GREEN THUMB - TOP of The CROPS
Mark Cullen Friday, June 01, 2012
Easy to grow just about anywhere there is heat and sun, tomatoes offer a huge variety to choose from; colours range from white, yellow and orange, to red, green and purple. I grow over 200 tomatoes and 20 different varieties each year.
My favourite varieties include Sweet Million cherry tomatoes, which work well in containers; Big Boy, which is a good medium-sized, disease-resistant tomato; and any of the big, juicy beefsteak hybrid tomatoes. And, if you are planning to preserve tomatoes for winter use, you have to grow some Roma paste tomatoes.
HOW TO GROW A GOOD CROP OF TOMATOES:
1. Buy short, stocky plants with dark green foliage (no yellow leaves and not root-bound in the pot).
2. Plant in the ground once the temperatures are warm (a minimum of 20°C).
3. Dig a hole about the size of a half bushel, or three shovels full. Dig existing soil into another part of your garden.
4. Fill the hole with triple mix (one third top soil, one third peat moss and one third compost or composted cattle/steer manure).
5. Plant the tomato up to the second set of real leaves – deeply. Push the soil firmly around the main stem of the tomato to give the soil and plant contact. New roots will develop along the stem, producing a stronger plant.
6. I use straw as mulch around my tomatoes. Spread the straw about 25cm deep per plant. Straw mulch helps to retain needed moisture during the hot, dry spells of summer and reduces weeds dramatically – by up to 90 per cent.
7. Water using a compost tea solution (take an old pillowcase half filled with compost, drop it in your rain barrel and leave it there for 24 hours). Or, fertilize with your favourite tomato food (I use Green Earth organic 4-6-8 for tomatoes and vegetables). Keep in mind that tomatoes are heavy feeders. Follow the directions on the fertilizer package or continue to water with compost tea – you really can’t go wrong with the stuff.
8. Stake in mid-June using a spiral aluminum stake. No tying, no fuss. Timing is everything. Get to this job before the tomatoes begin to bloom – staking will double your crop as a result of getting them off the ground. Staking your tomatoes also reduces the risk of diseases and insects.
9. Apply Green Earth Bordo Copper Spray in July to prevent the Number One enemy of healthy tomatoes – early blight. Bordo Copper Spray is a copper fungicide which is mixed with water. Use it on fruit trees, ornamentals and vegetable crops to control leaf spots, blights, anthracnose, downy and powdery mildew, and black spot.
Tomatoes like plenty of sun – a full eight hours a day, in fact. They also like heat and shelter from the wind. They are heavy feeders, so the soil should be rich with organic material at planting time. Water at least twice a week for the first six weeks, or so, and more frequently if the weather is hot and dry.
Harvest often (words to live by!), and do not allow fruit to rot on the plants. This will slow fruit production and is an invitation to insects and diseases.
Mark Cullen is a professional gardener and spokesperson for Home Hardware Lawn and Garden. He can be seen Wednesdays at 8:45am (EST) on Canada AM. Check out his latest book, The Canadian Garden Primer at book stores everywhere. markcullen.com