Summer, if defined by the olfactory of senses, could have endless interpretations. Like “snow” for groups such as the circumpolar Sami people, it could have 100’s of words to name it, all synonymous yet characteristic. From the flavored perfume of Coppertone Baby to freshly cut watermelon. Or the scent of tomatoes emanating from the garden. Earthy, pungent and lovely. Flexing summer muscles. Relishing in solar heat, compost and the chatter of insects.
It’s not too late to capture a bit of summer, get tomato starts in the ground or potted up. Or, if you’re in a cool climate, start planning ahead.
You are, no doubt as I am, bombarded by a barrage of fads, miracle tomato growing doctrines and insider trading tips on one of summer’s best inventions. But it’s not a mystery, nothing that couldn’t be figured out with a bit of trial and error and neighborly help. Here are a few basics to get you on your way:
- Plant in warm soil. Wait for late winter/spring conditions to advance toward summer before putting starts in the ground. The Phosphorus that would otherwise be available to them cannot be absorbed if the soil is too cool.
- Be sure the soil pH is close to 6.5 or fairly balanced. Neutralize acidic soils with organic amendments if necessary. If in doubt, compost.
- Augment with Calcium or a Calcium rich top dressing. This will help prevent blossom end rot.
- Hold the nitrogen, use balanced organic fertilizers or compost. While all plants need nitrogen to thrive, too much nitrogen will cause your tomatoes to leaf out like mad, thus leaving less time or thought for fruiting.
- Water consistently. Try to keep tomatoes from becoming drought stressed. At the same time avoid drastic watering fluctuations and heavy watering. Not only does this generally agonize the plants but fungal diseases typical to tomatoes (and other night shades) increase with wet conditions.
- Cool trick. Encourage root development by submerging and covering the main stem with soil a few to several inches above the root crown. (Depth will depend upon the size of transplant. If you have a sizable 4″ potted start, it could be 4 – 6 inches up to the first substantial axillary branch. Plant below this branching point. Eyeball it and make your best guess. Trust your inner gardener.) Before you plant gently trim leaves or branches that will be submerged back to the node, this is where new roots will establish. Note: this is a technique I’ve found to be true only for tomatoes.
- Rotate tomato crops every two years to prevent fungal build-up in soil.
Grow. Love. Eat.