Category Archives: Gardening

Balcony garden after 1 month

Things are starting to get larger and bushier. There are a few tomatoes, more than a few cucumbers, and lots of promising growth. So far the rain gutter gardening system is performing exceptionally. No drips, and there is water always available for the plants.

The cold & wind of San Francisco is making these plants grow super hardy, but healthy all the same. I think these plants would have been 2-3x the size if not larger if they were more traditional tomatoes in a more favorable climate.

Alaska Tomato

30 days

This is a determinate tomato at 63 days for maturity, it grows into a bushy plant with cherry size tomatoes. It’s good for indoor growing, so that is where I am growing it. I put it into a self-watering 3 gallon pot from Ikea, which I love.

37 days

It took 7 days to germinate. At day 17 I transplanted it to a compostable 3″ pot. At day 30 I planted it in the 3 gallon pot. At day 37 we left on vacation for two weeks. It was about 12″ tall, and very healthy.

What we came back to on day 55 was a monster of a plant. It was very bushy, and full of flowers, only problem was that its weight had snapped the main stem 2/3 of the way through at the base of the plant. While we were gone it had grown so much and there wasn’t anybody to take care of it, to tie it to a stake or anything for support when it needed it. I could have tried to see if 1/3 of the stem would be enough to sustain it through fruiting, but it was likely to get more damaged and die.

55 days

I will be growing this again from seed very soon to see how it grows at various times of the year.

For now, I am rooting several branches in water along 10″ of their stems to replant and see how well rooted branches will produce, being a determinate, it is likely not to be nearly as much as a full plant. I also cleaned off the main branch that was severed and replanted 16″ of it in hopes that it will root and somewhat recover as well.

Time to restart this experiment!

65 days: The branches in water have developed roots yesterday, well, two of them. The potted main stem seems to be coming back to life. Most of the flowers have died, but the pneumatics of the plant are becoming stronger, and the stems rigid again. There are several tomatoes growing, probably pollinated before the stem broke.

66 days: I planted some more seeds in the same pot, just in case the lifespan of the current one is cut short.

74 days: The main plant has recovered, and is making new blossoms. I took the cuttings that were rooting in water, and planted 4 of them in a new container.

Recovered plant
Rooted cuttings in new container

107 days: We have now harvested several  tomatoes from the main plant, it is now close to 6′ tall. The flavor is your standard cherry tomato, nothing exciting. Given the size of the plant, being a “determinate”, and the flavor, this isn’t a good choice for indoors. I probably won’t grow it again.

Recovered plant
Rooted cuttings with flowers

Day 168: Both pots of the Alaska have reached the end of their viability. These plants produced a combined total of 6.7 kilos of tomatoes, 299 individual tomatoes at an average of 22 grams per tomato. If the collapse of the plant and subsequent rootings of its existing parts had any effect on the quantity of tomatoes that were harvested, I’d be surprised.

In the end I decided not to grow another Alaska plant; its size was too much for the indoors, and dwarf tomato plants sound much better and more interesting for the next indoor varieties.

Growing tomatoes in San Francisco

Plants around 5 weeks after all had been transplanted outdoors

For 2013 I decided to start gardening on my San Francisco patio. Some newer techniques like the RGGS (Rain Gutter Gardening System) which allows plants in buckets to be self watered via a rain gutter made it easy to get up and going with little effort and maintenance. It consists of two 2x4x10’s, one 10ft pvc gutter, two end caps, one float to regulate water, buckets for the plants, and 3″ hydroponic cups to dip into the water from the bottom of the bucket. I also covered the top of the soil with a plastic barrier to keep the wind from drying out the top 2″ of soil.

I chose cold tolerant varieties from such as Alaska, Stupice, Ispolin, Gigantesque, Carmello, Black Prince, Beaverlodge Slicer, Azoychka, San Francisco Fog, Bloody Butcher, Svetlana Red. Their origins range from all over the cold nether regions of the Northern Hemisphere, so at least one is going to be great for growing here, right?

I tried this once before with just Alaska & Stupice in 3 gallon pots I had to water by hand, and they were a big fail, resulting in long spindly things who only wished to be put out of their misery. Alaska is doing much better this time around, it is growing indoors since it is a determinate variety.

I started the seeds with some mycorrhiza fungus to help speed the nutrient uptake from early on. I subjected the seedlings to wind from fans and open windows to get them to grow stronger and more compact. From the pellets I planted them in 3″ compostable pots, burying a part of the stem when they were big enough, and from there planted them in their final buckets ($1.87 each from Lowes, score) burying part of the new stem as well.

It has now been 2 months since I planted the seeds, and some varieties are doing better than others. It seems like there are only 3 outdoors that are really doing well right now, and if they really do well, then I will take a sucker, and root it to propagate the plant into a bucket where a plant failed. Most have been outside for 2-3 weeks, and instead of just growing, the wind has kept them a compact size, the stems have grown to be up to 3/4″ thick and very sturdy. The vast majority seem to be healthy and have started growing flowers.

I’m keeping notes on all the plants, and will dedicate a blog post to each one when I get enough data together for them.

Building the RGGS

Listed at the bottom of this post are links to the supplies I used to build my RGGS. The only things you can’t get off Amazon are the 2x4x10′ (qty 2), 10′ rain gutter, rain gutter end caps (qty 2), buckets, and potting soil. For a more visual walk-through of building one of these, check YouTube.

Main assembly

You begin by drilling a hole for the float in one end cap, and anchoring the float inside. You then assemble the end caps (if the end caps don’t have a seal and snap together, glue them with pvc primer & cement). After that is dried, predrill holes for the roof screws through the rain gutter every 8″ on each side, with the hole approximately 3/8″ from the top of the rain gutter. Then attach a 2×4 to each side of the rain gutter with the roofing screws, lining the top of the rain gutter with the top of the wood. The rain gutter is not as tall as the wood, and will hang from the wood.

Hose assembly
Wrap the plumbers tape smoothly in a clockwise direction around the threaded side of the float on the outside of the rain gutter end cap. Wrap the tape tightly around about ten times, otherwise you risk a dripping leak. Screw the swivel hose connector onto the float until water tight. Attach the other end to a hose. Turn the water on and adjust the float so the water stops at screw level. Use the shims to adjust the RGGS so the water is level, and include shims every 2.5′ for even support. The timer and Y connector are optional. The timer lets you have a bit more peace of mind that in case of a failure of the float, water won’t be flowing 24×7. I set mine to 3 minutes every 2 hours.
Required Components: