By Lucy Harrell T.C.N.P. A Specialist On Demanding Environments
My Grandmother taught me more then anyone about successful gardening and every time I pass her information along it makes me smile. Since her time we have had many new products appear that I have tested and like also—but it always goes back to her sage advise and her basic principles. First of all your gardens should be a pleasure –not a pressure—-You are the boss and with just a little up front troubleshooting you can rule supreme! Always remember that it is easier to prevent a problem then it is to cure one!
How to have the best Tomatoes-3 important things to know
* Planting your tomatoes too early (when the ground temperatures are too low) is a problem –even if you are prepared to cover them. Last year ( 2013) we went through one of those winters where it is warm- then quite cold-and back & forth. This year has been really cold. I usually say wait until after April 1. Do still be prepared to cover- “you never know”- there have been more than a few frosts as late as April 14 here.
*You also need to know that the number one cause of problems with tomatoes start with uneven watering. This includes everything from disease to insect problems. Tomatoes don’t want to be over watered and letting them dry out is even worse –especially if they are bearing fruit at the time.
*Tomatoes do not like being sprayed with anything liquid during the hot summer months—keep that in mind.
NOW YOU KNOW WHAT THE 3 MOST IMPORTANT NEEDS OF A TOMATO ARE!
This knowledge will make you boss!
*First I select my tomatoes –and we have so many yummy choices available—- picking only a few is not easy.
I prefer the heirloom tomatoes because to me they have the best flavor and a lot of different distinct tastes . They aren’t usually the most perfect looking-“if “-your only idea of a good tomato is perfectly round and red- but to me they are beautiful-especially sliced up and baked in a tomato pie that is made of red, yellow and green heirlooms.
I also prefer to grow indeterminate tomatoes- (vine tomatoes that produce all season up into the fall.
Below are my favorite indeterminate choices
*Brandy Wine– —has large pink fruit and wonderful flavor.
*Carmella—rose colored –good flavor and heat & cold tolerant.
*Cherokee Purple—purple-, kind of lumpy –and very sweet.
*Black Krim– very dark brown with green tops-even when ripe and inside is reddish green swirls -very flavorful.
*Mortgage Lifter—mild sweet pink tomato-medium fruits.
*Golden Jubilee– mild flavor – low acid—golden orange skin.
*Yellow Pear—2” yellow fruits on a vine – with few seeds.
*German Stripe is really nice- has a red and yellow marbled fruit kind of funky looking –looks beautiful sliced– sure tastes good.
* Sweet 100– about the size of a big cherry- and sweet-and easy
The indeterminate verities are easy to maintain and take up less room in the garden- look on the next page to see how tidy they can grow on a stake instead of a tomato cage.
These were my staked tomatoes last year – I bought 9 foot coated green poles at Home Depot in the garden section-and used Velcro tape (also in the garden section at Home Depot ) to attach them as they grew up the poles. When they started sending out side shoots –I cut those shoots off to the main stem and by the end of the season they were full and looked like tidy bushy towers in the garden. This is a great way to manage your tomatoes and this will work in square foot gardens too-because when grown up a stake the tomatoes take up less room and don’t create too much shade for the other plants. **Remember that you will need indeterminate choices to grow them this way.
*Next -decide where you will plant your tomato – pick an area that gets at least 6 hours of sun– 8 hours of sun is best.
Prepare a 2’X2’ square area either in your flower bed or food garden by working a little compost into the soil and then laying expanded shale (looks like little rocks) 3” deep on top of that entire spot. Now work the expanded shale and compost into the area 8” down-evenly from top to bottom.
*The next step is planting. I like to plant my tomatoes with a 50/50 mixture of rock phosphate and worm castings . I use a hand full of the mix in the hole of a 4” pot- a couple in a one gallon hole.
*Loosen the roots slightly –plant the tomato at what ever depth you choose—there are all sorts of beliefs about that—I plant them like I do any other plant. Throw a handful of a 50/50 mixture of rock phosphate and worm castings in the hole . Mix a solution of Maxi-Crop Seaweed mixed as directed on the bottle (2 tablespoons to a gallon of water) Be sure to shake it well before mixing it. Pour the solution over the roots– then push the soil into the hole around the plants roots and get it started on the stake. If growing in a cage- add the cage over it. If using a cage- don’t get a little one—most garden centers are offering the large tomato cages now-or order them at www.tomatocage.com Mulch the area above ground with about 3” of mulch out over the area.
*Watering—Follow the 28 day watering schedule –like you would with any other plant in the ground. After established you can put them on whatever watering schedule the rest of the garden is on which is hopefully no more than every 5 days in clay soil. If you have very sandy soil more frequent waterings may be needed but the expanded shale will still be of great benefit. After you have done these steps you will have done all you can to prevent problems that stem from planting too early and uneven watering. The expanded shale grabs water and holds it—then releases it later when the surrounding soil becomes dry. This helps you avoid the problem of uneven watering.
The 28 day watering schedule
Water deeply every other day for 1 week— 7 days
Water deeply every 3 days for 9 days——– 9 days
Water deeply every 4 days for 12 days——- 12 days
Tomatoes are established———– in 28 days
In sandy soils every 3-4 days may be the limit to days between watering—on clay soil every 5 days should be fine.
* Take a few simple steps to avoiding spraying your plants.
Consider these tips:
*Water your tomatoes with soaker hoses if possible—don’t fret if the way you water has to be overhead—just be sure to water early
in the morning so that moisture that lands on the leaves will evaporate before the midday sun gets on them—do the best you can to avoid water sitting on the leaves in the evening.
*Companion plant them with either French [Queen Sophie] or common garden Marigolds ( not the big fat blooms). This way if the area gets so dry that it attracts spider mites they will choose the marigolds (they are trap plants for spider mites) you can treat the marigolds (organically of course) for spider mites with a mild solution of ½ teaspoon of canola oil, ½ teaspoon of dish soap and 1 quart of water and you will avoid having to spray the tomatoes.
*Also plant Basil in the area—any variety works. This will serve three purposes –basil is systemic fungal control and basil repels several insects that lay larvae on tomatoes and the basil also makes the tomatoes have a stronger flavor and deeper color.
Any variety will work and you can see how pretty these combinations will make your tomato area.
* If caterpillars are a problem- dust them lightly with Dipel— an organic product –the dust is not hard on them like a liquid spray is.
Don’t apply it too heavy- it only works if you can get the caterpillar to eat the leaves after you dust it. A spritzer sprayer is a terrific choice for lightly applying dusts. You fill the tube with powder & screw on the lid and poof a plant with a fine dust by just pushing the tube up & down.
A Little Something Extra–
Through out the season –about every 6 –8 weeks– top dress with Rabbit Hill Farms Tomato-Pepper Food or Humalfa Humore [spread it over the area that is around the drip line of the plant- do not work in] instead of spraying with liquid high nitrogen fertilizers. This will serve as a slow tea when you water and will not involve spraying liquid on the plants-remember they don’t like any liquid sprays. However they do “love” properly prepared Compost Tea poured around the drip line – and so does everything else.
*There is one more thing that still could happen—if your tomato dampens off or has any kind of fungal stress because of the weather—like – you planted them too early—or lots of rainy overcast days early on—spread lava sand –about 1/8 inch over the top of the soil under the tomato- out to at least a foot around it— this should fix the problem. Just toss it out over the soil. Lava Sand is always a good thing to use in the garden.
Love & Luck, Lucy