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Homegrown: tomatoes part 2

Tomatoes – Part 2

by Carol Dunn

    Tomatoes need at least six to eight hours of direct sun each day.  Fortunately, our high altitude sunlight is intense and has great “growing power.”  The soil pH needs to be between 5.5 and 6.8 for tomatoes.  Most people know not to plant tomatoes in the same spot more than once every four years.  Also avoid areas where peppers, potatoes and eggplants have grown within the past three years.  Tomatoes don’t have to be staked or caged, but they take up a lot of garden space if they’re not.  If you are building an “open top greenhouse” to keep your plants warm at night, it will serve double duty as a cage. 

Provide your tomatoes with potassium and phosphorus.  According to Rodale’s Garden Answers, the best source for these minerals are kelp meal and bone meal placed in the hole at the time of transplanting.  If you’ve already planted, work these amendments into the soil around the base of each plant.  According to high altitude gardeners Penn and Cord Parmenter, using kelp speeds the ripening of tomatoes.

    Tomatoes need weekly feeding with fish emulsion. Although nitrogen will make your plants grow, it will not improve tomato production.  Tomatoes also need to have even moisture.  Deep watering is best, with a three-inch layer of compost or mulch around the plants to hold in the moisture.  You can mulch with hay, straw, leaves, bark chips, pine needles or shredded newspaper.  

    Plant basil or thyme near your tomatoes.  They will enhance the plant’s growth and some say improve the flavor of the fruit.  Tarragon is also a good companion plant.  Keep dill away from your tomatoes – it slows tomato growth – but it does help to have some in the garden because it attracts beneficial insects.  Coreopsis, marigold, sunflower and yarrow also attract beneficial insects, particularly lady beetles and lacewings.  

    If you notice a stem of your tomato plant is stripped of leaves, you’ve probably got a tomato hornworm or two.  These fearsome creatures can strip an entire plant in a matter of days.  Hornworms camouflage well, so look closely until you find the culprit(s) and remove them by hand.  Chickens love these plump “tomatoey” tasting delicacies.  For other pests, like whiteflies, aphids, mites and beetles, spray the plant with insecticidal soap (not detergent) or pyrethins.  These do not leave a residue in the soil.

    Leaf spot, wilt and blight don’t seem to be major problems in our dry climate.  If the tomato plant’s leaves have mottled, puckered areas, they most likely have a virus.  There is no cure for tomato viruses.  Once your plants are infected, they must be destroyed, and the soil will remain tainted for three years.  

    With an investment of time and the right techniques, there’s a lot of good eating to be had in homegrown tomatoes.  Hope you have a good growing season.  Send your comments to: ssimons@wildblue.net .

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