Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Garden Buddies, Tomato Thoughts

We had crazy winds here yesterday and a thunderstorm last night, so my plans to plant out tomatoes were thwarted. I am volunteering with a Conservation group tonight to clear some recently donated land and make it suitable for game birds. Hopefully Weds I can get out and plant my poor tomato seedlings.

You can see the tomatoes in this picture, they are the seedlings on the far right. Anxious to be out of their seed tray. Nights are officially warm enough for the tomato babies, although I might have to protect them for a few weeks from the heavy winds we have here. Luckily I have more than enough row cover to protect them. If you are planting out transplants and you don't have any row cover, you can help them out by hardening them first. Put the transplants on a porch or sheltered area for a week or so to acclimate them to full sun and wind. Pick a cloudy calm day to transplant. Make sure they have lots of food and water in their new home.

Tomatoes are heavy feeders, some of their common diseases are caused by inadequate nutrients. When I'm planting tomato seedlings I dig a DEEP hole, at least 2-3 inches deeper than the current root structure, and I add a tablespoon of worm castings and 2 eggshells to each hole. The worm castings are good balanced food, (compost could be substituted) and the eggshells help ward off blossom end rot with their calcium content.

Expect a bit of transplant shock the first day or two. Droopy leaves and a sad demeanor. This will pass as they stretch their roots and settle in. Keeping them hydrated and protected will help.

Most of the time I'll uncover the transplants after I'm sure they've adapted. New leaves, strong stems, etc. This does leave them open to pests, but they also get 100% of the sun and rain which they need. And it makes it easier to put in their support structures, which they also need. I grow heirloom variety tomatoes, (Mom and Becky, this is what I gave you as well) they are indeterminate and open pollinated. This means that 1. they grow pretty big, 2. set fruit continually and 3. will usually breed true. I have to use really big tomato cages to properly contain these glorious vines, not the little tripod kind that come up to your knees, I'm talking thick gauge 5 foot tall cages. These cages can hold their own against my big vines, but it does make covering the vines kinda tricky. So, once they get settled and get to the point of needing support, I uncover them, put in the cages and then I just hand pick any pests off. Horn worms and such are easy to find and easier to pick off and throw to the birds. Doing things this way, I save wear and tear on my row cover, and I don't have to resort to petroleum based insecticides. The close contact required to keep pests to a dull roar keeps me in touch with the plants, so I can better predict their needs.

The other really easy thing you can do to keep tomatoes happy is to mulch around them with straw. It'll keep dirt off the leaves, keep moisture levels steady and keep their roots cool.

Once they get to flowering and setting fruit, it's not a bad idea to side dress the plants with some compost. I sometimes forget, and they always forgive me for it, but it can help boost production.

First things first though, get those transplants in the ground soon! The moon is waxing, this is a great time to plant green beans too!
Happy gardening!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

These are excellent tips :). Hopefully I'll remember them next year when I'm planting at the new land.

We're planting our tomatoes in five-gallon buckets that we'll be taking with us to NC. Hopefully they'll grow well in those. We do have a variety of lettuce, potatoes, onions, asparagus, cucumber, squash and a couple of herbs going in the garden bed though! Sorry to hear you've had to wait with the little tomatoes ... I know I get anxious to get things planted at the right time. With the crazy weather we've had these years ... one can never really predict anymore.