Monday, June 16, 2008

You Say Tomato, I Say Here's How...

Even for Florida its almost kinda late for tomato tips, but since they can be grown until December plenty of folks are still putting in new plants.

Here's how I've been doing it for more years than I care to remember.

Select the plant if you aren't starting from seed. I like a young plant to be as wide as it is tall, and look for ones that aren't already flowering. The nutrients should be going towards the root system and not flowers that are just going to drop off anyway. Plant the plant deep enough to cover 80% of it, as buried stems and branches root quite well.

Whether its a container or the garden, dig the hole a third to a half again as deep as needed. Coat the bottom with a quarter inch of lime, then add your mixture of 80% top soil, 18% sphagnum peat moss, and 2% cow manure. The mix should be fine but not sandy-fine. In goes the plant itself with a teaspoon of Epsom Salt atop the soil, spread out to cover what will be the root area. Last but not least, for both bell peppers as well as tomatoes I like poking in a match-head an inch or two under the top layer of soil, as the sulfur does wonders. Cover the ground around the plants with a quarter to half-inch layer of mulch, for me its the leaves I've been mulching all winter and spring.

Stake or cage the plants well. The fruit shouldn't touch the ground or encumber the vines enough so as to cause distress.

In selecting plants I look for the most disease-resistance varietals, and usually will grow plumb tomatoes, large beefsteak types, and mid-range sizes just for a change of pace. The determinate type will produce its yield of tomatoes all in one swell foop then die at the first hint of frost. Indeterminate plants will keep on chugging until old man winter says adieu to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Many, MANY diseases affect the tomato plant, even the ones supposedly immune to the more common ailments, and I am not averse to powdering down a plant or two with the proper bug-killer-slash-bactericide, but stop at least two weeks before a harvest. And don't be shy in clipping off any leaves that look speckled or wrinkled or blotchy. The plant really doesn't need all of those leaves anyway and starting from the ground up take away anything that looks disgusting. A mature, healthy plant can die in a matter of days if left unattended when the ravages of nature take hold, so keep an eye out for problems.

Now, if you're the start-from-seed sort of gardener then thats really too bad but you can drop a couple of seeds into those little peat-pots then once the danger of frost is over transplant each into the garden or container once they've reached 5" or so in height.

Each year I grow far more tomatoes than can be consumed and canned, and all things being equal like the taste of my plants the bestest. Certainly a helluva lot more bestest than those plastic things they sell in the supermarkets and have the gall to call tomatoes.

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