With warmer weather and longer days on the horizon, the Farm Store at Kellogg Ranch is jumping into the tomato growing season. It offers more than 30 varieties of tomatoes for sale, including some popular heirlooms and hybrids that have been specifically selected to grow in this region.
In early March, Monica Salembier, nursery manager for the plant sciences department in the College of Agriculture, taught a free seminar about growing tomatoes, covering topics such as planting techniques, fertilizing, and dealing with pests and diseases. Salembier, who oversees the growing of about 6,000 tomato plants at AGRIscapes, shared some planting tips with PolyCentric.
What’s the best time to start growing tomatoes?
If you’re using seed, begin them four weeks before you are going to plant them in the ground. Make sure you keep them in a very warm, moist, sunny area. If you’re using transplants, you can plan them anytime after the frost free date, which is usually between March 15 and April 15 in our surrounding area.
Is it better to grow from seeds or plants?
All tomato plants begin as seeds. Seeds take about four weeks longer than using the ready-grown plant. Your choice will depend on how much time you have and how much money you’re willing to spend.
How do you choose a variety?
Most people choose a variety for taste. That’s a personal decision, which changes with time as our taste buds change. Also, think about how you’ll be using tomatoes. Are they for slicing, salads, sauces, salsas or canning?
The location and size of the plant may also guide your decision. Tomatoes need full sun. Do you have a lot of space or a small balcony? Is there a wildlife problem? Will you use a stake, a ready-made trellis or let it sprawl? If you’re using a hanging basket or a pot, maybe a dwarf variety will be best.
Finally, some hybrids are known to be resistant to heat, cracking and disease. If you know you have a reoccurring problem in your garden, choose a variety that is resistant to that problem. Many of the varieties available at the Farm Store were selected because they perform well in this area – they’re heat-resistant, crack-resistant and are less vulnerable to blossom-end rot.
What is an heirloom tomato and how is it different from other tomatoes?
An heirloom tomato is an open pollinated, stable variety that has been around for more than 100 years. They’re prized for their unique, intense flavors, shapes and colors. Some may have a shorter shelf life and may be more susceptible to bruising, diseases, cracking and heat compared with hybrids.
Hybrids are developed from two tomato varieties, resulting in a plant that has improved characteristics — perhaps disease resistance, heat tolerance, longer shelf life, fruit abundance, better size or more uniformity. It’s important to note that these plants are not gene-modified.
How much and what kind of fertilizer should I use?
Tomatoes are moderate feeders. A complete granular moderately low in nitrogen and higher in phosphorus and potassium with minors should work well. The common mistake newbies make is to over fertilize their tomatoes. They do not need as much nitrogen as most people think. If you give it too much nitrogen you’ll get lush green bushes with few fruit. Also, the calcium to magnesium ratio should be 2:1 to 3:1. It’s recommended that you begin by using the lower dose.
What are some common mistakes?
Some of the most common mistakes are using too small of a pot, using too much fertilizer, infrequent or uneven watering, not giving enough sun and growing the plants during the winter.
I live in a condo, and I don’t have a backyard. Can I grow tomatoes in a container?
Container growing is fantastic. Many products out there will help you succeed, such as ready-to-go planter boxes, hanging planters and large pots. Some varieties are better suited for container growing, such as Tumbling Tom, Totem, Patio and Husky Red.
For more information about the Farm Store, nursery specials and upcoming events, visit www.cpp.edu/farmstore.