Saturday, July 4, 2009

Constructing the Tomato Bunker

So here's what we had to work with. A little corner of the basement we used to store (mostly empty) boxes. Yes, that is a toilet. It's not hooked up. But the one just outside the picture on the left is. Well, sort of. The water pipe is not connected. We only have one bathroom, but even one bathroom for four people hasn't been enough for us to consider hooking this one up.

So step one, find a spot amongst this mess for some agriculture. To be sure, this area doesn't scream FARM! to anyone. But it'll have to do.

So first, I wanted to lay down some cinderblocks so the buckets weren't sitting on the ground. Both to put some space between the plants and the cold floor and to make them a little bit more accessible. Fortunately, there were a load of unused cinderblocks in the basement already. Judging by the cobwebs, they hadn't been moved in ten years or more. Although I'm no cobweb expert.

Anyway, laid out the cinderblocks in a couple rows, envisioning two rows of five buckets atop them. Notice I've done minimal rearranging of the boxes in the back. Well, it turns out that I'd be moving them a few more times, plus pretty much moving every box in the basement to make the Mrs. happy.

Once the blocks were in their (close to) final positions, I brought down the pails and checked out spacing. The tomatoes will be quite a bit closer together than the seed packets recommend (2 - 3' for the varieties I have). But I figure I can move them a little bit further apart as they get bigger. Undoubtedly I will look back on this as My First Mistake (tm). The main motivation for putting them so close is so to pack in as many as I can while still having them fall under the shop lights, so they get plenty of yummy photons. You can see the shop light fixture sitting on top of the buckets in the photo. I left enough room in the back of the setup so that I can walk behind.

Reshuffled the cinderblocks one more time (*grunt*) and then went about hanging the shop lights. I paused for a moment, wondering to myself how I would go about cutting the chain for the shop lights. Hmmm. Fortunately, my pliers had a wire cutting part on them. A little carpentry to get something to hang the lights from, then hung the chains and hooked them up to the light fixtures. Hey, this is starting to look like what I envisioned. In fact, I was far happier with my job of hanging the lights than I thought I'd be.

I had wanted the lights a little closer to the buckets, especially for when the tomatoes were small. But the limiting factor was the cord on the shop lights, it was only 5'. I may add another layer of cinderblocks under the buckets if I'm feeling ambitious and filled with boundless energy.

What's left to do? Hmmm, well, I need a couple cubic feet each of vermiculite and perlite to make the soil cocktail. I need to set up the fan. I want to have the fan blowing on them on low for a couple reasons - without some breeze, the plants tend to get leggy and fall over. Also might help a little with pollination, we'll see how that goes. also need to drill a few holes in each bucket for drainage. Also need some crushed stone (or something) for the bottom of the buckets. Need a couple timers for the lights, don't want them to be on all the time. Also don't want to have to rely on my memory to ensure the lights go on and off. Also need a curtain for the basement windows. no sense annoying the neighbors with a whole mess of light at all hours. What else? Hmmm. Oh, I was thinking maybe a lattice of thin rope for the tomatoes to climb on. Won't need to worry about that for a while I guess. Ha, probably leaving that until later will be My Second Mistake (tm).

And of course, I need tomato plants! Today was a holiday, so none of the garden store are open. I'm hoping they'll be open Sunday. I'd like to start off the seeds all at once, and compare how they do.

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