Friday, April 6, 2012
FARM GIRL'S CORNER - Talkin' tomatoes
Howdy I'm Farm Girls Aunt Agnes from Texas! Farm Girl is in Minnesota for a little while doin' research on Vikings so I thought I'd stop by and help Uncle Mac while she's gone. Farm girl is always helping Mac all over the place and I figured, heck, I can help that old fool t'il he's bow-legged but he doesn't seem interested. "Guzzle all the beer you want, don't touch my whiskey, don't frighten the animals and stay out of my way." is what he said, a bit rudely it seemed to me. Well his loss...
Farm Girl intended to talk about termaters and she left what she had to say writ down, so I'll let 'er git to it, as it were.
Tomatoes are the prime bragging crop in most home vegetable gardens and that's true here at the Shed as well. While its pretty easy to grow tomatoes generally, it can be a little more complicated to grow a really large crop of juicy tomatoes with at least a few "take me to the Fair" giants among them.
A good deal of the important work can be done during fall clean up, leaving you with less to do in spring.
Tomatoes love to send their roots deep and wide and its to the gardeners advantage to help them do so. One way is to decide which beds will be holding tomatoes the following season and actually dig them out, more than a shovel's length, perhaps two feet deep or more if you have the inclination, (or perhaps a couple of teen aged sons who want something from you).
Take the opportunity to replace the boards to the raised bed if they are deteriorating, perhaps with two by ten lumber this time instead of two by six, or better still with the semi logs you split yourself which can be any size you wish. (to find out how easy this actually is, look HERE.)
Then fill the bed back up with a mix of organics and the soil which you removed. Whats good? any left over compost you have should be tossed in. Mac likes to take oak leaves and straw, lay it on top of a patch of lawn grass he let get tall, and then mow the mass slowly, collecting the chopped mix in a catch bag, then laying it out and chopping it again.
This gets mixed in with the returning soil and places potential tomato nutrients with the reach of the worms and microbes who will act upon converting them into a form that tomato plants can best utilize. Mac also likes to sprinkle in some green sand, crushed eggshell and bone meal, but generally avoids boosting nitrogen as the grass and compost will already be providing that, and he will be adding more compost in spring.
Once the bed has been refilled it should appear to be over filled, and that is fine, it will settle over the winter months.
In spring, all we do is add in a bit more compost, sifted, and turn it into the soil - only one spades depth this time. Keep turning the soil ever few days while the weather warms, this suppresses weeds and also exposes all kinds of grubs to the birds, who will happily gobble them up.
We never plant our tomato plants, usually from seeds we've started but sometimes with purchased plants, before May 15th. (We're on the cusp of zones 5 and 6). this gives us warm soil and adequate warm nights, and large "seedlings" to plant. We always plant them with a good part of their stems underground, roots spring forth from the buried stems and help grow an stronger, healthier, ultimately more productive plant.
We are growing three varieties of main season, large tomatoes and this one is "Brandywine", a widely available open pollinated type known for its large, flattened fruits and delightful tomato taste. Brandywine is indeterminate and really benefits from staking, the plants grow quite large. As with all the larger tomato types it is a good idea to pinch off the suckers - excess branches - so that most energy goes into growing tomatoes, not greenery. We expect tho pick these starting in mid July.
Like Brandywine, the Old German tomato is an heirloom, open pollinated indeterminate variety, producing large beefsteak style fruits that can run from tradition crimson in color to nearly gold, both inside and out.
We have never tried this variety, here at the Shed but we have heard good things. We'll be taking pictures and keeping everyone advised of their progress throughout the season.
Both of these varieties are widely available, we happened to get our seeds from the Territorial Seed Company.
If there is a knock against either the Brandwine or Old German tomato it is that they are not the most prolific of producers, although we have always found the yield from Brandywine to be more than adequate.
W. Atlee Burpee Seeds proclaims that our final choice, the exclusive Burpee Big Daddy, is a powerhouse producer of 1 lb. fruit.
This is the only hybrid tomato plant which we are growing this year, and likely the last on ever, as we are moving to a "seed saver" program next season. We simply wanted to see if this much ballyhooed newcomer would live up to its advanced press. As it has been developed from the widely grown "Big Boy" plant we feel that it just might; we have always had great success with Big Boys.
Once the plants are in the ground and established, we weed them scrupulously, and then cover the soil with a 2" thick carpet of sifted compost to retain moisture and keep the soil cool, and also to keep earthworms near the surface doing their wormly duties. (for more on this, go HERE). After they have been growing for a month or so we give them a side dressing of powdered eggshell - calcium- and of Epsom Salt - magnesium. A good dousing with sea food emulsion is also in order, perhaps a week after the side dressing.
Other than that it is simply a case of keeping up with the staking and water supply and waiting for nature to take its course. Stick with us for further updates on the progress of the tomato patch, and as always, thank you for visiting Farm Girls Corner!