Growing Things: Big trouble for little tomatoes

Gerald Filipski helps troubleshoot for baby tomato plants and an old garden bed getting a new lease on life.

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Q We find ourselves in need of your help. I started tomatoes in an AeroGarden 6 at the end of January. We have transplanted them into pots as required to address their growth and are maintaining them under a multi-colour grow light for approximately 16 hours a day. My husband waters them daily now. Unfortunately, they were not watered for the first two weeks of the first transplant. This morning my husband pointed out the leaf curling on three of the plants. Are you able to identify the issue and propose a solution? We would hate to lose our 19 plants.

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A There could be many reasons for the tomato leaf curl. The lack of water for two weeks after transplanting could certainly be one of the causes. You may now be overcompensating by watering too frequently. This could cause root rot which could be another cause of the leaf curl. One of the photos you included shows a soil that looks extremely wet to me. Try watering only when the soil feels on the dry side. My old two-knuckle rule applies. Stick your finger into the soil up to the second knuckle of your index finger. If the soil feels dry then it’s time to water.

I wonder about the drainage of the soil as well. If the water is not draining away properly that could be part of the problem. Tomato seedlings and in fact any seedlings are prone to over- or under-watering and need to be monitored carefully.

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A further observation is the soil in your photo looks to be very high in compost. Using a good quality potting mix to start your seedlings is a good idea as it will drain better than soil with a lot of compost in it. This is especially true when the seedlings are young.

Reviving an old bed

Q Last year, we decided to redo an aging flower bed (approx. 50 years old) into a vegetable garden. The bed is 1.3 m wide by 2.4 m long and 1.3 m tall. It was made out of wood, which was rotting so last summer, we rebuilt it and painted it so we would be ready to plant this spring. I transplanted all the flowers elsewhere in the yard so we can start fresh. Here are the questions to start fresh:

  • Is it best to remove all or some of the old soil and buy new soil?
  • If keeping all or some of the old soil, should we mix the new soil in with the old or just top up the bed with new soil?
  • How much new soil would be needed?

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A There’s no need to remove the old soil, even if it is 50 years old and a little tired. It just needs some help. I would recommend adding either well-rotted manure or compost. How much to add will depend on the depth of the bed. In your case, a blend of 70 per cent of the existing soil mixed with 30 per cent of the organic matter you are adding will make a rich soil blend. This might mean having to remove some of the soil from your raised bed to make room for the 30 per cent organic matter you are adding. Dig in and mix the organic matter with the existing soil.

Don’t throw out the old soil you remove. Put it on your compost pile and if you don’t have a compost pile or composter, may I suggest you start one. You could then add your own homemade compost every year to your new bed. It’s important to add a few centimeters of organic matter to the bed every spring, but there’s no need to work it in.

Learn more by emailing your questions to, reading past columns at or my book Just Ask Jerry. You can also follow me on Twitter @justaskjerry01.

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