The Sun News

MEEKS: Soil preparation key to growing good tomatoes

This time of year I start craving a sloppy bacon and tomato sandwich. There is one condition though; that tomato has to come from my garden. Buying one from the grocery store is just not the same. So how can you grow your own tomatoes?

First thing is soil preparation. Tomatoes prefer well-drained soils with high organic matter.

Organic matter can be increased by adding compost, rotted manure or other humus and tilling it into the garden site in the spring. Tomatoes require a soil pH of 6.2-6.8. The pH of your soil can be determined through a routine soil test.

Be sure to select healthy, pest free transplants for your garden. When it comes to varieties, the sky is the limit. Determinate varieties grow in a more compact form and produce most of their crop at one time. These varieties are usually the choice for gardeners interested in preserving.

Indeterminate varieties set fruit clusters along the vine stem that continues to grow all season.

These varieties need to be staked. Because tomatoes are susceptible to disease, viruses and insects, some varieties have been bred to be resistant to certain pests. Remember that resistance to these problems does not mean they are completely immune, and good cultural practices are still important.

Tomato plants can develop roots along their stems, so plant them deeply to encourage growth of a strong root system. Give tomatoes a little fertilizer at planting time. If plants are to be staked, space them 24 inches apart in rows 4-6 feet apart. Although it requires more work initially, staking makes caring for the tomato plants easier.

Tomatoes can benefit from mulching around the stem. Add mulch soon after transplanting. Apply mulch 2-3 inches deep. Mulching will help conserve moisture.

Tomatoes are medium feeders and will require fertilizer beyond the initial starter. The best way to determine how much fertilizer is needed is to submit a routine soil sample. If liquid fertilizer is used, be careful not to apply too much or too often. This can lead to excess nitrogen and cause much vegetative growth but few blooms or fruit.

Tomatoes need 1-2 inches of water per week depending on your soil type. If rainfall does not provide enough water, water deeply once or twice a week. It is always good to have a rain gauge near your garden so you know how much rainfall your garden is receiving. Too much water can lead to disease problems.

For best quality, harvest tomatoes when fully ripe. Fully ripened fruit may be placed in the refrigerator to prolong keeping. In the refrigerator, tomatoes can last several weeks.

Source: Georgia Home Grown Tomatoes, Robert Westerfield


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