Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Growing Tomatoes in a Hotbed


Tomato plants can be advantageously started and even grown on to the size for setting in open ground in hotbeds. In building these of manure it is important to select a spot where there is no danger of standing water, even after the heaviest rains, and it is well to remove the soil to a depth of 6 inches or 1 foot from a space about 2 feet larger each way than the bed and to build the manure up squarely to a height of 2 to 3 feet. It is also very important that the bed of manure be of uniform composition as regards mixture of straw and also as to age, density and moisture, so as to secure uniformity in heating. This can be accomplished by shaking out and evenly spreading each forkful and repeatedly and evenly tramping down as the bed is built up. Unless this work is well and carefully done the bed will heat and settle unevenly, making it impossible to secure uniformity of growth in different parts.

Hotbed frames should be of a size to carry four to six 3x6-foot sash, and made of lumber so fastened together that they can be easily knocked apart and stored when not in use. They should be about 10 inches high in front and 16 or 18 inches at the back, care being taken that if the back is made of two boards one of them be narrow and at the bottom so that the crack between them can be covered by banking up with manure or earth. In placing them on the manure short pieces of board should be laid under the corners to prevent their settling in the manure unevenly. I prefer to sow the seed in flats or shallow boxes filled with rich but sandy and very friable soil, and set these on a layer of sifted coal ashes covering the manure and made perfectly level, but many growers sow on soil resting directly on the manure; if this is done the soil should be light and friable and made perfectly level.


In some sections, particularly in the US South, it is not always easy to procure suitable manure for making hotbeds, so these are built to be warmed by flues under ground, but I think it much better where a fire is to be used that the sash be built into the form of a house. A hotbed of manure is preferred to a house by some because of its supplying uniform and moist bottom heat—and one can easily give abundant air; but the sash can be built into the form of a house at but little more expense, and it has the great advantage of enabling one to work among the plants in any weather, while, if properly built, any desired degree of heat and ventilation can be easily secured. Except when very early ripening fruit is the desideratum, plants started with heat but pricked out and grown in cold-frames without it, but where they can be protected during cold nights and storms, will give better results than those grown to full size for the field in artificial heat.

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