Growing Tomatoes in Your Garden
Without a doubt, tomatoes are probably the most popular vegetable in home gardens. Everyone can find a spot to squeeze in a few plants, whether it be a strip of soil along the garage, a bare spot in the foundation plantings or even in pots on the patio. With the dazzling varieties of tomatoes available, you can find a specimen that is just suited to your needs. You can choose a small cherry tomato, or one that ripens early, or one that sets large fruit. Many types have disease resistance bred into them.
Home gardeners report some common problems with this vegetable; either the tomatoes have too much leaf growth and not enough ripe fruit, or they have a lot of fruit but it takes too long to ripen. In each instance the plant needs phosphorus, use a fertilizer specified for vegetables with a high phosphorus rating.
Blossom-end rot is a physiologial disturbance in the plant that results in fruit with a black, watery depression on the bottom. There is no spray that works for this, but there are some ways to prevent it. First, the soil has to have an ample supply of calcium. Frequent watering can wash away the calcium in the soil and the pH will drop to a point where blossom-end rot is bound to occur. If a soil test shows the need for more calcium spread some limestone throughout the tomato patch and water it in. There is enough calcium in the soil if the pH reads 6.8 to 7.0. Secondly, to prevent this the plants need an even supply of moisture. So keep your plants well mulched with 3 to 6 inches of hay, grass clippings or leaves. As it settles down add more during the growing season.
Sunscald, which is analogous to sunburn on human skin. It occurs mostly on tomatoes that are trained to stakes. Often there just isn't enough foliage on staked plants to give the fruit complete sun protection.
Cracking, this is usually a function of a rainfall followed by sunshine. It sometimes happens on staked plants whose fruit is exposed, but rarely on cage grown plants whose canopy of foliage shades the fruit. When growing tomatoes on stakes, keep the soil evenly moist, with mulch and the cracking should be minor.
A simple method of planting tomatoes is to plant at 18 to 24 inch intervals, place a stake at every plant, and train each one to a single stem. Training consists of simply tying each stem to a stake with garden twine and removing suckers as they grow. The tying is a chore that must be done about once a week as the plants increase in size, but the rewards are early, clean fruit.
Perhaps the easiest method of growing tomatoes is to plant at 3 foot intervals and let the plants sprawl on the ground with nothing more than a bed of hay mulch to keep the fruit relatively clean. I say relatively because some injury, especially from slugs and careless foot traffic is possible. Because no pruning is done the crop matures later than the single-stem methods. (Pruning encourages early ripening at the expense of heavy yield.
The cage method is one the best for growing tomatoes. Set the plants in at 3 foot intervals, put the cage over the plant. Inside the cage the seedlings are not restrained in any way, so the yield is good. The harvest might be a bit later than the single staking. You can purchase them or make your own.
My favorite is the Japanese tomato ring, they are easy to make and take up very little space. Four tomato plants can be planted in as little as a 3 x 3 foot space. Form wire fencing six feet tall into a 24 inch to 30 inch circular column. Inside this ring make another ring using 18 inch fine wire screening. This middle section is filled with alternate layers of compost or peat and commercial cow manure. Sprinkle each layer with all-purpose fertilizer such as 5-10-5.
Set four tomato plants evenly spaced on the outside of the ring. Train the plants up the wire as they grow and keep the interior ring well watered, so that the nutrients within will leach out, thus providing plenty of nourishment for the plants.
Tomatoes are a hot weather crop, and should be planted outdoors as seedlings. Plants started from seed indoors must not be set out in spring until all danger of frost is past. To plant the seedlings, loosen the soil for each one to a depth of six inches in a circle about a foot in diameter. Put the plant a little deeper in the hole than it had been growing in its pot or flat. Set the plant at a 45 degree angle rather than straight up. Tomatoes will root all along the stem, and planting them this way will help to develop a wider root system and a stronger plant.