:


(Photo from BJs Poultry)

Pretty chickens, huh?

The eggs I bought supposedly come from Greenfire Farms lines, and you can read all about them and see more photos here. However, as with any CraigsList deal, you can never know. They could be store-bought eggs pulled from the fridge minutes before flying out the door. And, as with the purchase of any hatching eggs, one is never guaranteed a success. Don’t count your chickens…

Regardless of these known unknowns, I figured I’d give it a try. I’m not in the business of maintaining any fancy chicken bloodlines, so if I get a couple of pretty birds out of the deal that’s good enough for me!

Oh, and a very exciting possible farm development is underway. On Saturday I am visiting a farm over the mountain to talk to a lady about some baby goats. To, you know…just…visit…


Stay tuned!

Welcome, DIYDiva readers

June 19th, 2013 § 8

I just want to take a second to welcome any new readers coming over from this post on DIYdiva. Kit wrote of Bonafide Farm as a “kindred farm,” which makes my heart happy as I feel the same way about Liberty House. Squee!!

And if you’re not yet familiar with DIYdiva, check it out pronto and see if you can keep yourself from being inspired. Kit’s a beast, a “power-tool wielding bad-ass,” and another awesome chick who’s living the farm dream on her terms alone. And best, she’s snort-out-loud funny as she describes her triumphs and travails. DIYdiva is a daily read, for sure!

Setting the eggs

June 18th, 2013 § 0


There are just a few intimate acts that are on par with reaching, in the dark, beneath a broody hen’s body, into the damp heat of her defeathered breast, feeling for eggs that pulse with embroynic blood. My years of developing film and photographs in the darkroom served me well as I navigated by feel alone. Oregano gave me a few good pecks on the wrist, bless her defensive spirit, and Dahlia let loose with a series of low perturbed squawks as I mussed about beneath her.

I took Oregano’s sacrifical eggs from her and and placed them in an old cardboard box grabbed off the garage floor, stretching as I did through the sticky web of a mother spider guarding her egg sac.

And then I replaced the stolen neverbabies with twelve fresh eggs for Oregano and eleven for Dahlia, of all colors and shapes, with a prayer for the suspended lives within.

And the 21-day countdown begins toward life or no life. It all comes down to the proper application of heat and humidity. Amazing, every time.

Finally! Broody hens!

June 17th, 2013 § 0

Ever since April I’ve been hoping one of my hens would go broody and hatch some chicks. Why? Because baby chicks are some of the things that make life worth living, of course. That and I am seriously curious to see what kind of crosses would result from my Wheaten Ameraucana rooster over Black Copper Marans, Lavender Orpingtons, a Barred Olive Egger, and whatever mix Lilac and Iris are (Black Australorps and Mottled Java, according to their breeder).* Iris and Lilac are in their second year of lay, and it’s good to have younger pullets coming along to take over egg-laying duties. And finally, now that I am free-ranging the birds outside most days, I anticipate that at some point I will have predator loss and don’t want to be caught out with not enough laying hens to keep eggs in the fridge.

A broody hen is a wonderful creature because she manages all the care, feeding, and warming of young chicks. If you have ever raised chicks, you know that it’s a big, messy job to monitor their brooder temperature, clean up after them, keep them safe from drafts and predators, and make sure they get enough to drink and eat. So I told myself that the only way I would raise chicks this year was if a hen did all the work for me!

Last year Iris went unbreakably broody and I ended up giving her a clutch of fertile guinea eggs. She brooded them in a dog crate in the garage and hatched out and raised nine guineas. Here’s one at several weeks old, posing for its CraigsList portrait:


I got to watch the hatch and meet the still-damp keets, and it was one of the neatest days of my life. But this year, Iris has chosen to not do it again. Being trapped in a small cage with nine flighty, frantic, velociraptor-looking guinea keets was probably enough for her to sign off on motherhood forever. Not that I blame her—check out how those ravenous minidinosaurs are eying up their adopted mother’s toes while Iris pleads with her eyes for a Calgon moment.

Iris KeetsWeb

The most time-tested way to induce broodiness in a hen is to let eggs accumulate in the nest box. When the hen feels a growing clutch beneath her, some hormone switches in her brain that tells her to buckle down and brood. She will remain on the nest, barely eating and drinking, and will often pull feathers out of her breast so that she can keep the eggs tucked right next to her bare skin.

For weeks now I’ve been letting eggs accumulate, rotating out the older ones after a day or two in order to keep some in the fridge. I also placed the infamous glass eggs in the nests to trick the hens in to thinking there were always eggs waiting for a mother. And finally, it started to look like a few of then hens were beginning to feel broody.

Oregano, my beautiful barred olive egger, was the first to show any sort of devotion. After she’d been on the nest about a week, I fixed up a broody coop in the garage and built her a cardboard brood nest. It’s best to have a hen incubate eggs and raise chicks in a quiet, private place away from the bustle of the main coop, where flock mates may see new babies as tasty hors d’oeuvres. I was waiting for nightfall to move her to her new home when one of my Black Copper Marans saw the nest was exposed and jumped up to sit on the eggs.


After dark, when I went to collect Oregano, the Black Copper Marans was still sitting tight on the eggs. One look and I got her message: She wanted a clutch of her own.


Oregano had assumed a broody position in the adjoining nest box. So I grabbed her and moved her and the eggs into the garage coop.


Oregano accepted her new nest and has stayed on it since Friday.


But the Black Copper Marans was still sitting on the glass eggs. And so I fixed up a second broody coop in the garage, built another cardboard next box, and last night moved her into a brood cage next to Oregano. So now I have two broody hens.

I have been saving out eggs for a week or so now, and when I get numbers I am satisfied with I will remove the glass and sacrificial eggs from under the hens and replace them with these fresh eggs. That way all embryos will start to develop at once, and all chicks will hatch at the same time. It’s a bit sad as the eggs are developing under Oregano, but their job really is to just “hold” the hen in a broody mindset until the more valuable eggs are introduced.


I wasn’t really planning on trying to raise two clutches, but at the end of the day it’s not such a bad thing. It means I can hatch more eggs, which is good as there is no way of knowing what the fertility rate is amongst my hens’ eggs. And, if one of the hens begins incubating and gives up, I could move the most valuable eggs to the other hen and have her take over. Thus, I am waiting until the same night to give both hens their eggs, and then we will see what happens! There is still a lot that can go wrong in the 21 days it takes to cook a chick, but I am having fun working with my broodies. If you’d like to know more, allow me to refer you to this excellent article by my favorite author on all things chicken, Harvey Ussery: Working with Broody Hens.

*A quick digression on chicken breeds and egg color: I have the right set-up to produce olive eggers, which, as their name suggests, lay olive colored eggs. To make a nice olive egger, you need a dark brown egg-laying breed (such as Black Copper Marans) mixed with a blue egg laying breed (Wheaten Ameraucana—my rooster). My Black Copper Marans don’t lay very dark eggs and I have no idea what sort of blue egg genetics my rooster carries, so I don’t suspect I will break any records with any pullets I hatch from that combination. But at the very least, I should end up with some sort of green egg, which is plenty exciting to me.

Now here is where it gets interesting. I have three eggs saved out from Oregano, my barred olive egger (the green eggs in the photo above). She does lay a very nice olive-colored egg, when she lays. By crossing her with Calabrese, and his blue egg genes, I may end up with a pullet that lays a really green egg, as opposed to an olive egg. But who knows, really? I have read about chicken genetics until I fell over from confusion and still am not sure what will happen. Mostly because I know nothing about the genetics of the birds I am starting with, other than their supposed breeds and what color eggs the hens lay now. And there’s always the possibility that I will hatch 100% cockerels and then the whole experiment is good for nothing but the freezer. And even if I do hatch pullets, it will be another year until they lay and who knows if I will even be in to chickens then!

This year’s tomatoes

June 16th, 2013 § 4

We now move in to the tomato patch, a topic deserving of its own post.


This year I got most of my seedlings from the Piedmont Master Gardener’s Plant Sale. I bought a bunch of heirlooms, including:

Constoluto Genovese
Black Cherry
Ponderosa Red
Orange Oxheart
Mr. Stripey (the only tomato of these I’ve grown before, and a favorite)
Mortgage Lifter
Green Zebra
Amish Paste
Sun Sugar (a deviation from last year’s Sun Gold, which though delicious split too much for my liking)
Abraham Lincoln

I chose these heirlooms because for the past few years I have grown mostly big-box store hybrids, and I haven’t been wowed by their taste. So this is an attempt at a fantastic tomato even though I know I am running the risk that these less-disease resistant varieties might be struck down before bearing fruit. But I also hedged my bets a bit by planting two hybrids: New Girl and Big Beef.

The worst day of spring gardening is the day I put in the tomato stakes. These are heavy eight-foot fencing posts. Installing each means I climb on a ladder and balance, trying not to tip forward and impale myself while using a sledgehammer to drive each post in the ground. This year, as usual, I ended up with a black-and-blue left hand—the victim of each missed strike. And there are many while sledgehammering at the top of a ladder.

But once the stakes were in, and after a few days of recovery, comes one of the best spring gardening days: planting the tomatoes. I did every thing I could to give my plants the best possible start, including amending each planting hole with two gallons of home made compost, a tip I picked up from this Mother Earth News article:

Unless you planted some vetch in early fall, simply mix about two gallons of compost into each planting hole. In a tomato trial at Iowa State University, compost increased overall yields by 40 percent, while early yields shot up by more than 200 percent.

I searched for but wasn’t able to find the cited Iowa State study. I went ahead with the advice anyway as an experiment.


The plants had grown so leggy that some of them got as much as a foot of stem buried during planting.


The buried stems grow roots and help anchor the plant more firmly in the ground. But don’t try this with just any plant—burying most plants this deep will mean certain death (for the plant!)

After each plant was tucked deep in its compost nest I circled each stem with aluminum foil, as I always do to ward off cutworm damage. It was cold and all the plants looked peaked as they transitioned to full-sun and through transplant shock. I realized they weren’t well hardened off, and so I shaded them with boxes and gave them extra water. Then I went to the beach for eight days and worried about them all the while. But when I came back it looked like most had taken hold and were doing well. The only one that looked poor was Green Zebra, and that’s my fault for breaking its rootball while planting it. I kept it in the ground and stuck the Big Beef in next to it.

And now they’re all doing great and we’ve transitioned into the normal maintenance routine which means pinching out suckers and tying each vine to the post as it grows. Most plants have already set flowers, which is a sign that their compost beds aren’t too rich for their liking—a good thing.

I remain hyper-aware to signs of disease, and have taken a few steps to help prevent it. After the soil warmed up, I heavily mulched around each plant with straw. This keeps soil from splashing on the plant leaves when it rains, and cuts down on disease transmission from soil-borne pathogens. I have also removed any lower leaves that touch the soil with the same idea in mind. It’s a hard call to make, as those leaves shade the stem during the hottest part of summer, but any way to keep the dirt off the leaves helps reduce infections.

With all this preparation, and a hefty dose of luck, I hope to have a few good tomatoes this year. Stay tuned!

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