Laurel's Tomato Growing Tips &

Favorite Garden Products

 

      This information offers some sound basic techniques which I've learned from my years of gardening experience since 1954, at the age of 4, when I planted some pumpkin seeds in my Grandma's birdbath. They sprouted; I was thrilled. There are many excellent gardening books and websites available to help you with your garden. Stay organic if you can; feed the soil, take care of the pollinators. You will be a doing fine thing for our environment, you'll have a fabulous garden, and the Earth will be happier. 

How Much Sunlight?    

      Your tomato plants require a minimum of 6 to 7 hours of direct sunlight for proper growth. More direct sunlight; healthier plants; 10 hours is optimum. 12 is awesome. They also need rich deep fluffy well-nourished soil for garden health, and for the best possible flavor in your homegrown tomatoes.

         Preparing Your Soil

     To begin, let me stress the fact that the finest tasting tomatoes come from plants grown in  rich, healthy well-amended soil.  The taste of a tomato, (or any crop) grown in poor soil can be flat and bland compared to the big grand tomatoey taste of the same variety grown right next door in well-tended soil, teeming with biological activity. Organic soil amendments are the key. Add compost every year. If you don't have a compost pile going, use bagged, purchased compost from the garden store. Better yet, start a compost pile. Many fine books and articles are available online and at libraries to help you learn how to make and use your own compost. It's easy and fun and the best gift you can give your garden.

     IMPORTANT NOTE: Please be very cautious when buying soil by the cubic yard. Some of these companies are less than honest and mix everything they can scoop up and buy from farms who want their debris hauled away, or feedlots or shredded wood from tree-trimming companies, mix it all together and call it 'organic composted soil for vegetable gardens' which it is NOT. With so many folks starting gardens these days, a lot of unscrupulous characters are getting into the 'organic garden soil' business. They do not care about your garden. They are not your friends. They will tell you whatever you want to hear -- you will have no idea of the origin of this stuff.

     And it is cheap for a reason! In many cases it has fresh un-composted cow or horse or other manure with a lot of urine and un-composted pine shavings which will ruin your plants. Be sure to get a sample of the exact soil you want to buy before you lay out a penny. It should be rich and dark and humusy without chunks of wood or strong odor or pieces of metal or paper in it. When it arrives on the truck, please insist on inspecting the soil before you let them dump it. If they won't let you inspect the load, send them packing. If they dump it, you have to pay for it.

     If it smells bad, do not buy it! It should smell sweet and earthy, not like a cow farm or urine soaked feedlot. If it has a lot of wood pieces, twigs, etc, do not buy it. The nitrogen in the soil will spend all of its energy trying to digest, or decompose the wood pieces, leaving your plants without proper nutrition.  I cannot tell you how many customers have called and told me about the soil they bought by the truckload with devastating results in the garden.

     Okay. Whew....

     Dig and loosen your soil deeply, as deep as you can, at least 15" to 18", more if possible. Remove rocks and other garden debris. Be sure your soil has plenty of natural organic amendments like planting mix, compost, etc., so it  is loose, rich, healthy and fluffy. Think FLUFFY.  Below is a photograph of my garden beds, using Tomato Plant Protectors to extend the season 4 weeks by planting in early to mid March. You can get them here, 3 for $12.95.

     We use handy horse manure well-composted and applied at about 2" twice a year along with about a half inch of chicken manure. The beds are deeply dug, fluffy, and amended 20 inches deep, then built up 14 additional inches into raised beds. (Note cute 2½  ft. grandchild for photo scale.) I use 2" x 6" planks between the beds for pathways--very narrow pathways-- we don't let giant persons walk these planks! We water by flooding these pathways for a couple of hours once a month.

              

      Please use natural soil amendments and fertilizers. The key to a healthy happy garden is to feed the soil which feeds the plants. Add a little bit of horse, cow, rabbit or chicken manure, also according to package directions, and a soil amendment like planting mix or planting compost from a reputable nursery.

     This is not the time to try to save money. Find good quality organic bagged planting mix or planting compost which shows you its ingredients and origin on the bag. Avoid the artificial chemically enhanced soil amendments like Miracle-Gro planting mix or potting soil, as they are too strong for tomato plants causing the flavor to be ruined and they don’t nourish the soil. 

     Your tomato bed can be tilled mechanically, or dug by hand. Raised beds should be built up as high as soil volume will allow. I build my beds at least 12” high above the soil line. Combined with the loosened and amended soil 16” below, that’s a fine fluffy 28" deep bed for tomato plants. Very heavy soils and clay can require a tiller and/or a really strong, helpful, digging-type person with a lot of time and energy, who likes you a LOT and to whom you offer free garden bounty forever.

     You can use lumber or concrete blocks or even bales of straw to frame your raised beds. Bales can be formed into a frame any size or shape you want, then filled in with organic top soil, planting mix, coco peat, compost and fertilizer. You can make them as high as you like. Easy access, nice place to sit, very fluffy beds, and the straw eventually breaks down and feeds the soil.

     (Do not use chemically treated wood in your vegetable garden; it leaches unwelcome chemicals into the soil and into your skin. Be sure to ask what the wood is treated with before you buy it.)

     Space your beds so you can plant your seedlings about 30-36" apart in rows at least 42-48" apart. More space, better air-flow and root growth: better plants.

     Avoid walking on the soil, and don’t let anyone else walk on it or step on it, as this will compact it, and the roots will not be free to grow healthy and strong. (Fluffy…) Hint: In my experience, if someone walks onto your garden bed, do not go berserk. Remain calm and ease them off gently--as scaring them will cause much running and hopping in the garden bed--just what we are trying to avoid.

     Water the beds really well until the entire soil volume is moist, and, if you have time, let the soil relax undisturbed for 3-4 days to a week to let the natural microbial systems begin their amazing activity and enrichment of the soil. Got worms? Yay. When you see earthworms, your soil is happy.

    Now we kick back, relax and wait until night temperatures are reliably above 50º for about 2 weeks to give the soil a chance to warm up. You can measure soil temperature with a soil thermometer or digital meat thermometer.

   

Grandma Oliver's Green

 

 

  

 

  Before Planting Out

  Please wait until night temperatures are reliably above 50º for a couple of weeks.  It takes that long for the soil to warm up. The soil must be warm when you plant! Tomatoes are a hot weather crop, not a sort-of-starting-to-warm-up-weather crop. So kick back and wait...seriously.

      Soil is warm? Okay, almost ready to plant. Dig your nice deep planting hole a foot deep and a foot wide, and place a small handful, about 4 tablespoons, of a good organic granular plant food into that cubic foot of soil, (use package directions) mix it all around to distribute it evenly with the soil in the planting hole. The natural fertilizer will not burn your seedling’s roots the way the artificial fertilizers can. I use EB Stone Tomato & Vegetable Fertilizer.

     If your plants have buds or blossoms on them when they arrive, and you have a long growing season, snip or pinch off any buds and blossoms. Leaving flowers on the plants at this early stage can take some of the growing power away from the root system. Remove buds and flowers for about 7-10 days after planting out.  (Skip this step if you have a very short growing season.)  If you leave flowers on the plant now, you may get a weaker plant and a smaller harvest during the season. It may seem like leaving the blossoms on now will give you earlier and more fruit. You will get early fruits, but the plant may not be as strong or healthy, and may not produce as many tomatoes for you unless you pinch off those blossoms for a week or two. 

     Remove some bottom foliage, about half of it, pinching or snipping off the lower foliage -- it should look like a palm tree-- you will be placing the plant deeply into the ground so that only this top foliage is above the soil line and the stem from which you removed foliage will be buried. Those little hairs along the length of that buried stem will become nice strong feeder roots will grow all along the length of that buried stem, giving you a much healthier plant and a far more abundant harvest. 

     Plant your seedlings at least 30” apart in rows at least 48” apart. This way they will get plenty of air flow and ample room to grow a bountiful crop for you. Crowding your plants will encourage foliage disease. Set your plant very deeply into the moist, deeply loosened, and well amended (fluffy) soil, until only that top foliage is above the soil line. Please be careful not to put your plants into dry soil; it will scratch and damage their little roots. Replace the soil around the plant, and firm it gently into the ground so the roots make full contact with the soil, and the soil remains fluffy. Water the plant in, until the soil is completely moistened. Try not to let the foliage get wet.

Black       

          Mulching

      Mulching is importatn, inexpensive and easy. Lay down a loose layer, 4"- 5", of straw, hay, dried leaves or dried pine needles over the soil beneath your plants.  The mulch will keep the soil moist, the soil temperature even, and prevent splash-up when you water, thus keeping the foliage dry and controlling fungal disease. Be sure to stir the mulch around once a week or so to prevent fungus growth in moist tightly-packed mulch. In very hot climates, use 6" - 7" of mulch. Cover the entire bed, leaving a clear 1" - 2" diameter area at the base of the main stem to keep the stem dry. Your mulch will also break down over the season and nourish your soil.

         Texas Star     Plant Feeding

           You will feed your plants the day you plant, and again when they start to set flowers.

    Then, just give them a light feeding of Great Big Tomatoes, liquid fish and kelp, (follow package directions) and another dose of organic EB Stone Tomato & Vegetable Food scattered at the base of the plant every 3 weeks, about 2 tablespoons scratched into the soil surface and watered in gradually when you water. 

     Foliar feeding is highly recommended for tomato plants, really easy and fun. Great Big Tomatoes Liquid Compost or EB Stone Kelp and Fish Emulsion Liquid, in a half-strength ratio can be sprayed directly onto the foliage in morning or evening every two weeks, but not during mid-day sun when the heat prompts the leaves to close their pores.

     After that, your tomato plants will need a foliar spray or soil drenching every 3 weeks with a Great Big Tomatoes, kelp-fish emulsion liquid, also per bottle directions. We have both products available. See below.

     I use Great Big Tomatoes and EB Stone Kelp and Fish Emulsion Liquid liquid kelp/fish emulsion combination. Remember that excess feeding will cause excess foliage growth and very few tomatoes as it stresses the plant and can cause disease. Important: feeding with ‘the blue stuff’ will cause excessive foliage growth and no fruit set and does nothing to nourish the soil. Try to  use something natural. I believe the only thing blue in your garden ought to be your jeans.


    Plant Nutrition and Disease Control

 

    Here are our 2 Plant Nutrition Kits.

All items can also be purchased separately.

 

 

 

Plant Nutrition Kit C-5, The Ultimate Kit, $82.50

Everything you need for a spectacular tomato garden!

 

4 lb. box EB Stone Tomato & Vegetable Food

16 oz. Neptune's Harvest Fish and Seaweed Liquid Concentrate

32 oz. Great Big Tomatoes Liquid Compost & Fertilizer Booster

16 oz. Neem Concentrate

Rapitest Deluxe Moisture Meter

 

Sold separately, $85.75.  You save $3.25. Available early spring

 

 

 

Plant Nutrition Kit A, $52.95

 

4 lb box EB Stone Tomato & Vegetable Food

16 oz. Neptune's Harvest Fish and Seaweed Liquid Concentrate

16 oz. Neem Oil Concentrate

Rapitest Deluxe Moisture Meter

 

Sold separately, $59.80. You save $6.85. Available early spring

 

 

 

 

 EB Stone

Tomato & Vegetable Food

CONTAINS: Dried Poultry Waste, Bone Meal, Blood Meal, Feather Meal, Soybean Meal, Cottonseed Meal, Calcium Rock Phosphate, Sulfate of Potash, Kelp Meal, Humic Acids and soil microbes including beneficial Mychorrhizal Fungi.

 

 

4-5-3

This organic formula is one of my favorites for tomato plants, chile plants, eggplant, squash, beans, and all other garden vegetables and fruits. 

4 lb. box, enough to feed 24 plants. $12.95

To order, include it with your plant list.

 

 

  

                                    Neptune's Harvest 

Kelp & Fish Liquid Concentrate

                                                                                                         Neptunes Harvest Blend     

      Neptune's Harvest Liquid Seaweed (Kelp) and Fish Concentrate. 

      Mix 2 Tbsp. to a gallon. Feed every 2 weeks during main growing season and once a month thereafter.

     16 oz. bottle, $13.95

   

     To order, include with your plant list. 

 

     

 New for 2013!

Great Big Tomatoes

         

       

                     

   

       Introducing Great Big Tomatoes!

  

       Now in Gallon Size, too.

 

       Helps suppress disease and reinvigorate tired soil.

For use in addition to your regular fertilizer. A safe, 100% organic addition to your basic fertilizers, compost or manure in your garden. Boosts the power of your fertilizers!

Can be used as a soil drench and a foliar spray.

 

Using Great Big Tomatoes Natural Compost Extract for your heirlooms will help maximize plant and fruit growth in your garden or container soil.

 

The formulation for tomatoes includes beneficial microbes, humic acid, kelp and minor nutrients plus a large dose of specially fermented biotic solution to boost microbial population and help suppress disease.

 

Renews and invigorates tired old garden beds or soil that has had disease problems.

 

Great Big Tomatoes is specifically formulated for tomato vigor and suited for soil that's had disease problems or poor old tired soil that needs a boost.

 

We recommend one quart of Great Big Tomatoes to feed 6 to 8 tomato plants all season. Our Gallon Size is an excellent and economical choice.

We have been using Great Big Tomatoes on our nursery seedlings and the tomato plants in our home garden this fall and winter, along with Neptune's Harvest Liquid and EB Stone Tomato and Vegetable Food and are thrilled with the results. Stronger stems, hearty, robust foliage and increased yield have convinced us that Great Big Tomatoes is the answer to maximum growth with minimum effort. One quart makes 8 Great Big Gallons of easy to use Enriched Liquid Compost. To order, include with your plant list.  Use on your entire garden!  Lawn, trees, garden beds, shrubs, flowers, everything!

                               

32 oz. Bottle Makes 8 Gallons, $19.95

Now available in One Gallon bottles, $54.95, you save $24.85

A favorite among gardeners, tomatoes are a joy to grow. But growing tomatoes doesn’t always come easy. With a lot of love and a little help from Great Big Tomatoes you can help nurture your plants to grow hearty tomatoes that not only taste great, but look great, too.

Great Big Tomatoes is all organic, environmentally safe and something you can feel good about using.

Follow the simple steps below, and it won’t be long before you start reaping the following benefits:

  • Increased fruit set and harvest
  • Better color, better flavor, and bigger size
  • Improved foliage health
  • Longer shelf life
  • Less insect infestations and disease
  • More nutritious fruit

Growing impressive tomatoes is as easy as watering.

  • Add 4 Ounces of Great Big Tomatoes to a gallon of water.
  • Use every 2 weeks during the main growing season, once a month thereafter. Use in addition to your regular fertilizer.

 

Growing In Containers? Try our Smart Pots, now in 3 sizes and 2 colors!

Now in 2 Colors !

     

                     

On the left, an Amy's Sugar Gem seedling getting started in a 20 gallon Smart Pot, 20" across and 20" deep, just add a tomato cage for support. Center, a 100 gallon pot with 3 very happy plants. On the right, our new tan Smart Pots.

We also offer the 25 gallon Smart Pot, great for large tomato plants and 30 gallon size, best for the largest plants which can grow to more than 7 feet tall and 4 feet wide. Yes, true!

Tomato Plants need a lot of root space and a large soil volume to grow successfully in containers.

Below, cherry tomatoes, zucchini and peppers having a great time growing in their Smart Pots.

 

        

The patented Smart Pot is for the gardener who wants a container that will grow the best possible plant. It is a new and unique advancement in container technology that is better than any other method of container gardening.

These wonderful pots last for many seasons. Some of mine have been in use for 5 years.

The patented Smart Pot is a soft-sided, heavy fabric container that has the strength and rigidity to hold its shape and can even support large trees. In fact, the Smart Pot was originally developed for and has been used by commercial tree growers for more than twenty years.

Customers who bought these pots at our plant sales this spring and summer were thrilled with the results, finding the plants in Smart Pots have much greener, heartier and stronger foliage.

Many gardeners use the Smart Pot to give themselves a “portable plant”. This is especially true when used for plants that might struggle in either the cold winter or hot summer in your area. You can pick up the pot and put it anywhere you want! At the end of the season, dump out the soil, shake the container clean and put it away for next season! With normal use they should last 4 to 5 years. (Don't back your truck over one...)

The Smart Pot is an aeration container and  keeps soil cooler in high heat.

It has a unique ability to air-prune and enhance a plant’s root structure. A highly branched, fibrous root structure is the key to growing the best possible tomato plant – with more flowers and fruits, and more resistance to insects and diseases. In any container garden, the container you use makes a difference.

Try the Smart Pot for your Smart Tomato Garden. Your plants will thank you. Their root structures will thank you.

Aeration is the Key. Happy Container Gardening!

Each reusable 20 gallon Smart Pot, only $13.95. 

25 gallon size, $14.95

30 gallon size, $15.95

To order, include with your plant order.

 

 

Early Start

Tomato Plant Protectors

              

     A mini greenhouse for each plant! With these 18" tall water-filled insulating teepees you can plant several weeks earlier than normal and get an early harvest! The water in the tubes absorbs solar heat during the day and releases heat steadily during the night keeping your plants and the soil warm and cozy.

     Great for tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers and any other plants which need protection from the cold.

     When the weather warms up, remove them, dump out the water, hang them upside down to dry -- ready for next season!

                     $4.50 each.

                     3 for $13.95. To order, include with your plant list.

 

         

Insects Buggin' You?

 

                            

      Above:  Aphids, Whitefly & Mite Damaged Plants  :(

 

      If an insect problem is getting out of hand, I use a little Neem oil, (available here) or insecticidal soap spray, from the garden store or nursery, for mild insect problems like aphids, whitefly and mites.

     Spider mites and whiteflies can do a lot of damage quickly if you don't stop them at first sign of infestation. Neem works great. You must spray for them every 4 days until they are gone. Be sure the spray saturates the undersides of the leaves where the mites are living. This schedule takes into account their lifecycles and will stop new hatchings.

     Please follow label directions and be sure to spray after the happy, friendly bees and other pollinators finish their rounds in the morning and evening. For caterpillars use BT (available here), also called Caterpillar or Worm Killer. Only have a few caterpillars?  Pick them off, give them a good talking-to then feed them to the chickens or send them to school with some adventuresome children for show-and-tell. The teachers will love you.  :)

     If you have just a few aphids or whiteflies on your plants, knock them off daily with a sharp spray of water.  Try to do this when the sun is shining so your plants will dry quickly to avoid fungal diseases.

 

.             Neem Oil Concentrate

 

16 oz. bottle. Mix 2 Tbsp. in a gallon of water.  

To order, include with your plant list. $19.95.

Organic Neem Oil Concentrate, 16 oz. Mix 2 Tbsp. per gallon of water. One bottle  should last 2 seasons in the average size garden. 

3 in 1 product; insecticide, fungicide and miticide.

Controls fungal diseases like powdery mildew along with rust, anthracnose, leaf spot, blight and other diseases.

 

 

Kills aphids, whiteflies, spider mites, scale and many other insect pests. 

Completely organic, made from true Neem oil - extract of the Neem seed.

 
 
Caterpillar Control

 
 
tomato-hornworm8 oz. bottle. Mix one Tbsp. in a gallon of water.  

To order, include with your plant list. $15.95

Did you know a single caterpillar can completely denude a tomato plant overnight? 

The moth hovers and flits around your plants, touching down here and there depositing eggs on the leaves. The caterpillar starts out the size of a tiny green thread. A week or 2 later, they're the size of a Buick, munching away on your plants.

This biological insecticide for control of leaf chewing worms and caterpillars is effective on vegetables, fruits, shade trees and ornamentals.

If hand picking is not an option or caterpillars have gotten out of control and are damaging foliage or fruit, Organic Bt is the answer.

It paralyzes the digestive system of caterpillars--chewing damage stops within 4 to 5 hours.

Can be applied up to the day of harvest.

Selective - will not harm bees and other beneficial insects.

Contains Bacillus Thuringiensis.

Micro-encapsulated formula provides time release insect pest control.
Contains 12% Bacillus Thuringiensis.

8 oz. bottle. $14.95. Mix one Tbsp. in a gallon of water.  

 
 
 

 

Rapitest Moisture Meter. 

Too much water?  Not enough? Help control your watering challenges!

$14.95. To order, include with your plant list.

 

    

 

Watering

      The foremost mistake tomato gardeners can make is over-watering. Be very careful not to over-water your tomato plants. Along with over-feeding, this will stress the plants and is one of the major causes of blossom end rot, yellowing leaves, root rot, foliage drop-off, blossom drop, broken hearts and crying in the garden. Does the top of the soil look dry? Does it look like it 'needs a drink'? That's okay, it's supposed to look like that--just don't water until the soil is getting dry down at the root area.

     On average, tomato plants need about one inch to an inch and a half of water per week. In very dry climates, perhaps 2". In clay soil, water every 2 weeks.

     Test your soil for moisture before you water by carefully checking the soil around your plant 8 to 10 inches or more below the surface, down at the root zone. If it is moist, do not water. The soil should be damp, like a squeezed out sponge. Buy yourself a moisture meter, a great investment, at about  $15.00  to $20.00 from the garden store, and use it before you decide to water. Tomato plants thrive with even, moderate watering. The soil should be just moist, not wet. Never wet. Trust your moisture meter. Push it way down into the soil, as far as it will go.  If the soil is moist down at the root level, (where you planted the root ball), the plant will be very happy. 

    Get yourself a moisture meter, it's a great investment and will rescue you from watering quandaries.  We have them, $14.95.

     Do your best to keep the foliage dry when you water your plants. Wet leaves invite disease, especially the fungus diseases. Keep the leaves as dry as possible by watering way down at the soil line, by not watering overhead or sprinkling, and by using a nice thick 4-5 inch layer of mulch, like dried leaves, straw, hay, etc, at the base of the plants to prevent back-splash and retain soil moisture.

   Plant Support  

           These plants get big, from 5 to 12 or 15 feet tall and more. True story. That's why they're called tomato vines. They need serious support. Some gardeners let them sprawl on the ground, but I find  letting them lie on the ground can invite disease, and decreases my yields due to insect damage, and I tend to trip or fall over the sprawling plants and step on tomatoes whilst harvesting in bare feet. Ack.

     If you use tomato cages, get the tallest, strongest ones you can find. For smaller cages, you must stake each cage at the inside edges, with two 5 or 6 foot, 1” or 2” inch wide stakes, (if 1”, use two or three 3 stakes), wood or metal, pounded at least 8 to 10 inches into the ground.

     My favorite method is called the basket weave. I use 8 ft. tall, 2" redwood or cedar stakes pounded 14" to 16" deep into the ground every 6 to 7 feet along the centerline of each row.  I plant 3 plants, evenly spaced between the rows, in rows 4-5 feet apart.

     Please be sure you do not use chemically treated wood in your vegetable garden, it leaches into the soil and through your skin.

     As the plants start to get taller, I string twine or heavy string horizontally along the row, about every 10-12 inches apart up the stake, starting about 15 inches from the ground.  The twine is strung tightly from stake to stake as I walk down the row looping it around each stake for a good hold, horizontally all the way down the row, along one side, and then down the other side of the row of plants, with the plants between the horizontal strings. This supports the heavy tomato plants on each side as they get taller.  Then I gently tie each plant’s stem to the horizontal twine at two or three levels as the plants get taller. The twine trellising lines continue up the stakes 5 or 6 ft. (See photo below with yellow twine horizontally tied from stake to stake.)

      

         You can also buy strong pre-made net trellising, attach it to the stakes and secure your plants to it.  Be sure it is 6 feet high, which may require two levels of netting.

     Many growers use 5 foot high concrete reinforcing mesh with 6” weave, attached with u-nails to the stakes all along the length of the rows.  It is available in rolls at home improvement stores. 

     Many gardeners also use this rolled wire fencing to make tomato cages about 30” in diameter. Unroll the length you need, cut it with wire snips, leaving prong edges long enough to bend around the other edge of the section you cut, and make your own sturdy tomato cages. It may require a helper to wrangle the roll as you cut it so it won't spring back and get you. These cages will last for many seasons.

     Another way to support your plants is staking. You plants will get heavy when laden with fruit, so use a strong 6 foot or 8 foot tall, 2 inch wide stake for each plant, pounded 16-20 inches into the ground just before planting. Tie the plant’s main stem to the stake every 12 inches as the plant grows. You may need to guy or attach the stakes to ground supports or other sturdy structures like telephone poles or walls. You may want to prune the plant suckers to keep them at a manageable size when using stakes.  Be sure to leave a full canopy of foliage to protect the fruits skin from sunburn, AKA sunscald.

    You can also simply let your plants sprawl on the ground--their natural habit.  Many gardeners use this 'technique' with great success.

     The best tomato supports on the market and my absolute favorite:

    TomatOH! Holders. They are awesome. Go here:  www.tomatohelpers.com 

 

Growing In Containers

21" wide, 21" deep  25 gallon Smart Pot with Amy's Sugar Gem tomato seedling.

                                                                       You Will Need:     

One very large pot for each plant; at least 18” across and 18” deep; bigger is better, 18-50 gallon capacity. 25 gallon pots are perfect. 30 gallon pots, even better.  You can see photographs of the Smart Pot above.

(Tomato plants have vast root systems and will produce far better yields with ample container space. Bigger pots, better plants)

Enough potting soil to fill each container to within 1" of the top.

For a 25 gallon container, this would be about 2 or 3 standard 1.5 cubic ft. bags of potting soil.

Granulated natural organic fertilizer for vegetables like our favorite E B Stone Tomato & Vegetable Food and a liquid fertilizer for foliar spray feeding. I use Great Big Plants Liquid Compost and Neptune's Harvest. Great stuff!

1 or 2  1" wooden stakes for each pot, 1" by 5 ft'.

Tomato cages, the stronger the better, to fit into the containers.

A moisture meter.

Organic insect and disease controls.

Mulch, like composted grass clippings, straw or hay or dry leaves.

There are many products on the market for insect problems and all gardens and greenhouses will have an occasional infestation. Please use products which are Earth friendly. Keep in mind a healthy fertile soil is the key to great tasting tomatoes and combating insect infestations and plant diseases.

     Any tomato plant will grow well in a pot, if it is tended properly and the pot is large. Start with the largest pot you can find, a minimum of 18" across the top and 18" deep. We use the 25 to 30 gallon Smart Pots. Whiskey barrels are available at garden stores, some folks use big trash barrels or deep heavy plastic tubs with 6 or 8 ½" holes drilled in the bottom for drainage, try stacked up tires, truck or tractor tires if you can find them, stacked bales of straw as a frame, stacked up concrete blocks, Grandpa’s old truck bed…etc.

Some of the smaller plants we offer can be grown in 10 or 15 gallon containers with great success. I have found that the huge tomatoes do not produce as many fruits in containers as do small to medium sized fruits.

     Use good potting soil, not garden dirt or top soil. Never put garden dirt into your containers. It's cheaper but will transmit soil borne diseases within the confined space of your containers. Please avoid Miracle-Gro type soil or Miracle-Gro type fertilizers; tomatoes do not like the 'blue stuff'. It causes them a lot of stress and ruins their flavor due to too much nitrogen. You can re-use soil from last season if it is solarized by spreading it on a tarp on a warm driveway or patio for a week and turning it over several times so the sun can hit all the soil. You can use 50% of this soil along with 50% new potting soil along with a full dose of fertilizer. For the 3rd season, buy fresh soil.

     I use organic potting soil, like Black Gold, Whitney Farms, Dr. Earth or EB Stone. So: potting soil, a granular fertilizer mixed in well; a great start for container tomatoes. Be sure it is a good quality potting soil without too much nitrogen fertilizer added.

     While you're at the nursery, buy yourself a good quality Moisture Meter, about $15.00-$20.00. It is an essential tool. We have them available for $14.95.(The cheap $6.00 ones are just that.)

     You'll need a tomato cage for each pot. (Only one tomato plant per pot.)

     Place the containers in full sun, where they will get a minimum 6-7 hours of direct sunlight per day more sunlight; even better. 10 hours is optimum.

     Fill the pot or barrel with your soil mix and moisten it thoroughly. You can add a 20% volume of perlite to save a bit on potting soil. Be sure it drains well out of the bottom. Do not add stones or chards of pottery for drainage or anything to the bottom of the pots as that will damage the root system. Soil only, in the pot. If you use plastic tubs, be sure they have good drainage holes in the bottom. Drill them yourself into plastic tubs.  I drill ½ " holes, evenly spaced, about 6 or 8 of them. Do not set a water-catching tray beneath the pot; this will drown the roots and your plants will die.

     Dig your planting hole about 8" to 10” deep, depending on the height of the seedling, right in the center of the soil, just so, and place about 4 TBSP of the granulated organic vegetable fertilizer in the hole and mix it around really well in the center of the soil, to a width and depth of about 10" until it blends with the soil. (Refer to label directions for the proper amount.) The natural fertilizers won't burn the roots of your seedlings and will continue to release gradually throughout the season.

     Get ready to plant.  Remove the bottom 1/2 to 2/3 of the branches and leaves from each plant, just snip them off  New roots will grow all along that stem and make the plant healthier with more fruit, better fruit. Remove any blossoms for 10-14 days if you have time in your season; the plant’s strength should go to the root system now. After that, let the blossoms grow. (If your season is extremely short, leave the blossoms on).

     Be sure the seedling’s root ball is moist. I always dip the root ball into some diluted Great Big Plants Liquid Compost for early boost of growing energy. They love it! Plant it deeply, burying the stem so that only the remaining top foliage is above the soil line. Gather the soil around the stem and press the plant in firmly but very gently, just enough to get adequate soil-root contact without compacting the soil. Fluffy.

     Water it in well, making sure the foliage stays dry; wet foliage is the major cause of fungal diseases. The only time its okay to get the foliage damp is when you feed by foliar spraying or spray off aphids or whiteflies with a sharp shot of water in the daytime so the sun will dry your plants quickly.

     Place the tomato cage into the pot, over the plant, pushing the tines down as deep as possible, watch out for the seedling! Now push your 5 ft. stakes down into the pot right at the inside edges of the cages, opposite each other, to anchor the cage. Most of these plants will get big. Seriously. Tie the stakes to the cage with twine or strips of cloth.

     Spread a 2-3 inch layer of mulch over the soil; this will conserve moisture, and help keep water from splashing onto the foliage; the major cause of fungal diseases. 

     Once every week, before watering, brush back the mulch, scatter about 2 tablespoons of organic granular fertilizer evenly onto the soil, one tablespoon for containers smaller then 18 gallons, scratch it in and water it in. Replace the mulch.     

       Every 3 weeks, feed with the Neptune's Harvest and Great Big Plants according to package directions.

      The majority of tomato plant problems are caused by over-watering so don't not let the soil stay soggy, it will suffocate    the roots. Let it start to dry out before you water.

 Okay, folks, here's where your moisture meter comes in!  BEFORE you water, check moisture level (down deep)  with your meter. If it says moist or wet, do not water or the blossoms will drop off. Too much water can damage or kill your plant. The foliage will turn yellow, and curl up and drop off.  Water when it reads 3-4 or just into the 'moist' zone.

Resist the temptation to water just because the surface looks dry. Check with your meter. However, if you live in a very hot zone where temperatures reach into the 90's+ for an extended period, be sure to check moisture every 2 days or so, as the sun can dry up the soil right through the sides of the pot, especially in terra cotta, metal, or uncoated ceramic. With Smart Pots, the heat is not a problem--they keep the soil aerated and cool.

When your plants start setting blossoms the lowest foliage will begin turn yellow and may drop off; this is good. It means the fruit is getting ready to form.

 

 

Plant Diseases

    

     Tomato plants foliage diseases can be controlled but not completely eliminated.  It helps to remember that tomato plants are not meant to be ornamental, but to produce beautiful fruit for you, and that foliage disease is present in everyone's tomato patch, no matter who or where.  Some diseases lie dormant in the soil and certain weather patterns can trigger an outbreak.

     My favorite way to help control foliage disease or insect problems is to spray preventively with Neem oil. Great stuff. I love it. Follow package directions! It eliminates aphids, whitefly and mites and helps prevent fungal disease like mildew and early blight by setting up a substantial physical barrier. I use it regularly with great success. Organic, safe, effective.

     Serenade and Oxi-Date are my favorite organic sprays for disease control. They are available online.

     To discourage foliage disease, don't splash water on your tomato plants, keep your garden clean and eliminate perimeter weeds where disease spores can over-winter. After the season, pull and discard your plants in the trash--do not compost tomato plants--they harbor disease spores.

 

Pruning

 

     I sincerely believe that the more foliage you have, the more plant photosynthesis, respiration and transpiration you have, thus more tomato growing power, so I don’t prune. However, if you want to prune, go ahead.  If you need to increase airflow to your plants to help reduce foliage disease, then moderate pruning of the 10" or so at the bottom of the plant at soil level is a good idea.

 

 

NEW! Laurel's Favorite Olive Oil

 

California Gold Olive Oil Presents:

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Golden, mellow, smooth and buttery with a tiny touch of grass, this superb quality, award winning Extra Virgin Olive Oil was created for Laurel by her friend and fellow heirloom tomato fan, Kevin Tazelaar, Founder of California Gold Olive Oil Co. in Oakdale,  California.

Kevin presented some of his oil blends for Laurel to try in a blind taste test. She chose a favorite; Kevin bottled it and named it Laurel's Blend.

We are very exited to present it this season to go along with your heirloom tomato harvest.  A welcome and delicious holiday gift!

Each 8 ounce bottle is $12.95. To order, please include with your plant order.

 

 

Want to make you favorite gardener really happy?

For Gift Certificates, click here: Gift Certificates

 

 

  If you have any questions about your plants, or need more information, I am here to help; please don't hesitate to email or call me.

Laurel Garza tomatoplants@pacbell.net   310-534-8611

 

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“You need more tomatoes.”  ~ Laurel

 

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