When the temps are still cool outside it’s the best time for gathering supplies and planning to start your seedlings. Whether you are wishing for a delicious vegetable garden or the bright colors and smells of a lovely flower bed, now is the time for your planning.
It's time to start thinking about your gardening plans and what seedlings you might want to grow. One of our merchandise buyer is Susan and she loves to garden. I convinced her to write a story of the beginning thoughts of her planting season. She shares with us her process.
When my husband announced we would have a garden a couple years ago I was less than enthused. I grew up helping in the garden and memories popped up in my mind of huge baskets of green beans to break and tubs of corn to husk. Standing in a hot kitchen all day canning produce was not my idea of fun. I was not quick to point this out to the budding gardener however as I thought maybe the garden wouldn't actually "flourish". I should have known as with most things my spouse decides to do it produced an abundant harvest. Thanks honey!
Not really a “ton” of tomatoes but I have had a wonderful crop this year. Probably the best crop I have ever had, and in a pretty difficult weather year too. Maybe I have finally figured out what it takes to grow lots of big, beautiful tomatoes!
First, choose the right variety of tomato to plant. Different varieties simply do better in different situations, but takes a few years to figure this one out unfortunately. My all-time favorite tomato variety for mid-Missouri is Supersonic for a slicing/canning tomato and Grape Tomatoes for a salad tomato. Both varieties grow big, sturdy plants with a lot of foliage – which really helps protect the tomatoes from the hot summer sun.
Next, plant early. It’s taken me several years to learn this but the earlier you can plant the tomatoes, the better. Even if it’s cool in the spring, the tomatoes can take advantage of cool weather to develop good roots and sturdy plants. The tomatoes can grow large and bushy and set on nice tomatoes before having to deal with the hot, drier summer weather. If frost threatens, just cover up the tomatoes with a bucket (or flower pot) to protect them!
Fertilize early too! When you plant the tomatoes, use Jobes Tomato Spikes to fertilize them at planting. 2-3 weeks later, give them a good drink of Miracle Gro to start the plants off well.
Treat with a fungicide several times. I like Fungonil the best. It is mixed with water and applied as a spray. Really drench the plants when you apply it. Treat again every 2-3 weeks until tomatoes start to set on – you can even treat later than that but not within a week of ripe tomatoes.
Prune your plants. Tomatoes need air flow from the bottom. Trim off the lower branches – do not let any of the branches touch the ground, because that is often how diseases enter the plant. Don’t let the branches be too thick at the bottom because that can encourage fungus. Snip off any branches that look yellow or wilted.
The gardening bug has definitely bit early this year! The warm weather early on got me in the mood to start the garden even though I know this is too early. As I blogged earlier, I uncovered my strawberries at the end of March and I hope everyone took my tip to leave the straw at the side of the rows to heart – because you would have needed it when we got the frost this week! When I heard the frost prediction, I quickly covered my strawberries with the loose straw and it looks like it has protected them nicely.
So given that, would you believe that I planted my first group of tomato plants last weekend! Normally, you would never catch me planting tomatoes before the first of May but everything just seems so early this year I could not resist.
First, I had to get the garden ready by giving it a good tilling. One investment that every serious gardener needs to make is a good tiller. I recommend a rear tine unit- they are easier to operate and in my opinion, do a much better job of tilling the ground. For later in the season, a mini-cultivator is great to work up between the rows and around plants. Till the soil until it is a nice, fine consistency. I usually go back over it several times for the first tilling in the spring to aerate the soil well. If you did not do it in the fall, scatter a little fertilizer – I prefer 12-12-12 but there are various formulas depending on what your soil needs. Your Local Extension Office can do a soil sample for you to find out exactly what your soil needs.
Then I picked out four nice tomato plants – I will plant more later, but four was all I wanted to experiment with this early. Look for plants that are at least 4-5 inches tall with a sturdy stalk and good green color (not yellowish). For tomatoes, the sturdy stalk is one of the most important things to look for when selecting a plant. Variety? Well that is really just your personal preference and part of the fun to experiment with different varieties.
Tomatoes are tender and don’t survive frost well, so you have to protect early plants at night. The best thing I have ever found to protect my tomato plants is an Orscheln 5-gallon bucket! 5-gallon buckets are pretty handy for a lot of things but they work great to cover up tomato plants –tall and wide enough to not squish the leaves and heavy enough to not be easily blown over in the wind. Looks a little strange but it works! Perfect tomato plant frost protection!
You can read more about rear-tine tillers here.