Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Perfect Tomato

I am sometimes asked how I get my tomato plants to be over seven feet tall and what is the secret to the lush growth and dark rich fruit of my plants.  I will tell you everything I know.
   It begins will soil preparation as you might suspect and I have been working on my soil for over forty years.
Mine is a mid-sized plot for a city garden, about 40' x 50' and raised with concrete curbing about 18" higher than the surrounding area.  It is all pretty much one big raised bed.  Everything I have done with this soil could be done on a smaller scale.  Tomatoes will grow in a five gallon bucket.
   Natural fertilizers don't leach out like chemical fertilizers and you can add different ingredients in alternating years and their total effect will accumulate.  Your soil will get better and better.  My soil was a fine clay, almost potter's quality when I began and that is why I raised the garden bed eighteen inches.  Over the years I have had grass clippings and leaves two feet deep over the entire garden.  It all composts down to almost nothing when Spring arrives.  One year I will add about six yards of manure spread over the garden in the fall and the next year I will add the expensive stuff.  Bone meal, cotton seed meal, kelp meal and Epsom salts, about ten pounds each dusted over the entire area.  If you use a lot of compost like I do you probably need to add agricultural gypsum or lime to adjust the PH of your soil.  I add about fifty pounds every other year.  It has taken me years to get nice soil but now the top two feet anyway is like potting soil.
    I start my own seeds from the very best tomatoes of the year before.  This is so easy to do and I get almost 100% germination.  I scoop out with a spoon the seeds and jelly of the tomato and press between two pieces of paper towel and place these sheets in my pantry.  When early Spring is approaching, about mid-March I cut off the seeds and a bit of paper towel and plant these in little pots in my greenhouse.  You can also begin seeds on top of your water heater.  They love the warmth.  After they are an inch or two tall place them in full sun near a Southern window.
    Tomatoes are vigorous growers and thrive on being transplanted.  Mine are transplanted three times in the greenhouse before going into the garden.  Each time this is done, always into a bigger pot, bury half the plant into the new soil, always deeper.  The fine hairs along the stem become roots and the tomato will become stronger and stronger.
   When the soil is warm enough in the garden for the final transplanting, again bury half the plant no matter how big it is.  I have had some very large plants that required a post hole digger to dig the holes.  I don't pick off the leaves, just bury half the plant!
    Tomatoes require consistent deep watering.  If allowed their root system is as large as the plant itself, seven feet up and seven feet down!  I water mine twice a week, always in the morning, about three hours each time.  Tomatoes hate going to bed wet.  Never water in the late afternoon!
    Tomatoes develop suckers easily, little shoots in the "Y" between the main stalk and a branch and these should be pinched out to allow all the energy into the main plant.  Nice green foliage is pretty but you want the tomatoes!
   More tomato plants are sold in nurseries to home gardeners than any other vegetable and it is no wonder. Nothing beats the smell and taste and texture of a sun ripened tomato.  In a store you might be lucky enough to find two varieties, neither any good.  At a local nursery you will find many more, hundreds are available.


Kay said...

thanks for the tips!!!

Clipped Wings said...

Wow! Such a dedicated tomato the guru of tomatoes. I'm very impressed! You're right about store bought tomatoes. Like eating flavor. I love home grown.

Barbra Joan said...

Hey Jerry, *IF* I did grow tomatoes, you'd be the one for advice.. You ARE the 'Tomato Man"
lol !! BJ