Sunday, May 8, 2011

Now is the Time to Plant Tomatoes

Now is the perfect time to plant tomatoes in the Ozarks. Yes, I know that some folks already have their tomatoes in the ground, but we have had some really cold weather. One of the things to remember in how to grow your own food is to find the optimal planting time. Tomatoes are a tropical plant and they do not thrive until the temperature is consistently above 55 degrees at night.

I usually hold off on planting tomatoes in our part of Missouri until Mother’s Day week. By then the temperatures have usually stabilized at night enough to be safe, although we did have frost in spots last week. It will be close to 90 degrees this week with high humidity, but we had frost last week! Welcome to the Ozarks.

If you don’t have a garden spot, but you do have a sunny porch, then consider tossing a tomato in a large pot. I have consistently grown tomatoes in pots with great success. I love to toss cherry tomatoes or Roma tomatoes in a pot close to the kitchen door. I love tossing warm cherry tomatoes fresh from the garden right in the salad for supper. What a treat on a hot summer day.

Look for a nice big garden pot for your back porch tomato. Select a tomato plant that is at least 6 inches tall and looks vigorous. Fill your pot with nice rich potting soil and amend it with vermicompost. Tomatoes love a rich soil. I grow my own worms, so I have a nice supply of vermicompost. If you’re new to growing your own food, making your vermicompost may be something you might want to consider down the road.

You will want to bury your tomato plant deeply in the soil. I always gently pinch off all the leaves except the top two on my tomato plant. Then bury the plant to with in about ½ inch of the leaves. The goal here is to plant the tomato as deeply as possible, but still have the leaves up away from the soil. You do not want the leaves to get wet.

Now is the time to put your tomato cage on. I always forget to put it on until the tomato is big enough to need it if I don’t do it now. Trust me, if you plant your tomato when it is warm and water it faithfully, you will need that tomato cage faster than you imagined you would.

Always water your tomato plant at the soil level. Do not let the water run over the leaves. Now you are thinking “but it rains on the top of the leaves” and I agree with you. But your tomato plant will be healthier if you don’t get the leaves consistently wet. We typically get infrequent rain in the Ozarks in the summer time. So there are not many chances for the tomatoes to get wet leaves naturally.

You will need to water your tomato plants in pots very frequently. In July, when my tomatoes are producing heavily and it is very hot and dry, I usually water my tomatoes in pots twice a day. You can adjust that as needed depending upon the rain and the heaviness of your soil. Tomatoes don’t like to be too wet, just a nice consistent amount of moisture.

In addition to the vermicompost, I always add a nice sprinkle of Epsom salt for the added magnesium. Epsom salt is inexpensive and readily available. I usually add more midway though the season to my plants in pots because the extra watering will wash out the magnesium. Do not add to much at one time as a time saver because it will interfere with the calcium uptake. Your tomatoes need both elements to produce fruit and thrive.

Even if you only have a tiny space, you can grow at least some of your own food, by throwing at least one tomato in a garden pot. You won’t get enough to can, but you will get enough fresh tomatoes to supplement your diet. In addition, you KNOW exactly what was put on your food. You raised your own tasty veggies, and picked them at the peak of freshness. It is hard to get veggies any fresher than that.

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