Growing Tomatoes

Suggested title: Tomatoes are North America’s all-time favorite garden plant. Considering they originate from Peru, in South America, they have definitely ingrained themselves as a staple in US home gardens. Consumed straight off the vine or made into a number of dishes, tomatoes are very versatile and relatively easy to grow:

• Save eggs shells to dry, crush and add to the bottom of the hole you make in soil for planting tomato plants. I use one egg shell per plant. The calcium will help reduce tomato end rot.

• Plant basil next to and around your tomatoes. Basil repels tomato hornworms, aphids, white flies and mosquitos. Although you can buy basil plants, try planting from seed. They grow fast and are a good taste companion with tomatoes.

• Select a planting site with full sun at least 6-8 hours a day with well-drained soil. If the site gets light afternoon shade, even better, that will help tomatoes survive the hot late summer.

• It’s a little late to start tomatoes from seeds so select plants that will provide your favorite fruit. From huge apple-size to tiny cherry-like, tomatoes are fruit re-classified in the mid 1800s as vegetables to get around a tariff import tax. They were once called “love apples.”

All tomato plants need a little help so whether using stakes or wire cages, get those in while the plants are small. Trust me, its no fun trying to wrestle a tomato plant into a wire cage after it is 2 feet tall.

Stakes will help the plant grow straight, cages will keep sprawling varieties contained. No problem if you have the room to let the plants grow sideways, growing them vertically makes picking fruit easier.

• Plant seedlings two feet apart.

• Water soil first. If in pots, allow first to drain. If in a garden plot, wait a few minutes for water to settle. Use a stake to make a hole, then add the plant, cover with soil and water again to reduce shock to the roots.

• To grow a really strong tomato plant, bury two-thirds of the stem when planting. This step will allow the plant to sprout roots along the buried stem and be stronger and better able to find water in a drought.

For the first few days, water daily to make sure the plants are settling in.

• During the growing season, water 2 inches per week during the summer. Keep watering consistent.

• Mulch a month after planting to retain moisture.

• To help tomatoes through periods of drought, find some flat rocks and place one next to each plant. The rocks pull water up from under the ground and keep it from evaporating into the atmosphere.

• Add plastic bottles with holes in nearby soil to help keep roots moist.

• Fertilize two weeks prior to first picking and again two weeks after first picking.

The perfect tomato for picking will be firm and very red in color, regardless of size, with perhaps some yellow remaining around the stem. A ripe tomato will be only slightly soft.

Charlotte Ekker Wiggins is a beekeeper, gardener and sometimes cook. Published by El Dorado Springs Sun once in print and online with author’s permission. Copyright 2017, all rights reserved. This column may not be reprinted, republished or otherwise distributed without author’s permission. Contact Charlotte at gardeningcharlotte at gmail dot com.

EGG-ZACTLY –  Add a crushed up, dried egg shell to the bottom of the pot or planting hole before planting a tomato. The egg shells will help prevent blossom end rot in tomato fruits.

CAGE THOSE WILD TOMATOES – If using cages, cage your tomatoes as you plant them. Add a sunken plastic bottle with holes to ensure water gets to the tomato plant roots. (Photos by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins).