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.
Pruning: 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!