Does the fact that Christmas is fast approaching make you think of growing tomatoes?
Of course not. Our thoughts are focused on making sure our homes are decorated for Christmas, looking for the perfect gift for that special someone and hopefully some holiday baking.
But, I am going to tell you why you should also be thinking about growing tomatoes this time of year.
So, to get the most tomatoes, you want to plant the largest (oldest) tomato plant you can in early March.
Many nursery greenhouses are starting their tomato plants from seed right now where they will grow, protected from the elements until March arrives when you will find them on the shelves of your nursery.
You may be wondering why you should start your own tomato plants instead of buying them at nursery?
Well the problem with purchasing your tomato plants from the nursery is that they have a very limited selection of tomato varieties. And, they may not have the variety you want, or it is sold out.
**Right now, many seed companies are having Christmas sales on their seeds including Burpee and Botanical Interests.
Growing your own tomatoes from seed is very easy and rewarding.
Here is how I have done it…
I like to use Starbucks coffee sleeves or toilet paper rolls, cut in half as my seedling containers.
Grab some seed starting mix from your local nursery or big box store. Some seed mixes have fertilizer already added. If not, then I recommend adding a slow-release fertilizer to your potting mix.
Wet the soil before adding to your containers.
Fill your recycled containers with the seed mix and add your seeds.
Place your newly planted seeds in a warm area, such as the top of your refrigerator. The heat will help them to germinate.
**Use a spray bottle to keep them moist. Don’t allow the soil to dry out.
Once the seeds begin to sprout, put them in front of a sunny window.
It may be awfully hot outside, but my garden is awash in brightly colored flowers from my single bougainvillea, Arizona yellow bells and ‘Rio Bravo’ sage, which shrug off the summer heat.
Earlier this week, I shared with you the first garden on the Arcadia Edible Tour. It was just wonderful to see the Sweet Life Garden in person.
However, we had to tear ourselves away from the first garden because there were more to see…
As you can tell, we were enjoying ourselves very much.
There was so much to see, that I still have one more post showing you some of our favorite parts of a few more gardens.
So come on back….you hear?
About this time of the year, I am busy helping my vegetable gardens transition into summer.
That means pulling any remaining leaf lettuce. Yes, it hurts to know that I now have to buy lettuce until next fall when I can grow it again.
Even though not all of my lettuce had bolted, none of it was edible. Once the temperatures get up to 90 degrees, the lettuce turns bitter.
|I love my crocs!|
Summer is officially here. To be honest, I think it is funny that summer ‘starts’ on June 20th when we have already had temperatures above 100 degrees for weeks.
It may be hot, but my vegetable garden is thriving.
Here is a snapshot of the past week in my garden:
|Clockwise from top: Basil, Thyme, Sage, Rosemary and Purple Basil.|
I always think of the week of Memorial Day as the first ‘unofficial’ week of summer. The weather is getting hot, the kids have their last day of school and it is also a time of harvest.
Now, most gardeners who grow tomatoes have their list of tips for producing the best tomatoes, and many have differing opinions on the best way. But like growing many things, there is often more than one right way to grow things.
Since I have only grown tomato transplants, that is what I will talk about. Although someday, I would like to start them from seed.
Decide where to plant your tomatoes.
Tomatoes transplants can be planted once the threat of frost is over. Place them in an area that receives about 6 hours of sunlight a day. They will require shade once the fruit begins to form, which can be done by creating a portable shade structure. I use 30 – 50% shade cloth, putting it over my tomato support.
By the way, tomato plants can grow up to 6 ft. tall, so they do need a support system. Tomato cages or stakes are available. Because I plant my tomatoes next to the fence of my vegetable garden, I use a combination of a tomato cage and my fence for staking my tomato plants.
Prepare your soil.
Add aged compost, bone meal (source of phosphorus), blood meal (source of nitrogen), and aged (composted) steer or chicken manure and mix with your existing soil. Read the labels of your blood & bone meal for how much to add. Compost should make up at least 2/3 of your planting mixture. Let your prepared soil rest for 1 week before planting.
Select your tomatoes – this is the fun part.
Decide what uses you will put your tomatoes too. Do you want tomatoes for slicing, salads, cooking, or cherry tomatoes?
*You may also be wondering what all the fuss is about heirloom tomatoes and how are they different from hybrid tomatoes? Well, basically, heirloom tomatoes are non-hybrid tomatoes and can be open-pollinated. Heirloom tomatoes are said to possess the ‘old-fashioned’ flavor that many people love in tomatoes and are grown from seed.
As a gardener, you can grow either heirloom or regular hybrid tomatoes. It is your choice.
A good beginner tomato to start out with are cherry tomatoes. In my garden, I have used a variety that is great for making sauces – San Marzano (heirloom), although Roma (heirloom) tomatoes are good for cooking and preserving as well.
Dig a hole that is four times deeper and four times wider than the root ball of your tomato plant.
Sprinkle about 1/2 a cup of bone meal in the bottom of the hole, which will aid in rooting (some tomato experts say you can add 1 cup of bone meal to each hole).
Take your tomato plant and remove the bottom three sets of leaves. Believe it or not, your tomatoes will root out where you remove the leaves. More roots equal more water and nutrients that your tomato plant can take up.
Water in your newly-planted tomatoes. Fill the basin with water. Your tomatoes like for their soil to be moist, but not soggy.
Fertilize your tomatoes monthly.
Now you can use either organic fertilizers or inorganic. The choice is yours. Add fertilizer during the cool part of the day and water in well after you apply.
Help to attract pollinators and keep damaging insects away by planting companion plants.
I have used both alyssum and marigolds this spring, although they will die off once summer comes.
Towards the end of July, tomatoes often stop producing fruit in many, hot desert climates.
The reason for this is that tomato pollen is most viable when nighttime temperatures are within 60 – 90 degrees F. So, don’t worry if your tomato plant stops producing in the summer. Keep the shade cloth on and water well. When temperatures begin to drop in the fall, you can often enjoy seeing tomatoes on the same plant.
Watch closely for pests.
Watch for caterpillars and pluck them off. (I confess that I wear gloves for this job because I am a bit squeamish about handling a live caterpillar).
Aphids are generally not a huge problem and usually go away on their own.
Whitefiles and spider mites are treated using insecticidal soap or neem oil on the bottom of their leaves.
If birds are a problem, use bird netting.
I hope that you will find some of the information helpful in growing your own tomatoes.
For more information on growing tomatoes in the desert Southwest, check out the following link.