Saturday, February 03, 2007

Garden Fresh Tomatoes

For those of us that know the difference between a garden fresh tomato and a store bought gas ripened tomato, we all crave the day that we can pluck one off our nurtured vines!

Through the years of digging deep into my Italian roots, I have learnt a thing or two in vegetable gardening. I find it relaxing and satisfying to work at a garden, tend to it, weed it and nurture until you can finally harvest its rewards. I believe that for any Landscape Designer or Landscape Architect, it is a must to be an avid gardener! It will increase your understanding of site soil conditions for various clients.

Anyway, I figured I'd share some tips I have learnt along the way... but not all the secrets!!!

Soil: The Key ingredient to healthy soil is organic matter. Potassium, Nitrogen and Phosphorus must all be present in a good balance...followed by a well drained soil structure and good sunlight exposure.

Watering: Watering tomatoes can be tricky, too much water and the tomatoes can actually swell up and split before ripening. Here's the trick, water only with warm water (let water sit in a pail over night) and make sure the water reaches deep in the soil! Cold tap water can actually hinder the growth of tomatoes for up to 8 hours....they love heat and warm soil but never let the soil dry out.

Spacing: Ensure your tomatoes have proper spacing between vines. (about 18" to 24" inches between each plant should do) This spacing will allow proper light to reach all aspects of the plant, keep the soil warm by allowing sunlight to hit the ground and keep good air circulation around the plants...helping to prevent mold and fungus from developing.

Staking: There are a variety of ways to stake a tomato plant. A straight stick or a tomato cage seem to be the popular choice. My Grandfather taught me to use welded-wire-mesh... welded in about a 6 inch grid pattern, available at most building supply stores. (See picture on right for example)

What is shown in the pictures above and on the left is the stakes tied back at an angle and resting against each other. This allows for a greater walking space between the rows as the plants grow and expand. It also allows for sunlight to keep penetrating the lower reaches of the vines... yes those are the same plants on the left as the ones above. About 3 months later the tomato vines are over 6 feet tall.

As the plant goes from a seedling to about 3 feet in height, it is important to prune the suckers that come up between the leaf shoots. The new leader that sprouts in those spaces will divide the plant's focus and cause it to put more development in it's growth rather then in fruit production. A shorter growing season demands more focus on fruit production!

The "crude" sketch shows the areas that the suckers tend to come out from and the red lines indicate where to cut them...leaving the leaf in place. Pruning should take place until the plant reaches about 2.5 to 3 feet or begins to produce multiple blossom stems. Careful not to mistake blossom shoots for leader shoots!


darling24_7 said...

blossom shoots ...leader shoots??? :)

Im going to try my hand and grow a tomato plant indoors.

Wish me luck :0

Paul said...

Good luck! Keep us posted with that if you can....

darling24_7 said...

lol Thanks, I hope green thumbs are hereditary!!

sonnybeaches said...

Your tomatoes look great. I'm trying my hand at gardening this year. I was wondering what you would specifically ask for when looking for the mesh you trellised your tomatoes with. Does it come as shown? Or did you stabilize the mesh with the metal posts?

Paul Corsetti (416)455-5515 said...

Hi there Sonny...

Basically the welded wire mesh is sold at building supply centers. It is used in concrete construction.

The particular metal cages you see in the pictures came from a role of that material, they were cut and bent slightly for better strength. There are many different shapes that metal can be fabricated into... check out your local building supply depot and see what you can find for material.

P.S. I have never seen that material at Home Depot... so that would not be the first place I start...

sonnybeaches said...

Thank you for the info. I have another question if you're up to it!! I grew five different types of tomatoes from seed (Johnny's seed catalog) and they are about six inches tall...some of the most beautiful plants I've seen..I live in Ohio and we were recently struck with a good amount of rain and heat. I had my plants out lying in the garden on a tray (I was going to plant them this weekend) and they became waterlogged. I'm worried they may have blight as well. The tops still look fabulous, but the bottom leaves are not so good. I ordered an organic product to control the blight, but I was wondering if you would know if they'd survive and bear fruit. I put so much time and effort into doing this right, and I could kick myself at this point for letting this happen. I don't know if I should just buy some plants from the garden center or try my luck on these. HELP!!!! I'm so disgruntled!!

Paul Corsetti (416)455-5515 said...

I'm not too sure how to answer you on that one in regards to getting rid of the blight... I have been dealing with the exact situation for a few years now... the plants have always produced fruit for me, but half the vine dies off about August or so by the blight.

I have a theory that the further apart you plant the vines, the better they have a chance at surviving because air circulation can dry the leaves up quicker ...leaving less chance for blight spores to develop. Prune off the affected leaves and throw them as far away from your garden as possible. (do not compost the infected leaves)

Blight can remain in the soil for many years once it is present. The only way to get rid of it is add a new, thick layer of fresh soil on top of the garden surface and never till the old soil up! Nasty stuff, right?

Let me know if the organic stuff works... I'd like to try it out if it does!

sonnybeaches said...

I thought I'd let you know that the organic fungicide is called works awesome!! I didn't get the chance to get the supports up (with the mesh like yours) this year, but in the Spring, that is my goal. Right now I've staked them, and it has been quite frustrating. I check and prune the plants daily, and they are still growing wild! I don't know how my dad used to do this!!!!!