GROWING BETTER TOMATOES
If you are not a vegetable gardener, you might
still put out a tomato plant or two.
There is no better taste than a fresh tomato picked ripe and warmed by
the sun. Tomatoes are easy to grow
if you just follow a few simple steps.
First, look for tomato plants with the designation
VF, VFN, or VFNT after their name.
VF letters mean the plants have been bred to be resistant to
verticillium and fusarium wilts.
Add the ''N'' and they are resistant to nematodes and the ''T'' adds
resistance to tobacco mosaic.
All of those diseases are deadly to tomato
plants. In addition, once
nematodes enter your garden soil, they will attack your plants for years. They are very difficult to remove. Play it safe and buy strong, healthy
plants that have built-in resistance.
Tomatoes are one of the few crops that can have
their stems covered. You really
cannot plant them too deeply (unless you cover all of the foliage). Remove bottom foliage, leaving a
cluster at the top. In the South,
sink the roots almost all the way up to the top foliage.
In northern gardens, dig a root ball hole and a
graduated trench leading to it.
Carefully lay the tomato plant roots into the hole with the stem in the
trench and the leaves above ground.
Cover the stem and roots with soil. Roots will develop all along the buried stem. Tomatoes love to have their roots very
warm. Keeping them near the
surface rather than burying them ensures that the roots will get plenty of
Tomatoes are heavy feeders. Water the new plants right after
setting out, using diluted fish emulsion or starter fertilizer according to the
label directions. Plant tomatoes
in a compost-enriched soil and then fertilize frequently throughout the growing
season. Tomatoes also require a pH
of 6.0 to 6.5. If you have acid
soil, correct it with lime before you plant.
Use heavy mulch around your plants to hold
moisture in the soil and keep down weeds.
The main reason for tomato blossom-end rot (soft, concave, squishy
tomato bottom that ruins the fruit) is allowing the plants to be stressed by
going dry. Keep the soil moist but
You can curtail blossom end rot and save the rest
of your fruit with ample water and an application of calcium chloride mixed in
water. Find the calcium chloride for
tomatoes in small bottles in garden supply stores. Follow the label directions for drenching the plant and
roots with the solution.
If you wish to raise tomatoes in containers, look
for the midget, patio, or dwarf varieties. These plants are usually determinate, meaning they stop
growing, produce their fruit, and then are finished.
Main season and late season tomato crops are
indeterminate. They keep on
growing and setting fruit until frost or they wear out, whichever comes
first. Their vines can become very
tall and should be staked or caged.
Main season tomatoes and beefsteaks should be
planted in the ground. Beefsteaks
produce large fruit for slicing onto sandwiches. They are a late season tomato. Their large fruit takes longer to mature.
Before long, we will be enjoying our favorite
tomato, whether it is the sugary tiny cherry tomato or a larger slicer. Tomato time is just a May or June away.