Hopefully we can plant tomatoes in the garden in the month of May. The last average frost date is May 15th. I like to try to get them in early every spring if possible. I don’t think it will happen this year with these cold late spring nights. Here are some of my secrets to growing great tomatoes.
-If growing from seedlings or nursery starts, harden plants off for a couple of days before transplanting them outside in the ground so they don’t go into shock.
-Before planting, amend the soil in each hole before planting. Add lots of compost, yum-yum mix, a small handful of mushroom compost, 1 tablespoon Epsom salt-the bath type (adds magnesium) and 1 tablespoon dry milk (adds calcium and wards off some fungal diseases). Mix up with soil in bottom of hole.
Pinch off lower leaves on the tomatoes and plant tomatoes as deep as possible. Don’t worry about if it leggy, it will grow roots along buried stem and become stronger.
-Don’t rush to plant if still cold at night outside. Tomatoes don’t like to be cold. If you do plant early, put a ‘wall of water’ around the plant IN THE MORNING so it has time to heat up the water and tomatoes by evening. Wall of waters protect down to 28°F. Place a 5-gallon bucket upside down over top of tomato plant and put the wall of water over the bucket. That way is can hold up the wall of waters while you fill each cell with water. Then take off bucket and the wall of water will hold itself up. I use bamboo stakes inside the edge of the wall of water so the walls lean on them to help keep them open as they can blow over when winds are high.
-If leaves turn purple underneath, it means the ground is too cold and the plant can’t take up the available phosphorus in the soil. Sprinkle rock phosphate around base of plant and water in to help them turn green again.
-Make a large well around each tomato so water stays close to root zone. If you have a drip line, put it in well now around base of plant.
-Add water and THRIVE AND SEAWEED FERTILIZER in a bucket and water well when you FIRST plant outside but NOT fertilizer.
-In June AFTER THE SOIL HAS WARMED, add straw around well to keep moisture level even. This will help keep the water from evaporating and will keep the water from splashing soil on them. Splashing soil on tomatoes can allow soil borne viruses to get into plant.
-Use bamboo stakes and tie up plant. Change out to bigger stakes as plants grow. Cage plants as they grow or tie to tall stake. I use 5’ green t-posts for stakes or make cages out of concrete reinforcement wire.
-After plants have been transplanted for about 2 weeks, FERTILIZE with FISH EMULSION and SEAWEED. This should be in early June. Fertilize again in July (2-3 times during the season). Too much fertilizer makes lots of leaves but will not produce as many tomatoes.
-Train tomato plant to one or two stems. Allowing multiple stems promotes more green growth but takes away from fruit production.
-Pinch off suckers. They grow between the main vine and side branches. They take energy away from the fruit. Do not pinch off blossoms.
-Cut off or tie up any branches that touch ground. Tomatoes can get soil borne diseases from touching ground.
-If using one of my wire cages, I use a small 3’ t-post to tie my cage up to it, as plant gets bigger. This really helps to prevent the plants from blowing over when they get top heavy.
-Water consistently throughout season. The main reason tomatoes get cracks is uneven watering. The most efficient method of watering is by a drip system.
-Use ‘Serenade’ as a foliar spray for some soil borne diseases like Early Blight. It is best used as a preventative. Spray every two weeks or at first sign of disease. It is a made from a soil microbe and is organic. Aqua Fria Nursery carries it.
-Use ‘Companion’ as a drench around base of plant to help keep fungal diseases away. It is made from another soil microbe and is organic. You can Google it, as you must buy it online.
-If you do get some diseased branches, cut off branches with clean scissors. Disinfect scissors between plants with alcohol or a 10 % bleach solution. Take out severely diseased plants and throw in trash, not compost pile.
Note: If you are a smoker, wash hands before handling tomatoes-you can pass a virus called tobacco mosaic.