This year, I am pretty certain that I have ruined my tomatoes. To say I am disappointed is an understatement. I am not really sure what went wrong. I created a grow center in my mudroom out of a metal shelving system and florescent grow lights. I kept the lights just a couple of inches above the plants. However, in spite of my care, everything went terribly wrong.
Now don’t get me wrong. Its not like the plants didn’t grow. No, they grew and grew and grew. In all honesty, I knew something was wrong about 30 days into it. They were just too tall. I thought they were growing so fast because of the expensive “grow lights” I bought for the fluorescent fixtures. Boy was I ever wrong. Looks like my expensive grow lights have left me with a whole bunch of etiolated tomatoes.
According to Wikipedia, “etiolation (pronounced /iːtɪəˈleɪʃən/) is a process in flowering plants grown in partial or complete absence of light. It is characterized by long, weak stems; smaller, sparser leaves due to longer internodes; and a pale yellow color (chlorosis).”
What all this means is my “grow lights” were evidently not producing the right wavelengths required by the tomatoes to grow correctly. We all know that plants need light. However, what a lot of us don’t know is light is really a pretty complex thing. Light comes at you and your plants in waves. Some of these waves are long and some are VERY short. Different plants respond to different wavelengths. So, even though my expensive grow lights provided a lot of light, it wasn’t the right light.
Technically speaking, etiolation causes a lengthening of the internodes of the plant. This makes their branches weak. However, the really bad thing (as far as I am concerned) is that it does not allow the plants to properly develop the chlorophyll need for photosynthesis.
This lack of chlorophyll thing bit me when I set the plants out to “harden off”. Since their chloroplasts weren’t fully formed, they got a pretty bad burn pretty quickly. This “hardening” almost immediately killed about a third of my 58 plants.
I nursed the plants along and continued hardening. However, they were hurting. I was really afraid I was going to lose them all. In order to try and save some of them , I decided to do the only thing I could think of to salvage some of my plants – I planted them sideways!
That’s right, I dug a big old long hole and buried almost all of my etiolated plants. I left about 8” of stem and leaves sticking up. Hopefully, they will quickly develop their weak little chloroplasts and they will start growing normally toward the sun.
I was able to bury my plants because tomatoes have the ability to grow roots anywhere along their stem. In fact, even if you plant healthy tomato plants, it is a good idea to bury them deeper than they were in their container. By planting them deep, the buried stem will produce more roots that will in turn help produce a bigger, healthier plant.
Right now I am hopeful that I will be able to salvage some of my seedlings. However, I have been wrong before. If things don’t go my way over the next week I will be at my local garden center fighting for plants with all of the other last minute tomato gardeners. Wish me luck!