Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Talking Tomatoes...

MrMartha implores you, even if you grow no other fruits or vegetables, grow some tomatoes this year.
No time or space for a vegetable garden? They will thrive perfectly in containers.
It's time to get started!

They are easy, reliable, and with just a little coaxing, produce amazing yields. A fresh and perfectly ripe tomato, right out of the garden, is quite unlike anything remotely related to those pink skinned cotton balls that masquerade as tomatoes most of the year in the grocery store!

Over the next four weeks or so, depending on your location, the time is right to plant, and the results will astound you! Plant in the ground, or in containers, when the daytime temperatures are averaging 60 degrees or above, and all chance of frost has passed. Tomatoes like a little bit of attention, but don't require coddling. Bugs and pests are usually not much of a problem if your plants are healthy and well tended.

Just keep a few simple things in mind.

They love heat! Plant against a south wall, or the sunniest area of your garden. Tomatoes also thrive as potted plants -- and the pots usually keep the soil warmer than planting directly in the ground. All of MrMartha's tomatoes are grown in pots, on a raised bench at the back side of an east/west fence. The plants love a good rich soil, and need to be kept moist but not soggy. For potted tomato plants especially, dont let soil dry to the point where the plants wilt. During the hottest part of summer, pots may need drenching with water both morning and evening.

Using polymer granules (available in jars at the garden center) as an addition to the potting mix will help moderate moisture. The strange, hard, little nuggets look like coarse salt when dry, but when exposed to water will swell exponentially with stored H2O and release it gradually back into the soil as it dries out.

Adding some compost to an all purpose potting mix, as well as incorporating a slow release dry fertilizer as pre planting amendments, will do wonders for the plants. They will also love regular weekly or bi weekly applications of diluted liquid fertilizer.

When planting tomato seedlings, remove most of the lower leaves and plant the starts as deep as possible, leaving just the uppermost leaves and a couple inches of the plant above the soil line. The buried stem will grow additional roots all along its length, making your plants even more robust and increasing your harvest yield.

Potted tomatoes also need some sort of structure to grow upward on. Special conical tomato cages are easily found at garden stores and require no tying or attaching of the plants, or make a teepee shape from Bamboo stakes, or use a strong cedar or other sturdy wood stake. Put these supports in place when you plant the seedlings, so you don't damage roots by adding them later.

MrMartha usually has around 6 large (14- 16" diameter) pots, with an assortment of varieties, and gets an exceptionally abundant harvest. Enough to enjoy fresh all summer, give some to friends, and preserve -- both as canned ripe tomatoes -- and at the end of the season, with all the unripe fruit, as green tomato salsa.

Homemade Tomato Sauce will also freeze beautifully, and if you are adventurous, homemade Tomato Juice is a real treat.

Your garden center, and even your grocery store or large drug store, will usually carry plants that are appropriate for your region. You can also order specialty tomato plants from online suppliers like Cooks Garden. Plant a few classic salad tomato varieties which are also great for canning, include something unusual like a yellow pear or heirloom variety, dont forget a cherry tomato like Sweet100, and classic Roma tomatoes never disappoint.

Make your plans now! And enjoy the bounty later. Even planting one large pot on the patio, or a couple of small varieties in a window box will give you plenty of yield for weeks of salads and other special treats.

Don't be shy about making a focal point of a potted tomato plant on your patio or deck...a well tended plant can be very decorative, with its deeply cut foliage and blushing ripening fruit.

MrMartha will have posts as the summer progresses about canning and preserving, salsa making, and everything else you need to get the most enjoyment out of your hardworking and oh so good garden fresh tomatoes.

Find more tips for growing tomatoes HERE.