Tomato maintenance: bring the cheeseburgers!

Hey there sunshine! I’ve been waiting for you for quite some time now. You know my tomatoes don’t want to do much until your shining face appears. Anyone else happy to see the sun showing up more? If you started early, like I did, with planting your tomatoes, you should be seeing some inkling of a promise of the juicy fruit to come. The tiny yellow flowers full of pollen, or you might even have the tiniest of fruits already bursting forth. Depending on just how early you planted them, you may even have a red tomato on the way. Is this the time to sit back and relax now that it looks like things are headed in the right direction? No way! It’s time to keep up with a maintenance regime to make sure you get the most out of our plants.

(Sunshine on my (tomatoes) shoulder makes me happy!)

Hopefully many of you came to our seminars back in February that we had with Keith Amelung on growing tomatoes. Keith basically broke down what we needed to do keep our tomatoes growing strong once they’ve been planted. I started with his advice of adding lots of compost to my tomatoes in my raised beds, and by using a top-of-the-line potting soil like FoxFarms Happy Frog for my container grown maters. The mychorrizal fungi that are in FoxFarms soils enhance the ability of my tomatoes to take in water and nutrients. If you planted in potting soil without these, I strongly urge you to look into mychorizzal innoculants to add to your soil.

(A good start, scratch that, a GREAT start for tomatoes and any vegetable. FoxFarms line of soils.)

 I tossed a cup of rock phosphate into the planting hole and planted each tomato smack down in the middle of it. This is one of Keith’s favorite tips, and has become one of mine. I have done this each year since learning it, and it definitely makes a difference in the need to combat disease. I use to end up with blossom end rot all the time and now I don’t. The rock phosphate is the one step I faithfully follow so I choose to believe it’s what has ended that problem for me. Another idea I love that Keith has for fighting soil borne fungus is sprinkling a few handfuls of horticultural cornmeal around the base of the plants on the soil’s surface. It’s a natural fungicide and can help eliminate the need for spraying with any type of chemical later. You can also use some of that horticultural cornmeal and make a tea to spray your tomatoes to ward off and/or combat powdery mildew after long, rainy and cloudy periods. Check out the handout we got at Keith’s seminar for his recipe and for more of his tips.

(It looks like this at Rainbow Gardens. This is awesome stuff! Not just for tomatoes!)

But the one tip from Keith that has always stuck with me is when he said, “You are responsible for bringing the cheeseburgers to your tomatoes”. Especially when it comes to potted tomatoes. All tomatoes are heavy feeders and will greedily go in search of nutrients they can take up through their root and your potted tomatoes are at a disadvantage. This does NOT mean you shouldn’t pot your tomatoes, it just means that they can not send their roots out to go get cheeseburgers (food, nutrients,water). You are the one that will have to bring the cheeseburgers to them. It’s all up to you to take care of your helpless babies, and all babies like cheeseburgers, right? I’m bringing the goods to my “babies” by offering monthly or bi-monthly feedings of products like Espoma Tomato-Tone or another organic granular fertilizer, and also by incorporating an espom salt foliar spray (seaweed and molasses are good ingredients too) at least monthly. You can use Epsom Salt as a side dressing too, mixing 1 TBSP per foot/height of plant to add an extra mini cheeseburger to the order. I think it is better used as a spray during the maintenance phase of growing tomatoes. The spray, applied early to mid season combats blossom end root and aids in the production of fruit. Your potted tomatoes aren’t the only ones that need to be fed.

(Me…offering some cheeseburgers.)

If you didn’t incorporate compost when you planted in your raised beds, or in the ground, where are your tomatoes gonna get their cheeseburgers? ALL tomatoes love to be nestled in and surrounded by a lot of organic matter. The more you can mix in, the better. Rock powders, greensand, minerals, etc. are long term providers of trace minerals that will strengthen your plants.

( Keith reiterating “bring the the cheeseburgers!)

There is definitely a lot to learn about growing tomatoes, and a lot of it will be learned by trial and error, and preference too. This “bringing the cheeseburgers” tip has wiggled into my head and stayed there and helps remind me that it is almost always time to do something for my tomatoes. It’s what has made me remember to get on somewhat of a schedule in checking them and making sure they are not lacking for nutrients. Try a few of Keith’s tips and see what works for you. What can you keep up with, what isn’t too time consuming, and what ends in a great result that makes you keep doing it year after year? For me, rock phosphate is a must. Now I’m trying foliar feeding which I haven’t done before. What I definitely will do next year that I didn’t do this year was follow his advice to use grow web fabric around the cages to protect my plants from spring winds. They have been brutal this year and my plants definitely got batted around. I lost one completely and had to nurse a few back to health. Live and learn, grow and learn, so goes the motto of any gardener. I hope this got you thinking about what you are going to do to maintain your tomato plants. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I hear a cheeseburger calling my name!

The Happy Gardener

Lisa Mulroy

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