Thursday, April 17, 2008

Six Steps to Perfect Tomatoes

From Plant-A-Porter
Sun Begin with six to 10 hours of direct sun daily. Let us be honest here. Yes, tomatoes will grow in fewer hours of sunlight and even in light shade but you'll get more insect and disease problems, rangy plants and light yields. Really, why bother?
Great soil Do not skimp on this step—it's tempting to put your money into plants, but they'll go nowhere without good soil. Your new tomato seedlings need rich, well-drained soil that's loose and rich in organic nutrients. Improve soil that is too heavy (clay) or too light (sandy) by adding generous amounts of organic matter such as planting mix or homemade compost. Add at least a 2-inch thick layer of organic matter and work it to a depth of 6 inches. Ratio of one cubic bag of planting mix to four plants.
Lots of food Do not overdo this but be generous. Each tomato plant (in a container or in the ground) will require a healthy handful of vegetable fertilizer or a blood and bone mix. That means a heaping cup or so (figure on feeding six plants per box of fertilizer—double if buying a bag). Also, blossom-end rot can be a problem (that's the squishy black spot you see on the underside of your fruits) so add in a few good handfuls of calcium to your planting bed. Till all of this in 8-inch to 1-foot depth.

Transplanting The best time to transplant is early morning or late afternoon or on a cloudy day. Water seedlings thoroughly before transplanting to keep the root ball intact and reduce shock. Space seedlings 2 feet apart in rows 3 feet apart (a 10x6 foot bed will take eight to 10 tomato seedlings. If using mulch, lay that down and cut holes of seedlings. Now, before planting is the time to install post-and-string trellises or metal cages. When planting, dig a big hole, wide and deep, and plant seedling so that only top sets of leaves are above the soil line. This encourages root formation along the stem—bigger roots=more fruits!
Watering Here is where you're most likely to blow it. Tomatoes need a continuous and uniform supply of water. Too much rots roots. Too little shuts down the plant and can cause cracking and blossom drop. Water deeply and slowly to depth of 8 to 10 inches and avoid wetting leaves to prevent disease problems. How much water? If in containers, plan on every other day (or daily in hottest weather). In the ground, two to three deep waterings per week should be enough (more in hot or windy areas, less at the coast). The only sure way to know is with a commercial water meter (at garden centers) or the finger-stuck-in-soil test.

The Spoilers Pests love your new plants almost as much as you do. Keep insecticidal soap spray on hard and use it whenever you spot the first signs of insect infestation. Remove fungal-infected leaves when you spot them and dispose in trash, not the compost heap. Keep a supply of bleach -infused pop-up bathroom cleaning wipes and swipe one over your pruners after each cut. Cleanliness is the key to avoiding disease.

Copyright © by Move, Inc.