In my humble opinion, some homegrown produce does not have a significant difference in flavor from what you can buy from the grocery store.
If you’ve never had a homegrown garden tomato, you are missing out! Tomatoes can be little divas, but they are well worth the effort of growing. There are three major finicky aspects to growing tomatoes that will save you headaches in the long run…
- They need Support: Tomatoes naturally want to grow on the ground a sprawl out. If you let your tomato plants do this, your plant will take up a huge amount of space, and your tomatoes will spoil. This is why you need to provide strong support for those beefy plants, as I shared in this post. Since they are not natural climbers like cucumbers, pole beans, or peas, you will need to stake your tomato plants to your support. These are my favorite clips, and they are super easy to use.
- They need Hardening:
- If you start your tomatoes from seed, you will need to start them early enough to plant them after your last spring frost date. Keep in mind; you cannot just plant your seedlings out in the garden. You must slowly introduce them to the outside elements (wind/sun/rain) in short increments, so you do not kill your seedling…this acclimation is called “hardening them off.” You will increase the length of time your tomatoes are exposed to outside elements over the course of a week or two.
- If you buy your tomato seedlings from a greenhouse, they are most likely hardened off and will not suffer shock if you plant them directly. BUT you can always be cautious and acclimate them some so you do not kill your plant. On a side note, many years ago, my best friend planted her tomato seedlings straight in her garden from the store. All of us experienced gardeners told her she messed up and that they were going to die. What do you know? They made it! I’m certain that she received a bonafide miracle, or they were from a greenhouse and had been hardened off already.
- They need Pruning: Tomatoes do best if you prune them. Pruning your tomatoes provides better airflow and removes any extra foliage that will pull energy from the fruit-producing part of the plant. When you prune, you cut off the side shoots or suckers, more on that in another post.
So going back to number 2 above, tomatoes are SO tender. The problem with tomato seedlings that you’ve grown from seed is that it is really easy to kill them when you plant them in the garden.
This year, I ran into a few dilemmas with my tomatoes:
- I got a little ahead of myself and planted my seeds a few weeks too early. As a result, my seedlings had definitely outgrown their newspaper pots, and they needed to be placed in their forever home sooner rather than later.
- Our last spring frost date is 1 week away.
- I already know I have a busy week ahead of me, and I will not be able to continue the hardening off process properly.
- I started 11 different varieties of tomatoes from seed, and I didn’t want to risk any of them dying. Since I will not be able to just go to the greenhouse and replace many of these varieties, I decided it is better to be even more prudent and protect them.
With all these issues above, I decided my best course of action was to plant my tomato seedlings early and pull out the big guns with a wall of water.
What is a Wall of Water?
These are heavy plastic rings that are segmented and filled with water. The rings surround the seedling and create a greenhouse effect. You can plant your tomatoes earlier, and they will be protected from the elements better.
If you’ve ever researched these, you’ll see they are a bit pricy. I also found them for $17 for a pack of 3 at our local greenhouse. They are quite tall and are often red.
I really had my mind settled on the wall of waters, but my frugality stopped me. So after some brainstorming, I decided I would figure out a way to make my own.
A couple of notes before we get started…
- You should set your wall of water up at least several days before you actually plant your tomatoes. I know the commercial wall of water instructions say to do so a week early, but if you’ve had warmer weather, you will be fine to set them out the day of planting.
- My wall of waters are not as tall as the ones commercially available. I have not lost any plants using my homemade version.
- I bought 2 of the Foodsaver rolls from our local store for around $20, and I could get 7 Wall of Waters out of each roll that is 16 feet long (which is $2.86/each). If you go to the link below, the price is significantly lower for each wall of water ($0.46/each).
- A Foodsaver Vaccum Sealer or any other vacuum sealer will work as long as it can accommodate 11-inch rolls. There is a great deal on this vacuum sealer with over 15K reviews (currently $44).
- If you do not have a vacuum sealer machine, it is unfortunate that I cannot recommend another method of making your own. I experimented with manually sealing lines with my clothes iron and a metal ruler. The results were poor, and I ended up with holes in many of my cells.
What you Need to Make a Wall of Water
- Vacuum Sealer Machine that can accommodate 11-inch rolls (highly rated machine right now $48)
- 11-inch vacuum seal roll (do NOT get the expandable version)
- clothespins, for installing
- string/twine, for installing
How to Make a Wall of Water
- Measure out a strip of the food saver bags that is 27 1/2 inches long—Mark with a ruler and cut along the line.
- Using the ruler, mark the margin/edge of the bag 1/4 inch from the edge of the bag and then another 1/4 inch from that mark.
- Mark the margin/edge of the bag every 2 inches the remaining length of the bag.
- Once you get near the end of your bag, you will mark 1/4 inch from the last 2-inch mark and 1/4 inch from that 1/4-inch mark. You will have a total of (13) 2-inch cells.
- Repeat the same markings for the other side so you can more easily line up your sealer and have perpendicular lines. Initially, I drew a line in the center of the bag as shown but found that marking the edges was all I needed to do to keep my cells straight.
- For mass production, see NOTE below.
- Line up your sealer bag on the vacuum sealer and seal for 5 seconds at each marking you drew on your sealer bag. I found that 5 to 6 seconds worked best to get a proper seal and not create holes.
- You may need to fold your sealer bag up to continue down the process. I found that my sealer could comfortably accommodate 7 cells, and then I flipped to seal with the other side. If you start on the other end and work your way toward the sealed side, you will have a big air pocket that you will need to cut through to finish sealing.
- Once all your lines are sealed in, cut along one edge of the bag so you can fill it with water later.
That’s it! I actually timed myself how long it took to make one wall of water, and I clocked in at 4 minutes and 25 seconds just for sealing. How is that for precise information? Ha!
NOTE: If you are making several of these wall of waters, I recommend you cut them all and mark just the first bag. Before sealing, lay your second unmarked bag over the first and use the guidelines to mark the line placement. Repeat for the remaining wall of waters. This is a HUGE timesaver.
How to Install Your Wall of Water
SPECIAL NOTE: As I mentioned previously if your ground is cooler, you’ll want to place your wall of waters a few days in advance so the ground will be warm enough for your tomatoes.
- Place your wall of water in a bucket or stockpot so it can sit upright.
- Fill with water about 1/2 to 2/3 full.
- Form a ring with your wall of water at the place you will plant your tomatoes. Using a clothespin (mine doubles as a plant marker), connect the seam of two cells, so there is overlap.
- Once you plant your tomato seedling, I found a small piece of twine works great for closing in the top of the wall of water slightly. The twine catches on the clothespin seedling marker and is tied with a simple bow for easy adjustment.
- As your tomato grows, you may open up the top of the wall of water or loosen it slightly.
NOTE: I did have a couple of cells fail in 2 of my wall of waters (this was from when I was experimenting with much longer sealing times than the 5 to 6 seconds I settled on as the best). As long as your wall of water has only 1 or 2 cells that have failed, I believe it is still enough insulation to work well.
Overall, I would say the most time-consuming part of this project was marking the rolls for sealing. There was a bit of a curve to become quick and efficient, but eventually, I could get through the rest of my wall of waters fairly quickly.
My newly planted tomato seedlings look great after some nights in the low/mid-30s.
These wall of waters should last me several years and take minimal space for storage.
That’s it for now. Happy Planting!