Monday, July 11, 2011
This is a fantastic tutorial by Ms. Nikki, gardener extraordinaire. Nikki works at Northaven Gardens in Dallas.
Soil Health is Key
Healthy soil is the key to disease & bug resistant plants. It generally takes 3 years to get your soil at the level it needs to be. When you add organic matter (compost) and soil amendments each year, you are increasing soil ability to drain water through and also increase microbial activity. I don’t recommend planting tomatoes directly in the ground. Our soil is very hard and clay.
2X a year (usually early spring and fall) I add the following to my 4’x8’x1’ raised bed.
-2 bags compost
-2 bags Humax Garden Soil Builder
-2 bags cow manure
My initial raised bed was filled with the following…(and yes, I carried this all by myself!)
4’x8’x1’ box = 32 cu ft
NHG TOTAL: $186.68
-10 Soil Menders Topsoil
-6 bags Humax
-10 bags Vital Earth Compost
-6 bags Cow Manure
-1 5lb bag worm poo
-1 5lb bag green sand
Planting in a pot?
1 tomato plant per minimum size 16” pot. Ask me about soil for your pot size. The easiest thing I’ll tell you to do is plant in NHG Organic Potting Soil. It has compost, topsoil, a months worth of food & expanded shale (for drainage & aeration) already in it. Easy breezy!
Mulch, mulch, mulch
Mulch is recommended for all plants. Add at least 2” after planting. Leave a “donut” around the base of the tomato plant so the mulch isn’t right up against the stem. Mulch will keep roots cool and retain moisture in the soil. With our TX heat, this is a must!
Why are raised beds at least 12” deep?
To retain water and keep roots moist through our extreme temperatures!
If you read anything on Square Foot Gardening, they will tell you to build beds 6” deep and with lots of peat moss. Follow this run in Texas and you’ll be either water multiple times a day or looking at lots of fried plants.
Planting Your Tomatoes
For most plants, we’ll tell you to plant the plants soil line a bit above your garden’s soil line. Tomato plants can be planted up to 2” deeper. The stem will grow more roots under the soil and offer a sturdier plant.
Tomatoes MUST have a minimum of 6 hours of direct sun. I’m not joking about this! The more sun the better!
Timing is Essential
-Fall Harvest Tomatoes by seed MUST be started indoors early to late-May. Mid-May is ideal.
-Fall Harvest Tomatoes by transplant plant mid-June to mid-July.
-Summer Harvest Tomatoes by seed MUST be started indoors mid-January to mid-February.
-Summer Harvest Tomatoes by transplant plant mid-March to mid-April. If you can get them planted end of February to mid-March, that is even better. There are ways to protect them if we get a hard freeze. Use water-walls, cover with frost cloth, or plant in containers and bring into the garage (covered) or indoors in a sunny window until temps are back into the high 40s.
Feed those Fruits!
-Feed ONCE at planting time with an organic food specifically for tomatoes or veggies.
-Do not feed again until plant starts to fruit. Feed every 2 weeks thereafter.
-Liquid Seaweed: great foliar feed (spray right onto the plants from a hose end sprayer). Also deters spider mites.
Basically, you have to water your tomato plants regularly. In pots, it could be every day in August heat. But generally, in raised beds, every few days is fine. Stick your finger in the soil. If it’s dry 2 knuckles down, then you need to water. But DO NOT let the plant completely dry out between watering. That will stress it and it may not set fruit properly.
-Water the soil, not the plants.
-Water in the morning to reduce disease.
-Completely water the area, do not just sprinkle around the base. Soak the soil!!!!
If you are concerned with birds and squirrels eating your ripened fruit, you can pick tomatoes when they start to blush and place them in a warm, sunny window until ripe. Other than that, let them ripen on the vine.
Common Pests & Diseases
Blossom End Rot: could be a calcium deficiency or not consistent watering. Feeding your tomato plants at the proper time will also help this situation from happening. Once it happens to a fruit, be sure to continue watering and feeding to prevent it from affecting future fruit.
Early Blight: Early blight is a fungus. It can generally be prevented by keeping plants watered (DON’T water the leaves!!!! Water the soil), fertilized and healthy. Mulching the soil will help the water from splashing up on leaves.You can also spray Plant Wash on the leaves to wash away any fungus before it becomes an issue. As the disease progresses, leaves turn yellow, wither, and drop from plants. Once you have early blight, it’s difficult to get rid of. Pull the plant and don’t replant a tomato in that spot for at least 2 seasons. This would be a great time to plant fava beans. They’re a great crop to over plant with. Grow a beautiful plant with lovely Flowers and it’s quite fragrant.
Tomato Hornworms: Since you are out inspecting your plants every few days and making sure to water properly, you’ll definitely see these when/if they arrive. You could spray with BT if you have them everywhere. But I’ll more than likely pick them off and feed them to my chickens.
Cracking: water consistently and this shouldn’t be an issue. Fruit is generally fine, it just doesn’t look pretty.
Aphids: dense clusters of tiny bugs you may see on the stems or new growth of your tomatoes. Pinch off foliage where aphids are densely concentrated, and throw these discarded bits into the garbage, not on the ground or in your compost pile. If the problem then seems manageable, you can release beneficial insects such as ladybugs or lacewings. Or, apply insecticidal soaps.
Spider Mites: plants will get a speckled appearance as they feed. Be sure you are feeding and watering properly as healthy plants will have a better time naturally defending themselves. Also, Liquid Seaweed deters spider mites, and is also an excellent foliar feed and root stimulator. Just spray it directly on the plants with a hose end sprayer. I spray every 2 weeks. Sometimes more if I feel like it, especially in the summer. It will also help with heat stress.
There are a million other issues to come up with tomato plants. To find a cure, your best bet is to bring in a sample of the infected plant to your local garden center or post a picture on the NHG FB page and we can get it answered for you.