My tomatoes did pretty good last year, but I’m already making plans for a better location and more plant varieties this year. I just received my first of three seed orders, and am busily preparing my garden.

Location, Location
Last summer, I planted my tomatoes at the top of my yard on the north fence where they had plenty of space. I ran them up a grid, and they came to about seven feet high. I think I overpruned them, so there weren’t enough leaves to prevent sunburn. We had an unusually mild summer, which helped protect them, but most of them had some degree of sunburn or blossom rot, even late in the summer. I partly blame my soil, which is sand. My yard used to be riverbottom and the soil is horrendous. It doesn’t hold water or nutrients. I had dug a trench with compost and garden soil, but the tap root went much deeper than my trench.

This year, I’ll be moving all of my plants into a pre-existing planter on the north side of the yard. In the heat of summer, it will receive some shade from the lemon tree and the adjacent retaining wall. It currently houses two shrubs that look terrible when pruned to a manageable size, so I have no problem taking those out. It already has a sprinkler, so I should able to convert that to a drip system.

What I’m Planting
Last year I only planted three small tomato seedlings. I attempted strawberries from seedlings in a strawberry pot, but they died.

This year, I’m planting one or two varieties of tomatoes at the most. I won’t do paste tomatoes again – they don’t ripen in batches large enough to sauce when you only grow one paste tomato plant. So, I’ll just go with heirloom tomatoes good for eating fresh. I may also try a late season tomato, a Russian or Hungarian variety, because we don’t usually have freezes and our climate is apparently suited to them.

I will try another strawberry seedling, but plant it properly.

I also ordered seeds for the following:
chives
rosemary
sage
basil
scallions
Italian parsley
oregano
mint
four lettuce varieties (two green, two red in one seed packet)
carrots
red bell peppers
green bell peppers

I missed the shipping date for garlic, and my yard isn’t ready for it yet, so I’m skipping garlic this year. I do plan to order yellow onion sets.

Potatoes in Buckets
I’ve also decided to attempt potatoes in buckets, rather than growing them in the ground. I plan to grow red potatoes and Yukon gold potatoes. I might try Russets, too. The advantage of the buckets is that I can move them around the yard as the weather changes so they get sun in spring and some heat protection once the peak of summer sets in. Potatoes are best grown from seed potatoes, which I’ll order from the same California grower as the onion sets.

I’m currently debating what sort of buckets I want to use. If I can find free/cheap food grade buckets at a bakery, I might use those. I could also get some cheap plastic bins from the dollar store, but they wouldn’t be food grade. I’m not sure that’s as important for growing something in soil as it is when storing grains or brewing beer that will touch the plastic directly. I could also visit our local garden store and buy some cheap five gallon plant containers.

Herbs in Individual Containers
Some herbs must be in their own containers. Mint and rosemary in particular don’t play well with others. Mint will overrun everything else in the planter. Rosemary grows so large that it will also take over. My parents have a rosemary plant that has grown to fill a 4×8 brick planter. In fact, it broke the mortar! So, I will start them both in smallish pots and hope to contain their size.

When to Plant
My garden books recommend planting six to eight weeks before the last frost, but the first frost in Los Angeles is typically early December and the last frost is typically late January or early February, if we have a frost at all. If you plan to plant, check your frost dates at Victory Seeds. I will start my seeds indoors in January and then transplant them a few weeks later as seedlings. So, that means I’ll have a lot of garden work to do in January. I’m up for it.

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