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Posts Tagged ‘tomatoes’

With autumn in our midst, many gardeners are focused on their fall gardens of leafy greens and roots. However, now is a wonderful time to create a winter garden of indoor herbs or tomatoes. Adding a little living green to a home during the chilliest of months can be simple.

One of the best ways to get indoor herbs started is to root a cutting—this way you don’t have to play the waiting game for a seed to sprout and develop into a mature plant. Cuttings may be rooted in water, moist soil, or even a damp paper towel wrapped in plastic. Rooting hormone will help speed the process along. Basil, sage, thyme, rosemary, mints and tomatoes have all been known to root and not let go!

Choose a Cutting

When choosing a stem to cut,  it is important to avoid new, immature growth. I prefer to use a woody or developed softwood side shoot. Take cuttings early morning before a warm sun has sapped their stored energy.

It is also a good idea to take several cuttings per chance one doesn’t develop roots.

Remove Leaves

Remove any leaves and side shoots 2”-4” from the bottom to prevent rot.

Dip cutting end into rooting hormone.

Rooting mediums:

  • Soil – make sure the soil mixture is light and retains moisture.
  • Water – root cuttings in a jar of water. Don’t forget to change the water every couple days.
  • Paper towel – dampen a paper towel and wrap around the base of the cutting, then wrap plastic around the paper towel.

Developing Roots

Until they begin to develop roots, cuttings need to remain moist and must not be allowed to dry out. Use a plastic bottle or plastic bag (like a miniature greenhouse) to help retain moisture. Stick the cuttings in a sunny location such as an east or south facing window. Do not fertilize until roots have developed.

Tug Tug Tug

Check weekly for root development. If using soil, gently tug on the cutting—any resistance means it has begun to develop roots. Generally it will take anywhere from 2-6 weeks for roots to develop. If rooting in a glass of water or a damp paper towel, wait until roots are at least 2” before replanting in soil.

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Tomatoes are one of the crops that almost never fails me. They’re tolerant of a fairly wide range of conditions, as long as you keep them out of the frost. Animals don’t seem to bother them nearly as much as other plants (it probably ‘helps’ that the foliage is poisonous, and coats your fingers with aromatic yellow stickiness when you work with them). Sometimes disease can be an issue, but for me this usually means some minor late blight or maybe a few tomatoes with end rot. Only once have I suffered serious disease damage to my tomatoes (thanks to late blight), and it was from infected material shipped to my region and sold by big-box stores. I only plant home-starts or sets from independent local nurseries, but spores are relentless in their ability to travel on the wind. There was nothing I could’ve done! One makes the best of the situation, picks up, and carries on next year. Such is the way of the farmer.

A tomato plant with severe late blight. That year, we made lots of green salsa.

I plant between two and three dozen tomato plants of various varieties every year. This provides me with many bushels of fruit, a lot of which I process and can, and the remainder of which I sell. My staple varieties that are always present are Early Girl and Golden Boy, although I also grow a few different ones every year. I have grown Roma, Sweet 100, Yellow Pear, Tangerine, Honeybunch, Black Krim, Pink Brandywine, Better Boy, Supersonic, Italian Ice, Mountain Fresh… and the list goes on.

Tomatoes can be grown beautifully in the ground, but if you have a large flower pot, or even something like a 5 gallon bucket, single plants will do rather nicely in those as well. There are also special planters, such as ‘Topsy Turvy’, that hang the tomato upside down in the air and allow it to grow that way (I view these as only a novelty, although they may work well for those with very limited space).  Regardless of the method you use, though, there are a few things you can do to make sure your tomatoes are a bit happier!

Tomatoes can take a while to grow!

If you live in a zone that has a shorter growing season/relatively long winters, you’ll probably need to start your tomatoes indoors to get a good harvest off of them. Sow seeds in small containers in good garden soil or a reasonable quality potting mix, 6-8 weeks before your last expected frost date (or when you will first be able move them outside). You can use ‘recycled’ nursery pots from other plants, plastic Solo/Dixie cups, or any other such thing – just allow some holes for drainage. You can also buy already-started plants right when you need them. I recommend local nurseries if available. Buying started sets is a simple solution for those without the inclination to do it themselves, or for those with very poor indoor lighting and/or shaded, protected windows, though it is quite a bit more expensive than starting your own. You’ll just have to weigh your choices!

These were large seedlings, 10-12″ tall, when planted. Now, not quite a month after they were put in the ground, they’re making their first fruits!

Tomatoes like support!

Now, you can grow tomatoes pretty well by letting them grow on their own, letting them flop over and the vines fall onto the ground, but this makes weeding and cultivating harder, exposes the plant to more soil contact and more potential disease, allows rainwater to splash on and dirty the fruit, and also opens up the whole shebang to infestation or damage by things like crawling bugs or rodents. It also isn’t as nice to look at. Still, we have grown ‘floppy’ tomatoes with good success during times we too many extra plants or in areas where appearances didn’t matter.

A better option is to use a staking or caging method. This can be as simple as a pipe or strong stick stuck deep into the dirt in a pot or bucket, or a tripod of branches or lumber cutoffs for field-grown plants. Plants can be tied up to these supports as they grow, using strips of soft cloth, which I usually obtain by simply ripping up an old t-shirt.

Tomato ‘tripods’ made of scrap wood.

You can also pay for wire tomato cages or fold-out stands, the smaller and less complex ones being cheaper. Those will suffice, but the biggest ones I have, which are simple wire ones that stand around 5 feet high and cost $3 apiece, usually end up being preferable because I grow some 7-8 foot tall tomatoes at times and those cages keep them much more contained. Even so, last year I had to build an extra framework out of scrap lumber to hold up the immense weight of the fruit.

Tomatoes like to have strong roots!

Solanaceous plants like these love to have lots of loose dirt around their bases. They will send out more roots anywhere the stem is buried and touching the dirt! Therefore, it pays to bury deeply. In a pot, dig and set the plant in a hole sufficient enough to cover much of the stem. Even covering some of the lower leaves is fine. In the ground outside, you can do the same thing, or you can plant the tomato at the ‘normal’ level of the soil and then mound/hill dirt up into a pile around the stem. Another way is to lay the plant on its side on the ground and cover the stem with a layer of dirt. It doesn’t matter that it’s sideways – the top will right itself toward the sun in a few days. You will not hurt the tomato! Any of these methods will grow an enormous root system and send off some explosive growth after the plant gets a hold on the soil. This applies whether you plant in a pot or in the ground. Bury deep and you’ll do well!

Example of the hilling system of planting. These tomatoes were initially planted with only the top leaves sticking out, but now they have grown a large root system and are very vigorous!

You can try any varieties you want. Homegrown, well-ripened tomatoes are almost always going to taste better than supermarket bought, but you can try various cultivars and see which you prefer, as some will be standouts to you in their flavor, texture, or other aspects. It’s all about your preference. I prefer medium-sized, rounded red tomatoes for sale purposes, just like the ones Early Girl makes – they seem to be most accepted as a ‘regular’ tomato. Beefsteaks can crack or look a bit ugly in fluctuating weather, and while people love their huge size, sometimes you end up with many that have far less-than-perfect appearances.

I also favor ‘indeterminate’ varieties that grow larger and larger and set fruit until they are killed by frost. There are also ‘determinate’ cultivars available that grow to a certain size, set most of their fruit at once, and then don’t grow much or decline. Such plants may be slightly more suitable for those with small spaces, but as far as I have seen, any tomato plant can be grown nicely in similar conditions to all the others – no need for special treatment just because of the name. Just give them a good start, let them have enough soil of their own so they can spread their roots, and keep them supported!

An overloaded basket of nearly perfect Early Girls!

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