On growing tomatoes
It seems tomatoes would win a vote for the favorite vegetable. With the warm weather, we have been selling quite a few. Here are a few tips on raising tomatoes.
1. Most vegetables like calcium, but tomatoes seem to want an extra amount. One symptom of a lack of calcium is end rot at the tips of the tomatoes. By the time you see that, it is hard to correct the problem. The time to add calcium is when you prepare the soil. Tomatoes need an extra amount of calcium when they are blooming and for the next two weeks, when the fruit is still pea-sized. It is at this stage that the cell walls are being developed and require extra calcium.
What is a good source of calcium? Limestone is one, but it is not easy to come by in small amounts. Gypsum is another good source. A limited amount of wood ashes also provides calcium, and provides potash as well. A cupful per plant would be plenty. Some people blend up egg shells, which is a form of calcium.
2. Be careful with the nitrogen. Tomatoes like nitrogen, but not too much. Nitrogen is what animal waste has a lot of, and it makes plants big and green. That is not always a good thing when it comes to tomatoes. You want a nice looking plant, but if the plant is too big and green, it might not have much fruit. Other minerals, like phosphate, and potash in particular, help the plant produce more and larger fruit.
3. Tomatoes are rather shallow-rooted and will put out roots at each node (where leaves branch out) that is below the soil. So if the plant is somewhat leggy, tip it sideways when you plant it and bury some of the stalk. The remainder of the plant will turn upright, and roots will sprout at each buried node.
4. Tomatoes of course need water, but not too much. Too much water, or uneven watering, can worsen the end rot problem mentioned above.
Some people fight fire with fire. What about fighting bugs with bugs? You might feel you don’t want more bugs in your garden, because they are already eating up your plants. But some bugs munch on other plant-eating pests. Called “beneficials”, they eat aphids, mites, scale, thrips and other pests.
You can invite these “beneficials” to dinner with plants that produce lots of pollen and nectar. Ladybugs are attracted to zinnias, daisies, sunflowers, asters and yarrow. They also like herbs such as parsley, dill, anise, and cilantro. If you grow such plants near your plants plagued by aphids and other ladybug food, the ladybugs will help you out by making a dinner of the pests.
Watch out for the hungry ladybug babies. You might not recognize them, but ladybug larva can eat up to 40 aphids a day for you. These black and blue larva, kind of long like an alligator, have bright yellow, orange, or red markings. They not only eat more bugs than their parents, they stay around when the adult ladybugs move on. It is said that each baby ladybug can eat up to 5,000 aphids during its total lifetime. So take good care of them.
A Gardening Tip --
Mulching is a great way to gain several benefits at once. It can keep your weeds down, keep the soil temperature cooler, help keep your vegetables up off the soil for less rotting problems, and when it decomposes it greatly improves the soil.
Straw makes a great mulch, as well as hay. But one has to be careful with hay because of weed seeds and grass such as bermuda grass or johnson grass. Some people use wood chips. Actually, any plant material that decomposes can make good mulch. As it decomposes it uses nitrogen, so for mulch that is slow to decompose, like wood chips, it helps to add a little nitrogen, or mix something in with it like chicken litter.
Most mulch will have disappeared after a winter of rainy weather. But it really didn’t disappear; it converted into humus and enriched your soil. What can beat that?
Sprinkle grounds to bring out the blooms. Save coffee grounds to sprinkle around your flowers.
Stop veggies from going on strike. Timing is everything when you harvest beans, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, and okra.