Thursday, May 26, 2011

Gardening Tips #5 - Tomatoes part 1

Tomatoes will likely take up a few of my "tips" blogs.  There's a couple of reasons for that.  The first is that, despite what I saw someone write online (she said it was easy to start them from seed indoors - it'd doable, but not easy), tomatoes are tricky.  Especially in the north.  It might be easy to grow them in, say, Florida, but in Central Alberta, where it doesn't get hot and our growing season is short, they are darned tricky.  The second is that I've taken on the challenge and grown far too many tomato plants for the past few years.  And I've had problems every year - so I can pass along quite a few tips about them.

It's a little late to be giving you tips about starting tomatoes from seed, so here I'll just talk generally about tomato care.

I started off buying small tomato plants and growing them in large, round planters on my apartment balcony about 13 years ago.  Growing tomatoes in planters is a great way to have enough for salads and sandwiches.  Just remember that it takes several months to grow from seed to fruiting, so buy plants that are reasonably mature, or you'll only get a few tomatoes at the end of August.  If you can, find ones that are blooming or near blooming and plant them indoors in May - then move them out during the day until the last frost is over and you can leave them outside. 

Tomatoes like lots of sun and heat.  A south-facing balcony is great - or a south bed with lots of sun.  If you don't get much sun, I would suggest trying plants that are a little less Mediterannean.  Some people even plant tomatoes within the ring of an old tire, or lay black fabric on the ground to help warm up the roots.  I've never done either, but I'm sure the plants would love it.

Tomatoes also need lots of water.  When I grew them in planters, each plant would get a good 2L of water every day.  But better to just water ground level and not the leaves - water born pathogens like blight will stick to the leaves and grow better if they are wet.

And tomatoes like fertilizer.  I'm no expert, and before I cared about organic food, I used to use Miracle Grow for tomatoes.  It worked wonders.  Now I put organic Miracle Grow (basically fish fertilizer) in the ground when I plant my seedlings.  There are signs to look for that will tell you your plants are lacking in nutrients - I'll talk about those in my next blog.

There's lots more to tell about tomatoes - but for now, I'll leave it here.

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