These hot early July days are promising the best tomato season in years (original writing of 2002 ... very different story in 2005 - but hey, we live in the Mid-West).
|Select the right tomato variety
The right variety is essential for a successful harvest. You don't want bags of green tomatoes at the end of the season, do you? We have a variety of large, meaty tomatoes that are done growing at the end of September.
|Don't transplant outdoor too early
The first week of June is early enough. Transplanting sooner has no advantage (possibly the seedling get cold-shocked and are actually stunted in the growth).
Rather let the seedling grow 18" tall and transplant 12" deep. We grow our seedlings in peat moss pots. When we transplant in the garden, we make a hole a foot deep, sink the pot and fill the hole with Father Dom's compost - the roots will grow through the peat moss pot and also grow around the compost covered stem.
We do not water the seedlings after transplanting. We actually stop watering a few days before transplanting. The roots look for moisture. We want the roots to grow out of the pot and deep. By watering the root system would develop shallow.
Of course you don't want the ground to dry out. To prevent that you must mulch. The cheapest and most recyclable method is black 8mil plastic that you can buy at any hardware store.
The plastic also has the function of weed control (June - September); in October we have sowed winter rye; this ground cover only needs to be cut once a week before you lay the plastic to creat a nice dry mulch underneath.
Yes, we do not till, nor spade the ground! Who said that roots need aeration? We believe that the soil structure improves with less tilling. No tilling before transplanting also increases the rate of soil moisture.
|Keep them up from the ground
The plastic must be laid before you transplant. Make two cross cuts about 6 inches long. sink a 2" x 2" wooden stake one foot deep, leaving 5 feet above ground.
Set the seedling in the ground as described above. At first no ties are necessary. In two weeks you place the first tie to keep the seedling against the stake.
We recommend to remove this first tie and move it up as the stem grows. If possible allow only one stem by removing all side growth.
Usually the main stem splits in two. A second tie will train the two stems to grow along the stake.
You want to grow large fruit, not large plants, do you?
To lead the plant energy to fruit production we recommend to prune all side growth: you will observe growth sprouting from the ground - remove it!
Growth at the base of each leaf - remove it!
Make sure you recognize the leader of the two main stems and let them reach the top of the stake.
Once the top of the 5 foot stake is reached, cut the leader. The plant will have spent its energy and die way before the date of the first frost. You will have to ask the neighbor for green tomatoes.
We have tested this method with indetermined varieties; these are varieties that grow tall versus those that grow in a bush shape.
|... at least a foot from the ground
The best tomatoes are sweet. The sugar develops in the fruit as it matures on the vine - store tomatoes are picked green and cannot taste sweet.
Even though soil contact creates acidity in the fruit, you can imagine that most growers don't go through the trouble of keeping the tomatoes off the ground.
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Looking forward to meet you at the Harbor MarketPlace of Kenosha this Saturday, or some day.
Your friends will be under the white tent,