Saturday, January 28, 2012

Growing Beautiful Tomatoes

Often, you'll see advertisements about growing the juiciest tomatoes and the biggest tomatoes and the most tomatoes with some "secrets".  The biggest "secret" to growing tomatoes is calcium. Yup, that's it. Tomatoes need calcium. It's easily fixed. Save all of your eggshells for the whole winter. Crush them up and I'll tell you how to use them. That's the secret that all these gardening books have been talking about. I like to start my own tomatoes. I like Romas for making pasta sauces and Early Girl, Longkeeper, Big Beef and Sweet 100s to eat and cook with. There are lots of varieties and I always try a new Heirloom variety every year just because I like to. I like to start my own tomatoes but if I don't have the time, I buy my plants at a greenhouse. My tomatoes usually are transplanted in deep holes so that when they are buried, their leaves are just above the ground. More roots will form along the buried stem and this will make the plant more stable. Before putting the tomato plant in the hole to be planted, I always take a good handful of crushed egg shells and place it in the base of the hole, cover with a bit of soil and then plant my tomato on top. The plant then has access to a slow release calcium all growing season and it's free. I've heard of gardeners giving tomatoes a cup of milk every two weeks and then watering them in and some people have even fed calcium tablets to their tomato plants. I generally grow around 30 to 40 plants per season, milk and pills would not be cost effective. Egg shells are free and organic and did I mention they are free? Since adding egg shells to the planting holes, I've had very few plants with blossom end rot.  Every year, I buy perennials and various trees in black plastic containers from the nursery. Once they are empty, the bottom of the container is cut off and I place these around my bedding plants, especially the tomatoes where they stay all summer long until harvest. The gallon containers are usually placed over the plants and pushed into the ground around 3 - 4 inches.  Depending on the heat, those pails are completely filled with water and the water slowly seeps into the soil; this is done every 2 to 3 days.  The bottomless gallon containers can be used season after season. (I have used coffee cans too, but they rust and I'm not crazy about that).  These gallon containers also act as a barrier for cutworms.  My tomato plants are never trimmed to make the tomatoes bigger or ripen faster. I did try it one year and the fruit on the plants were sunburned and thus ruined, I learned my lesson. Where I am, tomatoes have very few pest problems if any at all, so I don't powder or spray them. The only fertilizer I use is manure that is worked into my garden in the fall every two years. Once planted, the only thing you have to do for tomatoes is water and weed them and pick the ripe tomatoes! In the fall, just before the frost, pick all the tomatoes and lay them on the basement floor (where it's cool) on old blankets (1 layer of tomatoes). If you want them to ripen faster, place ripe apples amongst them.

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