Tag Archives: how to grow tomatoes

Spring @ Chez Mucci

Step outside, feel the sun.

Spring at Chez Mucci.

Guess how I know it’s Spring?

Nope, not trees starting to leaf out. Not daffodils or robins or even dandelions. And it’s not the darkling skies of an approaching thunderstorm or the rich scent of dark earth being turned by my fingers, either.

Spring arrives every year when I first inhale the rich, pungent smell of fish emulsion!  The scent is on my hands. Even after washing them I can still smell the perfume of fish wafting in the air. My springtime eau de cologne is from Neptune Harvest. Egg shells and fish emulsion are the only supplements I feed my plants. It’s all they ever get and they thrive on them.

I also know it’s Spring by the state of my basement…actually plant nursery. There are 44 tomato babies in the nursery right now.

Tomato babies in basement

Tomato seedlings

Growing and changing almost daily, these tomato babies will be shared with 3 friends who love getting heirloom, hand raised tomato plants that are non GMO, too.

Beet & lettuce seedlings

Beets & lettuce

My final hint that Spring is here? Baby beets peeking up out of soil, butterhead and oak leaf lettuce enjoying cool evenings and moderate days. Tatsoi shares a bed with the lettuce I seeded in and kale is growing strong and beautiful in one of my truck bed gardens.

This Spring, I also got a new garden friend who is yet another harbinger of one of my favorite seasons.  His name is Maurice AKA Mo.

A birthday present from my funny, sweet husband, Mo is a 77 inch high, metal rooster (I’ve wanted on ever since I read Jenny Lawson’s,  Let’s Pretend This Never Happened). Maurice greets me every single morning as we welcome another Spring day to my backyard garden.

 

Maurice in my backyard

Maurice meets Linus!

Advertisements

Transplanting Tomato Seedlings

It’s moving day for my tomato seedlings — their first moving day, actually.

Tomatoes ready for transplant

Tomatoes ready for transplant

My seedlings move a total of 3 times after they emerge, first into 3 inch pots then, into 5 inch pots and finally, into the garden.

This year I am growing four different varieties but two of my favorites – Atomic Grape and Fox Cherry  are indeterminate so they need to be transplanted before the other two varieties.

Tomato seedlings in cells

Tomato seedlings

Starting my seeds in the grow trays has advantages. I can get the soil warm, quickly and I can keep it consistently moist. Heat and moisture help speed up the process of sprouting for tomato seeds.  The one disadvantage is that indeterminate tomato seedlings outgrow the cells very rapidly.

At the age of 3 weeks and 3 days, these babies are ready for new digs. I start all my seeds in an organic soil specifically created for seed starting. It gives them an edge at the beginning of their lives and makes my life a bit easier too. But when it comes time to transplant, I add a little something something to make the soil lighter – coir.

Coir is coconut husk and it really adds value to the growing process. It improves soil structure by aerating it which is good for baby roots. And coir manages water – regulating water by holding it or dissipating it as needed.

I start by putting a spoon of my soil mix in the bottom of each 3 inch peat pot.

Soil and egg shells in peat pots

Soil & eggshells in peat pots

I also sprinkle just a bit of chopped egg shell on top of that for slow release feeding of the baby plants.

As I take each tomato seedling up out of its cell, I strip off the bottom two leaves and lay the plant at the bottom of the peat pot.

 

Then, I slowly pack soil around its stem until I fill the peat pot to the top. Sinking the seedling to the bottom of the pot lets the stem put out more roots and ground the tomato plant into the pot.

Tomato transplants in peat pots

Tomato transplants in peat pots

Once in pots, I water in each baby tomato to ensure there are no air pockets around the tiny roots of each plant. Then I move them onto trays and over to my plant stand.

They will look a bit battered for a day or two but recover quickly and start to grow into their new homes.

About a week after transplant, I will give them a feeding of very dilute fish emulsion and water. By the 3rd week of April, I will be transplanting all of them, again.

Tomatoes last transplant

Tomatoes’ last pot before the garden

This time, they go into 5 inch wide, 6 inch deep plastic pots (reusable) following the same process – small amount of soil and egg shells, strip off leaves, pack into the new container, water in, rest and a bit of fish emulsion in a week.

Currently I have 44 tomato plants humming along in my basement – that’s about 20 more than I have ever planted but, every year, I give the extra away. My sister-in-law, my niece and 2 gardening friends get 4 or 5 hand-raised, heirloom, organic, non GMO tomato plants to play with.

I love the process of growing tomatoes and I think I love sharing them almost as much!

FYI, I’m also hardening off the tatsoi, kale and lettuce I started in my basement in February.

Kale, spinach and tatsoi

Kale, spinach and tatsoi transitioning to the garden.

It will go in the ground just as April begins. Here’s hoping that the worst of the winter weather is behind us!

July Garden Update!

Today, I will write with pictures, not words. So here is the pictorial update on my garden…and how it’s growing.

Despite cool nights (high 50’s and low 60’s, still), there are wonderful things are happening in my backyard.

Onions in May

Onions in May

Onions ready for harvest

Onions ready for harvest

 

Asparagus crowns need trenches

Asparagus trenches-April

Asparagus Growing-July

Asparagus Growing-July

Bianca Rosa Eggplant-July

Bianca Rosa Eggplant-July

Bianca Rosa Eggplant

Bianca Rosa Eggplant-June

Tiffen Mennonite Tomato

Consueleto tomato-June

Consueleto Genovese ripens

Ripening Consueleto-July

Practical Organic Gardening – Growing Tomatoes!

fox cherry tomatoes

Fox Cherry tomatoes are a staple in my garden.

As promised, it’s time to start thinking about what to plant. Most gardeners, me included, rely on one summertime favorite, the tomato, to grace their gardens every year!

Why tomatoes?

Tomatoes are pretty hardy plants.  And they’re happy growing in containers.  They’ll even grow hanging from a hook, upside down.    So, even if you don’t have any space for a garden plot, even if you can’t grow anything else, you can grow tomatoes.

If you’re new to gardening, you might want to start with a few tomato plants instead of starting seed. Why?

Tomatoes from seeds

Tomato seedlings growing indoors.

Most warm weather crops  like tomatoes, should be started 10 to 12 weeks before your last frost.

In my zone, Zone 6a, that means I am in the basement, filling peat pots and dropping in seeds in the second week of February.

From the moment the seeds go into the pots until I get them ready for transplant, I have to pay attention – keep them warm, water them, feed them and ensure they are healthy and happy.

So, if you’re just starting out, buying plants may be a lot easier and a lot less risky.

Tomato Basics
Before we talk about the hundreds of varieties of tomatoes available today, let’s talk about a couple of categories that you should know about when you pick seeds or buy plants, namely determinate and indeterminate.

Tomatoes come in both these varieties.  What’s the difference? Determinate varieties bear their crop all at once and tend to be more compact.  Don’t have much space?  Try these.

Indeterminate tomatoes bear fruit all season and grow longer vines.

Organic tomatoes on a trellis

Tomatoes enjoying their trellis.

These vines require support (staking or caging) over the growing season.   Got room and a couple of fence sections?  Try these.

I usually plant both so I can make tomato sauce, paste and barbecue sauce with the determinate varieties and eat the indeterminate tomatoes all summer long.

Now let’s talk about types of tomatoes?  From this organic gardener’s chair, I think of tomatoes as coming in three types – plum tomatoes, slicers and cherry or grape tomatoes.

 

  1. Plums – these are the kind you can use to make great tomato paste or pasta sauce with.
  2. Slicers – these are great for burgers or sliced and served with just a salt shaker.
  3. Cherry or Grape Tomatoes – these are tiny bundles of tomato flavor that taste great right off the vine.

Again, I plant a few of all three types because I love them.  You can pick and choose the ones you like the best and plant those.

Tips on Planting Tomatoes
Tomatoes are warm weather plants; they really don’t like cold soil or cold air.  You can plant them out on the ragged fringe of your last frost date but putting them in the ground too early may just stunt their growth.  So tomatoes should not go into your ground until the soil temperature is at least 60 degrees.

Tomatoes should be given some room to breathe.  Plants should be 2 to 3 feet apart and rows should be 3 feet apart.  This gives the tomato plants room to spread out, especially the indeterminate ones that can grow vines that are more than 9 feet long.

NOTE:  Overcrowding is a mistake I make over and over again and by August, I can’t reach my plants and bugs are having a field day dining on ripe tomatoes. Space them better and get better crops and fewer pests.  (Now to get me to follow my own advice….)

When planting tomatoes in the ground:

  1. Pick a nice sunny spot that drains well.  The slight slope in my garden ensures that the roots of the tomato plants are wet but don’t drown.
  2. Remove all containers (plastic or clay) from the plants except peat pots.  If using peat pots, just grasp the bottom and start to close your fist.  That pincer movement punches small holes in the bottom that roots can slide through quickly.
  3. Strip off all but the top set of leaves.
  4. Make sure you dig a hole that is deep enough to bury the stem up to the very last set of leaves at the top.  Yes, I really do mean bury them deep.  The stem that you put underground will send out roots and very quickly anchor the plant and give it a lot of opportunities to take up nutrients and water.
  5. Fill the hole with the dirt you removed and tamp it down to make sure there are no pockets of air around the roots.
  6. Water the transplants in by pouring 1 or 2 cups of water on the ground at the base of the stem of each plant immediately after transplanting.  NOTE:  You can use a very weak liquid fertilizer (2 tablespoons to a gallon of water) if you want but I don’t fertilize until about 2 weeks after I have transplanted.
  7. Mulch with straw around each transplant.  Mulching also makes for a weed free garden – the only state I want to be in when it comes to gardening.  It also ensures that moisture is retained and to make sure rain water doesn’t splash up on the leaves of the tomato plants.  Water that splashes up off the soil can cause verticulum wilt or mosaic tobacco virus, the two most common diseases in the tomato family.  By the way, never smoke in your garden – you can make your plants sick, literally.

Stake your tomato babies when you plant them.  Tomatoes grow fast so if you wait, it may be too late to get a tomato cage or a stake in place.  Staking prevents some diseases and improves your yield.  It also makes it much easier to pick once the plants start producing fruit.

staking tomatoes

Staking with found items

What should you use for stakes?  Visit any gardening or hardware store and pick up wooden stakes or, my favorite, metal stakes.  I also use old fence section and have been known to use an old box spring on occasion.

If it doesn’t rain and/or if it is very hot during the first week after transplanting, make sure to check the plants to see if they are drooping or wilting and pour another cup or two of water on them if they are.

Once your tomato babies are in the ground and have weathered the first week, there are only a couple of things you need to do to ensure a good crop:

Always pinch off the first flowers on all your tomato plants.  The plants are still trying to get established in the ground.  They don’t need babies to distract them from growing into strong, healthy plants.

When the second set of flowers appear on the plants, mix 2 tablespoons of Epsom salts into one gallon of water and use one cup for every foot of height the plant has – 2 feet = 2 cups.  Epsom salts provide magnesium and sulfur – both needed to produce chlorophyll and allow for proper absorption of phosphorous and nitrogen.  NOTE:  Don’t use too much Epsom salts.  If you do, you will get lots of beautiful, green leaves and bushy plants but not many tomatoes.

Tomatoes should get 1 to 2 inches of rain a week.  If it doesn’t rain, make sure you water them.  I use soaker hoses.  Soaker hoses save water and prevent the spread of soil borne diseases.

Tomato horn worm eating tomatoes.

A tomato horn

Keep an eye out for the tomato hornworm – a big green caterpillar that likes to eat tomato plants.  If you see one munching through your garden and you don’t have trichogamma wasps, use pliers if you have to but pull it off and kill it.

If you have trichogamma wasps, sit back and watch the show.

Trichogramma wasp eggs on hornworm

Wasp eggs on hornworm

The wasp lays eggs on the hornworm. When the larvae hatch, they dine on their host. It’s not pretty but the wasps are an effective and natural control for these destructive pests.

If you planted indeterminate tomatoes, take a few minutes a week to check for and remove the axillary or side shoots that come off the plant.  But don’t go crazy and strip off a whole lot of leaves.  Tomatoes can get sunburned – really – and burned fruit just doesn’t taste all that good.

So trim lightly. Keep the plants from getting too bushy. Use their energy for  production.

Fertilize your tomato plants when the fruit are an inch or more long. I use fish emulsion mixed with water and poured around the roots of every plant.  This is sometimes called “side-dressing” a plant.  Another free fertilizer is crushed eggshells. Just put about 1/2 cup of crushed shells around the base of each plant.

You can side dress the second time right after picking the first ripe fruit and make a 3rd and final application a month later.

When it comes to harvesting your tomatoes, you can do it by look and feel or you can do it by temperature.  If the average daily temperature is around 75 degrees and the fruits are red, they are ready to be picked.  And don’t refrigerate tomatoes.  The flavor and quality of the tomato will be much better if it is kept at room temperature.

One of my favorite resources for learning about tomatoes is online.  Although it is a Missouri extension office, the basic information works for any gardener, almost anywhere.

And that is how to grow tomatoes.

 

Gallery

Grow So Easy Organic: How To Start, Raise and Grow Tomatoes

This gallery contains 2 photos.

Now the fun begins.  This is the first in a series of posts on how to raise various vegetables, how to feed them, defend them, harvest and use them.  We start with one of my favorites and a vegetable that … Continue reading