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Growing Tomatoes with Jack Kouwenhoven

For the average gardener the tomato is probably the most popular vegetable (fruit). Even in a small garden there is room for a few tomato plants.

Tomatoes are easy to grow and are adapted to a great variety of soil and garden conditions. Today we discuss some essentials in growing better tomatoes. All varieties cannot be treated the same.

Cultural practices and choice of varieties vary a lot from place to place. Personal preference enters into it to a large extent. Therefore it is not possible to discuss details applicable to all situations.

Tomatoes are generally not successful if seeded directly outdoors. The optimum germination temperature range is between 210C (700F) to 29oC (850F). Temperatures below 100C may seriously impair young plants. Exposures to chilling temperatures have a cumulative effect.

Chilled plants will develop a purple color in stem and leaf veins, with possible stunting of growth and poor yield, or malformation of the fruit, usually on the first ones. This is attributable to low night temperatures at flowering time.

There are two distinct types of tomatoes, determinate and indeterminate. They vary in different ways and require special cultural care.

Determinate varieties are self-topping; the growing point terminates in a flower cluster. The plants are generally smaller and bushier than indeterminate ones. They are often earlier maturing and do not require staking.

A good example is the Oregon Spring variety. They usually produce one main crop, while indeterminate varieties are capable of growing fruit indefinitely. Some are late maturing but are popular with home gardeners because they often produce large fruits. These varieties should be staked and pruned for best results.

For the average home gardener it is less costly to buy greenhouse-grown seedlings from garden shops if you grow only a few plants. Personally I prefer seeds for the greater choice of varieties and can make seeds last up to three years with good results, plus the fact that one can grow healthier plants at home, if one can provide proper lighting and temperatures. Planting in a sterile mix will prevent wilt and other soil-born diseases. You must remember that you are then growing them hydroponically. (feeding with each watering)

Watering seedlings or young plants with dilute fertilizer solutions work best. I use Schultz liquid plant food (10-15-10) at 7 drops per Liter of water. For mature plants there are other tomato plant foods available.

For best results select stocky, medium green, vigorous plants about 18 to 24 cm tall. It may be necessary to plant them up into a larger container if you have to hold them over. Never keep them more than a week in the small pot they came in, they must be able to continue growing.

One week before the plants are to be set out in the garden, start the hardening process, or checking their growth by reducing the temperature to about 16*C (61*F), or keeping the plants on the dry side. Any process that checks growth of the plants results in hardening. Gradual exposure to outdoor conditions is good practice.

Incorporate a generous amount of organic matter into your container or garden soil. For me the planting time for open ground is after June 1st. Container planting of early varieties can be done with hot caps or tomato tubes for protection.

At planting out, apply a starter fertilizer solution such as plant starter 10-52-10, use as directed.

To prevent blossom-end rot, maintain adequate moisture and nutrient level to the plants, particularly when first fruits are developing.

Moisture also ensures availability of soil nutrients, plants only drink and they have no teeth.

In hot dry weather inadequate soil moisture upsets the Calcium uptake and tends to cause blossom-end rot, a brown water soaked area that gradually develops into a black sunken scar on the lower end of the tomato. The addition of gypsum or calcium to the soil can help to prevent this.

Varieties for container growing are: Patio/Cherry, Tiny Tim, Bush beefsteak, Juliette and Stupice.



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