Without a doubt - tomatoes are the most important crop we grow in our garden.
In fact, we use ourhome-grown tomatoes and tomato based products nearly 365 days a year.
In thesummertime - we eat them right off the vine, in salads, hamburgers, sauces andmore. In the fall and winter months, we enjoy the tomato juice, vegetable soup,chili, salsa, pasta sauce, pizza sauce, and ketchup that we have canned orfrozen from the summer's bounty.
Here are some valuablehints, tips and tricks we have learned over the years to grow a bumper crop oftomatoes:
1. The When, HowAnd Where Of Planting Tomatoes:
WHEN TO PLANT: Tomatoes are just about the last thing that getplanted in our garden. Tomatoes love warm soil and warm weather. Ifyou plant them too early in your growing season, they can really struggle. It'snot just about preventing frost. Cold, damp spring temperatures can make themmore susceptible to disease, rot and lethargic growth. Here in this partof Ohio, most of our garden goes in around the 15th of May. If its niceand warm out - the tomatoes go in too. But if it's still a little chilly anddamp - we wait until late May to allow the soil to warm up!
HOW TO PLANT: Tomatoes benefitfrom rich, fertile soil. When you plant - make sure to add a few cupsof good compost in the hole along with the plant. And start saving youreggs shells now! Crushed egg shells are an excellent supplement to add to yourplanting hole. They add calcium to the soil as they break down - helpingto prevent the all-too common blossom rot; those black spots on the ends oftomatoes that can decimate a garden. We drop in a few crushed egg shellsper planting hole.
WHERE TO PLANT: Plant yourtomatoes in the sunniest location you can find. It can't be said enough -tomatoes love sun and heat. The more you give them - the better your crop willbe! And remember to rotate where you plant them from year to year - ifyou keep planting those tomatoes in the same spot, they will rob the soil ofall the nutrients needed for great yields and become more prone to disease.
Mulching and Weeds:
We mulch our tomato plants with a 1to 2" thick layer of compost - creating a 6 to 8" compost circlearound each stalk. It helps to regulate soil temperature, keep weeds to aminimum, and soil from eroding during strong rains. Of more importance,it acts as a slow-release fertilizer as it strains through nutrients duringwatering or rainfalls. Mulching also helps keep weeds at bay. Don't let weeds compete for the same nutrients your tomatoesneed. Just a few minutes of daily maintenance pulling small weeds aroundyour plants will keep your garden productive and neat! Make sure as you work in your garden to stay off the ground directly around yourplants - stepping on and around your plan'ts root zone compacts the soil andkeeps them from fully developing.
One last note on mulching. Ifthe season and soil are still a little cool - wait a few weeks for it to warmup before applying the mulch. If the soil is still cool, mulching canactually prolong the soil from heating up.
Whether you use cages, stakes, or ahybrid system like we do (See Stake a Cage), it's critical to provide great support for yourtomato plants! It keeps them off the ground - away from pests and foottraffic, allowing tomatoes to ripen with good circulation and exposure tosunlight.
As the plants grow during the firstmonth - we like to prune out the bottom 3 to 4" of stems andshoots. Why? It makes plants easier to water, and once again allowsthat all important air and light to circulate through the plants and rows. It also makes it a little more difficult for garden bugs and pests tofind their way onto your plants.
Watering tomatoes (and for that fact,your entire garden), is as much about when to water, as it is how much. Never water during the heat of the day. Not only do you lose muchof it to evaporation, but you also can easily burn the foliage of the plants. The absolute best time to water is in the early hours between sunrise andmid-morning. Not only is it cooler and easier on the gardener, but yourplants are not stressing from the heat of the day either. Eveningwatering is your next best choice if you can't water in the morning, althoughit can create mildew if the water sits on leaves through the cool nights.
How Much Water? This is a bigone. When the plants are very young and for the first week or so, youmay need to water daily to get them established. After that - wateringevery day is a no-no. Established tomatoes need about 1 inch of water a week. If mother nature can't supply that - then you need to supplement. If you are experiencing a prolonged dry spell – water every two to threedays with about a 1/2″ of water to the plant at a time. This allowsenough water to go deep into the soil and create longer roots. Why notevery day? Plants that get a little water every day never send theirroots deeper to look for moisture and nutrients - and you end up with a weakroot system, leading to a weak plant.
Soil Fertility andFertilizing
Tomatoes need fertile soil to growstrong and healthy. If you follow along with our blog, you know we're notbig fans of man-made fertilizers - so what is the answer when it comes tofertilizing? Well, if you use compost in your planting holes and as a topdressing, work in green manure and cover crops to your soil in the fall orspring, and practice plant rotation - there really is no need for syntheticfertilizers to get a great crop of tomatoes.
If you want to give your plants anall natural boost - you can apply compost tea - a simple solution of watersoaked and steeped in fresh compost. The water absorbs the naturalnutrients from the compost and becomes an "all natural" liquidfertilizer. We apply it to the soil around the base of our plants (notthe leaves - it can burn them) a couple of times early in the growing season toget our plants off to a great start. Well, truth be told, we also do itso our plants can look a little bigger and brighter green than mybrother-in-laws :)
- Jim and Mary
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