It's truly summer: A couple weekends ago, I harvested (and promptly ate) my first homegrown tomato of the season. It was a cherry tomato from one of the vines I'm growing in hanging baskets on my deck:
These are a variety called Tumbler, available from Totally Tomatoes. It's a determinate hybrid bred for compact growth, so it does well in containers. I also grow full-size tomatoes in the ground, including several heirloom varieties. The full-size tomatoes have been slow to ripen, especially since the weather has turned cool these last two weeks. I should have some any day now, but in the meantime I can raid the hanging baskets for my homegrown tomato fix.
Because tomatoes are so popular with gardeners, there's lots of lore related to growing them. Every tomato grower has his or her favorite varieties and tips for success. Mine are below. But keep in mind: What works in one area may not work in another, due to differences in climate, soil, pests, etc. And, what works for one gardener may not work for another. Experiment, find what works, and tell other gardeners about it! You can start by leaving me a comment--I'm always looking for ways to do things better.
Janet's tomato tips
Soil and mulch: I grow my tomatoes in clay soil amended with compost. In addition, I mulch my tomato plot with about 6" of leaves every fall after removing the dead vines. These break down over the winter, adding organic matter to the soil while suppressing early spring weeds and keeping the soil from being compacted by our winter rain. When it's time to plant tomatoes (on or after Mother's Day here in Portland), I rake the remaining mulch back from about a 1' circle, in the center of which goes a tomato seedling. I add more mulch, usually straw, to the pathways between rows to suppress weeds and hold in moisture.
Fertilizer: While I try to garden organically most of the time, I'm not a purist. I use time-release chemical fertilizer for my tomatoes, usually Miracle-Gro. About a half teaspoon per plant does the trick.
Eggshells: After planting my seedlings, I surround each one with about a 4" circle of eggshells, which we save throughout the winter and spring. They serve two purposes. First, they keep slugs away. Apparently the sharp shells are uncomfortable for the evil little mollusks to cross. Second, as they break down, they add calcium to the soil throughout the growing season. The calcium helps prevent blossom end rot, a common problem with certain types of tomatoes, especially Roma. Since I started using eggshells a few years ago, I've had only one tomato with blossom end rot, and it was a mild case. Before the eggshells, about half my Romas would be affected, along with plenty of other varieties too.
Water: Tomatoes, like most plants, do best with deep, infrequent watering. My amended clay soil holds moisture well, so I can usually get away with watering once or twice a week unless it's really hot.
Please leave your tomato-growing tips as comments, so we can all learn from each other.
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