Choice of plant and proper care can ensure healthy tomatoes
This is the one fruit that everyone wants to grow. And, why not? Big, plump, juicy tomatoes fresh off the vine are one of the great pleasures of summer.
After last year’s battle with late blight, some gardeners have asked what they can do to better the chances they will harvest healthy tomatoes this year.
Here are some tips that should help.
Buy locally grown tomato plants.
If you had late blight in the garden last year, plant this year’s tomatoes in another section of the garden.
You might want to consider a paste tomato or cherry tomato plant as these are less susceptible to late blight.
Work compost into the soil. Keeping a plant healthy means providing them with the nutrients they need and compost does that.
Inspect your tomato plants carefully before purchasing and then look at them as they grow in the garden. It is always easier to handle problems and pests early in their cycle.
In the future, if you grow by seed or as you shop, look for disease-resistant varieties. This gives you an advantage.
Tomatoes need full sun. This means a solid six hours to produce to their capacity. Less sun means fewer fruits and a weaker plant that grows long branches as it stretches to the light.
If you are growing in pots, determinate varieties are a better choice. Determinate tomatoes grow to a certain height and stop growing. Indeterminate tomatoes grow longer vines.
As you plant, if the tomatoes are spindly, create a deep groove in the soil and plant them on their sides. Leave only the top set of leaves visible above the soil line. Remove all other leaves before covering with soil. Tomatoes will make additional roots along the stem. This is desireable as the stronger the root system, the healthier the plant.
Don’t crowd tomatoes. This just invites trouble. Think of them as needing plenty of elbow room. Early in the season it looks like there may be too much room between plants, but this is seldom the case. Tomatoes need good air circulation and planting them two to three feet apart is wise.
Feeding the tomatoes. When planting my tomatoes, I add dolomitic limestone, mix it with compost and blend it into the soil around the roots. This can help prevent blossom end rot.
To finish, I water the plants with Neptune’s Harvest organic fi sh/ seaweed blend fertilizer. This is my preferred fertilizer in the vegetable garden and one that I use every 10 to 14 days throughout the growing season. You can use other fertilizers. Follow label instructions and never fertilize a plant that is dry. Water fi rst. Then fertilize.
Watering. This is the step where many gardeners have trouble. Tomatoes need an ample supply of continuous water. In my garden I use soaker hoses and containers with built-in water reservoirs that I attach to an irrigation system. At the faucet is a timer set to water enough to provide a long, deep soaking once a week. Do a test to determine how long your timer needs to be on. To fill the container reservoirs, it takes about 10 minutes. This is my water management system and frees me from wondering if the vegetables have enough water. I know they do.
If you don’t have this system, use your finger and feel if the soil is moist — not wet, but moist. To keep the soil moist and save water, add mulch along the base.
The last consideration is how to stake the tomatoes. You can use string, cages or poles, but you need to get them in early and be certain the supports can really handle the weight of all those fruits that will certainly be ripening on the vine before long.
My tomatoes are in the ground as of this column and I’m already salivating over the harvest which is weeks away.
Editor’s Note: Janet Loughrey’s lecture on her new book “Saratoga in Bloom” that was scheduled for tonight at the Saratoga Springs Public Library and tomorrow at the Crandall Library in Glens Falls has been postponed until July.