TomatoMania- First Things First

heirloom tomatoes of many varietiesAs promised, here is Scott Daigre of TomatoMania. He is a tomato growing expert and a heck of a good cook. He is going to make several appearances here over the tomato growing season to help us get the best possible tomatoes out of our gardens. He runs “The World’s Largest Tomato Seedling Sale”. Maybe he’s having an event near you! Go HERE to find out.  His selection is incredible. There are so many varieties. Old favorites and crazy stuff you’ve never heard of too. It’s a lot of fun and makes sure that foodies like us have access to the mighty tom! So grab your dungarees, your garden gloves, and a pen and paper…GREG

First Things First.

The start of your tomato growing odyssey.

As with most things that are truly rewarding in the end, you can’t just launch headlong into this process with no forethought or preparation and then expect a bumper crop this summer.  Before you start counting your cherry tomatoes you need to have a plan for providing the best foundation and environment for your plants to grow in.

It’s a garden. It’s all about the soil. 

If you’re lucky you garden in a spot that’s been well cared for in the past, offering you and your baby plants rich loamy soil in which to prosper.  Right.  What most of us find as we identify the sunniest spot in the garden is clay soil, compacted like cement and lacking in anything that plants find nutritious or life sustaining.

If this is you, or if you have a similar less-than-perfect soil situation, water the target area deeply to begin the transformation process.  Add some gypsum.  It’s a naturally occurring mineral that binds clay particles together and results in better drainage.  Water that in.  Repeat.  If you do this once that’s sufficient for a start.  If you can do this three times over a week or so you’re golden.

Wait until the soil begins to dry out somewhat then grab your shovel and start turning over the soil in your target area.  Once you make one pass, add liberal amounts of compost or a premium planting mix and turn that in.  (Steer manure or topsoil does not fit the bill here!) You want a light “fluffy” mix to loosen your soils.

Worm castings, rock phosphates and an all-purpose organic fertilizer applied throughout will also supercharge your soil. If you have weeks before you plant then take advantage of that.  Turn the soil once more and water deeply, in a week or so. You can always add more gypsum during this process to further assist in drainage.

If your garden is rocky or sandy you have a completely different problem but the solution is the same, minus the gysum treatment.  You don’t need better drainge you need more effective water retention.  Good compost or other amendments will enrich the soil while helping you reach that goal.

If you’re rejuvenating last year’s garden or a former garden spot with somewhat decent soil and drainage you still need to amend thoroughly. Your tomato crop of last year (or whatever you planted) probably used up much of the nutrient base in that area. 

Turning or tilling the soil aggressively, however, shouldn’t be necessary.  The current no-till trend suggests that completely displacing the soil microbes in an existing garden spot might do more harm than good.  Let worms till for you.  Add copious amounts of great organic matter and mix lightly.  The whole garden needs to be refreshed in order that the new plants get a great start.

In this case, if you have the square footage, shift the position of your tomatoes and all the vegetables in your veggie garden area each season.  If you plant one crop in the same place year after year the insects and disease that are most likely to attack that crop are hanging out in that area too.  Avoid them.

Now you’ve got a good base but you’re a farmer now and your job in the garden has only begun! 

Do your soil a favor and avoid chemical fertilizers when you add your vegetable choices and all season long.  Stick to organic practices that will only add to soil structure and encourage overall vigor.  You and your plants will be healthier for it.  And remember that your garden will always be improved, and you’ll be preparing for next year and future gardens if you’ll constantly add compost and other rich amendments and nutrients to your garden area.

Get growing! Good luck.

Scott Daigre