Community Greens

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The Tomato Diaries – About Tomatoes

2394629_240624_tomato20for20letterheadWelcome to the Tomato Diaries:

There are hundreds of tomato varieties from tiny cherry to huge beefsteaks. Tomatoes are America’s favorite garden vegetable. Tomatoes are either indeterminate or determinate.  Indeterminate tomatoes sprawl but you will have to prune them or they will put too much energy into vine production. Indeterminate tomatoes produce until stopped by frost, disease, or lack of nutrients. Determinate or bush tomatoes set fruit over two-week period and stop. Tomato varieties are developed for slicing, canning, juicing, or stuffing and some produce extra early. There are varieties resistant to common tomato diseases and every type of climate.

Planting

If you grow tomatoes from seeds, they will germinate in about 1 week when the soil temperature is 75° – 85°. It will take 2 weeks at 60° for germination. Lots of folks start seeds indoors in a sunny spot near a south-facing window. Low light will make seedlings leggy and weak. Once seedlings emerge, water regularly  and keep the temperature no higher than 70°F.  Once a week feed with compost tea or fish emulsion.

When the first true leaves appear, transplant the seedlings to individual pots (plastic cups), burying the stems deeper than they stood previously. After transplanting, give the seedlings more sun and less water. Harden off the plants before planting them in the garden. Plant them where they will get full sun. When you transplant. do it on a cloudy day to lessen shock.

Make the planting holes larger than normal. Put several inches of sifted compost mixed with a handful of bonemeal in the bottom of the hole. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of Epsom salts into each hole for magnesium which promotes plant vitality and productivity. Try not to disturb the soil around seedling roots when you set them in the hole. Set the lowest set of leaves at soil level and fill the hole with a mix of compost and soil. Many gardeners like to plant the stem horizontally in a shallow trench so that only the top leaves show. Strip off the leaves along the part of the stem that will be buried. This may produce more fruit.

Press the soil down gently but firmly to remove air pockets, and water well. Spacing between plants depends on how you grow your tomatoes. If you plan to let them sprawl, space them 3 to 4 feet apart. If you stake, prune and train them on trellises, space the seedlings 2 feet apart. If you use stakes or cages, install the supports before planting. As the vines grow on staked tomatoes, tie them loosely to the stake at 6-inch intervals with soft twine or strips of cloth or panty hose.

Growing

Weed until the soil is warm, then lay down a deep mulch to conserve moisture and smother weeds. A deep soaking is better than several light waterings. Keep this in mind when you develop a watering schedule. Don’t wet the foliage. Wet leaves are prone to disease. A weekly dose of liquid seaweed will increase production. So will a side-dressing of compost two or three times during the season. If you stake your indeterminate tomatoes, prune them to encourage higher yields.

Pruned tomatoes take more work but are likely to produce fruit 2 weeks earlier than unpruned ones and take up less space. To prune you remove the suckers, small shoots that emerge from the main stem at the base of each leaf. Leave a few suckers in the middle and top of the plant to protect the fruit from sunscald.

When the vine reaches the top of the stakes or cage, pinch back the tips to encourage more flowering and fruit. Use your thumb and forefinger to snap off the suckers.

Harvesting

Once tomatoes start to ripen, check the vines almost daily so the tomatoes at their peak when you pick them. Just twist off the fruits with one hand, while supporting the vine with the other.

Green tomatoes will ripen if kept in a warm place out of direct sunlight. To ripen green tomatoes slowly and extend your harvest, wrap them in newspaper and place them in a cool, dark place. Check frequently to make sure none rot. Green tomatoes are delicious when sliced, dipped in egg, then flour or cornmeal with black pepper and fried.

I started my “Ungarden”, the small outside space I have access to next to my house, with tomatoes in four milk boxes last week. I’ll save that, and some photos, for a later post. The Veterans’ Garden at Bissel Gardens is 100′ X 16′ and full sunlight all day. I’ll also be growing in Garden Towers and Grow Boxes. Visit Bissel Gardens for more info.

The Tomato Diaries

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Filed under: CGGrows, Community Green, Food, Gardening, Healthy Eating, , ,

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