Spring is one of Eric's favorite times of the year. And the main reason is he gets to put his vegetable garden in. Vegetable gardens are rewarding because it's an opportunity to grow our own food. Some of the best tasting vegetables you'll eat are the ones we grow ourselves. One of Eric's and America's favorite vegetables would be the tomato. It's a relatively easy plant to grow and one of the most rewarding principally because the tomatoes we typically get in the grocery store are picked green, they're gassed with ethylene to ripen them, then flown into the grocery stores. So, not surprisingly, they taste like red cardboard. Growing them yourself is the best way to get delicious, fresh, right off the vine tomatoes. Eric talks a little about how to have the best success growing tomatoes. They're relatively easy but there are some challenges if we don't do it right.
First, look at what kind of tomatoes you should grow? There are 2 different kinds - Determinate and Indeterminate tomato plants. The Determinate tomato plants will typically grow to about 2 or 3 feet tall, then they'll stop and start fruiting. The Indeterminate plants are not unlike the heirloom tomatoes that our grandparents grew and they pretty much will grow as tall as you let them until you clip the top out. If limited on space you'll probably want to stick mostly to Determinate type tomatoes.
Next look at planting tomatoes. It's very important, as with any plant, to agitate the root system. Tomatoes have 1 significant advantage, they can be planted very deep. And, it's a good thing to do that. When looking up and down the tomato root stem one notices the adventitious roots which allows one the ability to plant 3 to 4 inches deep. This will provide a lot of additional stability and the roots emanate from the stem 360 degrees, so the plant can more easily find nutrients. This allows a really deep and established root system.
Tomatoes require sun, at least 6 or 7 hours of direct sunlight. There is no substitute for that, they will not fruit if planted in the shade. So, make sure they're in the sun. Also, make sure the spacing is correct, if tomatoes are planted too closely together you'll have light related issues, they'll start shading each other out. Make sure you have a minimum of 2 feet between tomatoes. Additionally, the soil needs to remain warm, tomato roots like warm soil. Eric sets up his tomato garden the same every year - mounds of soil, then black plastic. Black plastic heats up the soil, plus it's an excellent way to reduce weeds and to keep the soil nice and warm. Tomatoes love that. And, reflective heat comes up off the plastic. Tomatoes love that too.
Another tip with tomatoes is after they get up about 2 or 3 feet remove the lower branches. Tomatoes can have disease issues with the lower leaves if water splashes up on them. You won't get a lot of fruit from the lower branches anyway so it's not a bad idea to clip them off.
The most important tip for tomatoes though is plenty of water. There is no substitute for water. It's the most important plant nutrient.
Blossom end rot is where the bottom of the tomato turns black and splits open. It is caused by calcium deficiency. But, calcium is a water soluble nutrient so you can never add too much calcium to the soil to have it taken up if it's not carried through water. So, proper water is very, very important. As is proper nutrition with tomatoes. You can either add a fertilizer. Eric likes to add a little manure or compost every couple of weeks. It's a great way to keep your tomatoes healthy. Eric typically adds the manure right around the plants.
No matter how you grow your tomatoes you want to make sure you don't get weed competition, principally because water is so important. In Eric's garden he uses the black plastic, puts it down, uses some metal side staples to hold it to the ground. If you don't use black plastic use mulch to prevent weeds. If you don't use black plastic or mulch there is one product Eric has found that works. It's a weed preventer. It will keep weed seeds from germinating and keep the weeds from competing with your tomato plants. So get out there, buy some tomatoes and have some fun.
By Jenny Biczak, Harmony Brands
Photographs courtesy of Harmony Brands
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