Planting Tomatoes
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Planting Tomatoes
There really isn’t anything like the taste of a homegrown tomato. In a couple months I hope to be enjoying an abundance of delicious tomatoes, since I just finished planting 18 tomato plants – 12 different varieties. February in Arizona is a great time to put in tomato plants. Cool nights and warm days provide the perfect environment for the plants to set fruit and have enough time to ripen before the intense summer heat sets in.

Last year we had about ten plants that produced a variety of delicious tomatoes. This year we added 200 sq. ft. to our vegetable garden space – so I’m experimenting with different planting locations to see which areas get the right amount of sun now and will offer some shade later in the season when the sun gets brutal. One area is under a large mesquite tree, which is leafless now – so the space gets good sun exposure. Later, when the tree leafs out, the planting bed will receive filtered light in the morning, but will receive more direct sun in the afternoon. The new beds get morning and early afternoon sun, and are shaded by the house in the afternoon. Part of the fun of gardening is experimenting and finding the best location to make the plants happy.

We amended all of the soil with a truckload of beautiful compost from Singh Farms. In Arizona, it takes a lot of work to get the soil to a point where putting a shovel in the ground actually goes deeper than half an inch. We’ve also added some sand to loosen the soil and provide good drainage. The satisfaction of being able to dig a deep hole without breaking a sweat is a great accomplishment!

Here are a few more tips on planting tomato plants:

• Remove the lower leaves and plant the tomatoes deep. New roots will
develop along the stem that is underground.

• Tomatoes do well with a good dose of nitrogen. Alfalfa pellets, used to feed horses, are an excellent source of nitrogen. Throw a handful of pellets into the planting hole and then add another handful or two in the backfill dirt. This should provide a good amount of food for the plants throughout the growing season.

• If your plants come in the biodegradable pots that are designed to be planted directly in the ground, I still suggest removing the plants from the pots and then just crumbling the pots into the backfill dirt. When you remove the plants from those little pots you’ll see that the plants start to get root bound – better to give them a chance to easily expand beyond the confines of the pot.

• Give the tomato plants room to grow. It’s easy to start out with the plants too close together when they are little. Spacing them at least two feet apart will give them room to grow and make it easier for you to harvest the tomatoes later.

• If you’re going to use tomato cages to stake the plants, use them early. It’s better to put the cages around the plants when they are little and let them grow up into the cages.

• Use a bed of straw to provide mulch around the plants and to also make a barrier between the tomatoes and the ground. Last year I lost several beautiful tomatoes because snails had eaten out the bottom of the fruit that had come in contact with the ground. This year we saved the hay bale we used for decoration in the fall to mulch around the tomato plants. This should help with watering and weeding too.

• Pinch off the little sprouts that develop between the main stem of the plant and the large leaves. This is hard to do, but it will benefit the plant in the long run, forcing the growth along the main stem of the plant.

• Use bird netting placed over the top of the plants if you find birds are eating your precious tomatoes.

• Keep the plants evenly watered – this will keep them from being stressed so they can focus on producing luscious tomatoes.

Even if you only have a small space, a pot on the patio or a hanging basket, I hope you get a chance to enjoy your own tomato plant. Watching the plants grow and enjoying the thrill of picking and eating your own homegrown tomatoes is delicious!

Here’s a listing of the varieties I planted this year: Big Beef, Early Girl, Black Carbon, Hawaiian, Better Boy, Dr. Wyches’, Champion, Yellow Pear, Sun Sugar, Pink Brandywine, Lemon Boy and Neves Azorean Red.

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