TOMATOES--DON'T BE INTIMIDATED
TOMATOES I saw the following post on a popular gardening group page: "Growing your own tomatoes is the best way to devote 3 months of your life to saving $2.17." I thought it was an odd post for a gardening group and was told it was meant to be a garden joke. Joke or no joke, it says something--that there are those who are intimidated by the thought of growing tomatoes and that's too bad because there is no need to be.
In one respect, tomatoes are like people; adversity is required in order to achieve full potential. When all we need or want is simply handed to us, we never get to know the best version of ourselves, and so it is with tomatoes.
I THINK THE BIGGEST MISTAKE THAT IS MADE WITH TOMATOES, IS TRYING TOO HARD; with good intentions and hopes, giving the tomato plant the best of everything. For example, water; when someone is having problems, I generally ask about their watering schedule. They usually tell me that they are "giving the plants plenty of water;" as much as a soaking every other day. They are shocked when I tell them that I water my tomatoes every 14 days (after they are established).
I don't have any kind of horticulture degree, but I do have 50+ years of experience, so let's talk about tomatoes.
PLANTING: I'm in zone 7, so it's time to start planting
If you want to start your own tomato plants, seeds should be planted 6 to 8 weeks before the season's last frost. There are many varieties of tomatoes and many good sources for seed: Gurney's, Jung Seed, Tomato Growers, Totally Tomatoes, Park Seed Almost any local garden center will have plants at planting time, but you may not be able to find the particular variety you want. When planting in the garden, the root ball should be buried well below the soil surface and then soaked in to make sure air pockets are removed. Tomatoes like to grow in hot full sun. Don't worry about protecting them from heat. Don't baby them.
WATERING: Water by flooding with open rows or drip. Soak well once a week until new growth begins to show and then cut the watering back to every other week. When the plant begins to set fruit, the watering can be cut back even more. Tomatoes have strong root systems that go deep and wide. Let them work for their water. A little stress helps them to go into self-preservation mode, which means they set fruit to produce seeds.
POLLINATION: Sometimes failure to set fruit is due to pollination issues. Tomatoes are pollinated primarily by wind. Plant them in unprotected spaces where the wind can do its thing. If your only available space has no wind access, simulate the wind with a fan.
BLOSSOM END ROT: End rot is common and usually indicates too much water. It should not be a big concern. The first tomatoes to ripen may have a little rot, but the crop that follows will generally be fine.
FERTILIZING: Tomatoes don't need a lot of fertilizing; their root system can find what it needs. If you do use fertilizer, make sure it is formulated for tomatoes and is low in nitrogen. Too much fertilizer, especially nitrogen, will produce beautiful green plants with little or no fruit.
Growing tomatoes is very rewarding--Fresh tomatoes for several months and a harvest of several pounds from each plant.
Stewed tomatoes, salsa and sauces from you own tomato crop is hard to beat.
Give them tough love. Let them do the work and they will perform.