Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Plant Tomatoes

It has been some time since my last post because my cameras decided to go South just when I need them.  Now that I have them replace I can illustrate planting the garden again.  Sorry for the delay.

I had to go ahead and plant quite a bit of the garden so we will go backward and times with a description of how things got started by we will primarily go forward.


Plant Starts
I had some good success with growing my own tomato starts this year, third year trying it and first year getting a crop to start with so that saved some money on buying plants.  This year in my area a garden center is charging $1.90 for four plants, Orschleins started by charging $1.90 and reduced to $1.79 for six pack and looks like Wal-mart is charging $1.90 for a six pack.  The three types of seeds cost me $5.00 and I got over a dozen cherry tomatoes and Romas and a couple of Beefmasters.  So I had to buy a dozen slicing tomatoes.  I have enough Cherry tomatoes and Roma tomatoes left over to take to the Farmers market to see if I can get a few coins there, maybe make up for buying some.

Plant in soil to finger mark
When you plant tomatoes you want to dig a hole that is deeper than the top of your dirt in the starter pot.  Bury them up to at least the first leave level, the second leaf level is the best.  Tomatoes will sprout roots all the way up their stems, so planting up to the first or second leaf level give you more root coverage and stability for the plant.

Know your soil.  Buy a soil tester or ask gardeners in your area about the soil quality.  Unless someone has prepared your soil for good balance, the soil in your  area will be like everyone else's.   In my area the soil is calcium deficient, lots of clay.  The organic matter you provide will start to break up the clay as you turn it under year after year but will not add enough calcium for tomato plants.  In Missouri int soil is calcium deficient.  Add about 1 cup of calcium, or  gypsum to your soil and work it in with a hoe before planting.  This is supposed to help your tomato plant absorb the calcium they need.  In extremely wet seasons tomatoes have a hard time absorbing the nutrients they need from the soil to make good tomatoes and adding calcium in some form to the soil is supposed to help with this.  BLOSSOM END ROT  is another symptom of not enough calcium and too much water.  In very wet, rainy seasons it is difficult to have a well drained area for your garden(probably a good reason for raised bed gardens).  Last year was the first year I knew about adding calcium to the soil and I was glad I did when the season turned out to be very wet.  I had a good tomato crop while others were complaining about blossom end rot and bad production.

Once the tomato is planted surround the plant with organic matter, grass clippings, straw, shredded paper or whatever you have.  This method will keep the weeds away from your plants, provide constant moisture and as it decays feed.  This organic matter can then be plowed under to rot more through the winter months preparing your garden for next season.  NEVER put new manure directly next to your plants.  If you have found a source for manure, great but make sure it sits or is applied away from you plants until it breaks down a little or it will burn your plants.

Now you are ready to add stakes.  Although staking tomatoes is not mandatory, most gardeners will.  You can buy a variety of bush tomatoes but the production out put is not as good.  Commercial grower will stake their tomatoes in a row and string twine down each row from stake to stake, I have not tried that yet and maybe that is a test for next year.  This year I will be staking individually with wire cages and surrounding stakes with string.

You can use wire cages to surround your tomatoes to keep them off the ground.  Use concrete wire or pig wire, that is wire fencing that has at least a 6 inch square hole.  You have to be able to reach inside the cage to get your tomatoes, so a 6 inch holes in necessary.   I have some cages given to me that stand about 4 foot tall but you can get wire that is as tall(wide) as you want it. Form a round cage out of wire that is at least 18 inch to 2 foot in diameter.  I cut the wire in the middle of one of the horizontal pieces of wire all the way up one end of the wire which give me enough to wrap around the other end of the wire to secure it together.  Then when cutting the next piece from the roll of wire I cut close to the vertical piece to I have a straight edge to attach the other end to.  Then the third piece is cut in the middle again until I have all the wire used.

Once the cages are made, place one over the tomato plant and position it so the tomato plant is in the middle of the cage.   Twist the cage to mark where the cage will be secured.  Remove the cage and dig a 6 inch trench around the plant.  Place your cage back down around the plant and cover the bottom of the cage with soil and tamp in.  Then take a heavy wire or wooden stakes and weave it into the cage on one side and pound into the ground.  Once tomatoes are large enough to fit the cages they lean heavily on the cages causing them to fall over and wind will knock them over unless they are secured into the ground.  Move your mulch back into the cages.  I am planting onions around some of my tomatoes and some marigold plants around others to help keep bugs off my plants.


Cloth staking
To make "stake" type cages.  Use stakes that are 4 foot to 6 foot long.  You will need to pound into the ground at least 6 inch and 12 inches is better.  Put stakes about 12 inches from the base of the plant, I use three stakes per plant in a triangle shape but 4 stakes can be used in a square.  You can use two stakes and I will talk about that next.  Using the three or four stake method you can tie your tomatoes as they grow to the stakes or just create a cage with cotton string around them.  I will use the three stake method to create a "cloth" cage and talk about the tieing method with the single or two stake method.

Having the stakes in the ground, tie a piece of cotton string(cotton is important, it degrades when polyester will not), I use cloth(torn up sheets or t-shirts work great)around the first stake, pulling tight to next stake, winding around the second stake twice, then on the the third stake.  The wither start a new string or wind the original up about 1 inch and then around the stakes again forming a cage.  I will wind string up about 12 to 18 inch and then come back as necessary to wind more.  The cherry tomatoes usually grow about 6 foot tall where the roma and beef master tend to be shorter at the 4 to 5 foot height.  If you use string use a fairly heavy string because string the size of let says kite string is to small and will break and cut into the tomato when it leans on the cage.


My dad would use a single stake to stake our tomatoes.  He would use a six to eight foot pole, at least 6 foot  out of the ground and pound the stake in the ground 12 to 18 inches.  This single pole held the entire plant so it is essential to have a sturdy stake substantially placed into the ground.   Place a single stake about 6 inches from the plant, another directly opposite if you are going to use two stakes.  Then wait until you plant grows tall enough to be tied.  As you plant grows, put a piece of string(sloth strip) around the main stem of the plant, cross the strip and tie onto the stake.  Alternate from one side to the other as the plant grows.  Larger limbs of the tomato can be secure in the same way.  Best just to show you as the season progresses.

My stakes are in place now and I am waiting for the harvest.  We will be spraying a solution of Epson salts on the tomatoes and other plants to prevent some bugs and again help the plants absorbs the nutrients they need to create great vegetables.  So more later on tomatoes.  Take a look at the PLANTING TOMATOES video for planting tomatoes and INSTALLING METAL TOMATO CAGES or using STAKES AND STRING for webbing to stake your tomatoes.

How do you stake your tomatoes?


  1. Funny you should ask right now. I just did that. I ripped a recycled PT 2 x 4 in half, with pointy ends. Drilled holes every 4 inches. Pounded each into ground through cinder blocks for support at either end of row, and ran biodegradable garden twine though the holes. I will call my original invention a Trellis ! I'd send a pic but its raining. Jon

  2. This sounds like how they do it commercially, love to the the pic when the rain is over, I was thinking it would take less space putting tomatoes in a row with a row of twine on either side to keep them up. Keep us posted how it works. Teres