Twining Vine Garden Seed Store, Twining Vine Garden,

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> ...tomatoes!

Make your relatives, friends, and neighbors jealous! Is it possible to have home grown vine ripened tomatoes in late May or early June? Yes! The trick is to raise the largest plant possible at transplant when the last spring frost has passed. This is exactly what we do. It wouldn’t be uncommon for us to seat blooming tomato plants with roots coming out of the drain holes of a one gallon pot. These plants have a root system that will surpass any tomatoes grown together enmass in a shallow six-pack. Large root systems are capable of absorbing large amounts of nutrients from the soil enabling the plant to produce abundant fruit. Other benefits include maintaining plant health in warding off nutritional disorders, diseases, withstand unfavorable weather and pest stress.

We start our tomatoes in a well draining but moisture retentive medium made from new, unused materials. We never had to sterilize the medium. I’ve read that ‘sterilized’ medium destroys all the anti-fungal/anti-bacterial compounds in peat and had one of those ‘connect the dots’ moments when seeing bottles of ‘damp off’ beside bagged sterilized pre blended medium. For years we’ve mixed our own using peat, well flushed coconut coir, filter sand and perlite. Our liquid fertilizer is Wegener’s 8-6-6 and soluble kelp powder given at ¼ strength every time we water not mist. Only ¼ strength kelp solution is used to mist. Moist medium is prewarmed to 22-30C and the tomato seed is sown in 15cm deep pots with a maximum 20 seeds/pot. Sow 5mm deep, gently cover and use clear plastic to maintain humidity and warmth. Try and keep the medium at this temp and germination will occur in a 5-7 days. Give seedlings lots of light. Poor light gives leggy seedlings. At the 2-3 true leaf stage you can reduce the growing temps, but remember you can never water log the soil. I only use warm water to water and mist the plants. You have to keep your babies happy and cold water will halt the mitochondria, the growing root’s energy powerhouses, activity and handicap the plant. At the 7 true leaf stage its time to separate the kids into their own pots such as those 16 oz beer cups (with drain holes punched into the bottoms….a red hot nail held by vice grips works great if you do hundreds as we do…with a propane torch to reheat the nail it makes short work). As always give plenty of light…at least 16 hours a day.

By late February the plants are transferred to the unheated greenhouse to grow on as by then we’ve run out of space under our grow lights. Transplant kids into one gallon pots when roots start coming out of the 16 oz cup drain holes. I find it quite entertaining putting a stake in the pot at the same height of the tomato and see how fast it grows. When its getting close to the time to seat the kids in the garden, slowly harden plants by exposing them gradually to their new environment by setting them outside on a sunny day, but in the shade (remay works well). Bring them in at night for a few days until they are able to withstand full sun then outside overnight but only do this after the threat of any frost has passed. Still I’d cover the plants with remay at night. Plant about May 10 (most years and hardiness zone 6), unless you have some sort of shelter in form of a greenhouse or cloche then you can set them out earlier. Mix ½ to 1 cup of complete fertilizer (organic with micro nutrients is best) to the transplant hole (30 x 30 x 30 cm). Tomatoes prefer a rich well worked soil with a pH of 5.5 to 7.5. Remove lowest two sets of leaves and bury with the next set an inch above soil surface. Stake, cage, or weave through fencing. Feed every week with a dilute mixture of a balanced organic liquid feed. Avoid wetting the leaves and if possible protect from rain as blight thrives on moisture. Vigorous plants should be side dressed to ensure mature fruit colour. If good garden soil is hard to come by in your area, the soil is too cold, or can't dig a deep enough transplant hole, heap up soil for makeshift raised bed OR seat the kids into a 25 litre/5 gallon bucket (with drain holes punched in). If cutworm is a problem in your area, encircle the stem with a collar made from a paper tube or newspaper layers. Set collars one inch into the soil. Make sure your soil has enough calcium or your tomatoes will suffer blossom end rot or a blah flavor. A blah flavor or a tough skin also occurs if the tomatoes are not watered enough or suffer from heat stress as vines need constant, even moisture. 5-7cm of mulch helps in moisture retention. Plants will thrive on 12 hours of sun a day so you can plant them in a breezy area with some protection (e.g. under the house eaves) without worrying about supplying your plants 'full' sun. To ensure a harvest of ripe or semi ripe tomatoes before the first killing frost, by late summer pinch off blossoms, buds, and growing terminals to promote fruit ripening existing fruit a solution of 1/2 cup of Epsom salts per gallon hastens ripening. If weather threatens the crop, cut plant at root level and hang or lay in a rack to permit ripening. Green tomatoes can be individually wrapped in newspaper, stored at 10-12C, holding quality for several months. Rooted suckers are a great way of over wintering varieties indoors without having to dig up a monster plant.

When do we start our tomatoes? Mid January to mid February. Starting this early you can essentially ignore the ‘days’ designation given and enjoy late season beefsteaks much earlier and think of all the tomato tasting parties you can host! Wine, basil, cheese, olive oil and some good bread…yeah…you will be popular! Starting your basil at the same time and you too will make heaps of pesto to freeze for the winter months. Basil and tomato plants love each other when companion planting.

Oh yes…always remember to label.

SMOKERS: Wash your hands or wear gloves when examining tomatoes and other nightshade family members prevents spreading the tobacco mosaic virus.