Home gar­den tomato re­minders

Calhoun Times - - OPINION/COMMENT - Greg Bow­man

I will be the first to ad­mit that most veg­etable gar­den­ers al­ready have their tomato plants in the ground, but some read­ers may not. Also, oth­ers may plant some later to­ma­toes for their gar­den­ing ef­forts. Today, I would like to share some re­minders on this veg­etable gar­den fa­vorite.

At the Bow­man place, my grand­fa­ther would al­ways plant the Bet­ter Boy va­ri­ety. That is ba­si­cally what we have al­ways stuck with on the farm. I am not say­ing that Bet­ter Boys are the best to­ma­toes on the mar­ket, but I am im­ply- ing that tomato va­ri­eties can be­come a fam­ily tra­di­tion. Clients may ask which is the best to plant and my re­ply is that the best is their per­sonal pref­er­ence. It is a good idea to try a few new va­ri­eties ev­ery once in a while and also to use some va­ri­eties that have some dis­ease re­sis­tance. I will be shar­ing in­for­ma­tion from a UGA publication by Bob Wester­field, UGA Ex­ten­sion Hor­ti­cul­tur­ist.

When you plant to­ma­toes, re­mem­ber that the plants need a spot that will give six to eight hours of sun­light per day. Ide­ally, the spot will give at least eight hours of sun­light. To­ma­toes will per­form best when the temperature is be­tween 70-80 de­grees F. Plants will do bet­ter in welldrain­ing soils that have high or­ganic mat­ter con­tent with a pH in the 6.2-6.8 range. You may no­tice that some peo­ple will plant to­ma­toes in early April and try to be the first with a vine ripe tomato in the neigh­bor­hood. You are bet­ter off plant­ing af­ter the last fear of frost, which is mid­dle April. To­ma­toes like a warm soil and nor­mally plant­ing too early will end up with a plant that can be stunted or with some root is­sues due to be­ing planted in cold and damp soil. To­ma­toes should per­form great right now.

Right now, the eas­i­est thing to do is to pur­chase tomato trans­plants. Grow­ing from seed will take a while now so se­lect healthy plants for your gar­den spot. Tomato plants can have great root de­vel­op­ment by their abil­ity to form roots all along the stem. This is why we sug­gest plant­ing them deep. It is sug­gested to set the trans­plants down to the first set of true leaves near the soil sur­face.

At plant­ing, to­ma­toes will need a light fer­til­izer. Our lit­er­a­ture sug­gests a starter solution that you can make your­self. Ac­cord­ing to Wester­field, pour one pint of a starter solution around each plant. The solution can be two ta­ble­spoons of 5-10-10 or 5-10-5 fer­til­izer dis­solved in one gal­lon of wa­ter. You need to be mind­ful of over fer­til­iza­tion of tomato plants. Many times clients will call about hav­ing beau­ti­ful green plants with lit­tle to no tomato for­ma­tion on the vine. Many of these is­sues can go back to the plants be­ing fer­til­ized too of­ten. You will end up with a plant that is think­ing veg­e­ta­tive and not re­pro­duc­tive so you get lim­ited to­ma­toes. You can see over-fer­til­iza­tion with some of the liq­uid sol­u­ble fer­til­iz­ers if the client does not fol­low the la­bel prop­erly.

Keep in mind that to­ma­toes are a medium feeder plant and will need ad­di­tional fer­til­iza­tion. Note that a soil test taken months be­fore plant­ing is ideal in tak­ing care of your nu­tri­tional needs. If you choose to not con­duct a soil test, you can in­cor­po­rate 1.5 pounds of 1010-10 for 100 square feet prior to plant­ing. Af­ter plants set to­ma­toes about the size of a quar­ter, you can side-dress the plants with 10-10-10 at the rate of one pound per 100 square feet of bed space. You can sid­e­dress ev­ery three to four weeks in the grow­ing sea­son af­ter that quar­ter size fruit set.

You need to be pre­pared to ir­ri­gate you plants in ab­sence of rain­fall. First, in plant­ing site se­lec­tion you need to plant close to a clean wa­ter source. To­ma­toes need one to two inches of wa­ter per week de­pend­ing on the soil type to per­form. I would have a rain gauge in or­der to keep up with rain­fall.

When you ir­ri­gate, I sug­gest one or two heavy soaks in­stead of light ir­ri­ga­tion events. I know I say this of­ten, but soaker hoses or drip ir­ri­ga­tion is much bet­ter than sprin­klers. If you must use a sprin­kler, please only do so af­ter dew has set af­ter dark or in the early morn­ing hours. We need dry fo­liage to cut down on risk of dis­ease. I will add quickly, that a two - three inch layer of mulch can help con­trol weeds and help con­serve soil mois­ture. If you are go­ing to use any straw, hay or even ma­nures as a fer­til­izer in your gar­den spot, please make sure it is from an her­bi­cide free source. I see more and more her­bi­cide in­jured plants and it is not from spray drift, but from ma­te­rial the client added to the gar­den and the re­sult­ing her­bi­cide residue ac­tiv­ity. For more in­for­ma­tion, con­tact UGA Ex­ten­sionGor­don County at 706619-8685 or email gbow­man@uga.edu.

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