Gladstone Park Conference Center
Gardening Tips

Gladstone Park Conference Center
Grounds Crew

I frequently get questions about raising tomatoes. The most recent question, coming from a friend who lives just high enough in elevation to challenge his success in producing a RIPE tomato. I share with you the most recent info regarding early tomatoes. This comes from my Feb/March 2009 issue of HORTICULTURE magazine. Jeff Cox (the author) is former managing editor of Organic Gardening magazine and has written 12 books on gardening.
“If you want early tomatoes, try ‘Northern Delight’, ‘Glacier’ and ‘Beaverlodge' that bear in 55 days. Start seeds their in small paper cups with bottom heat in February. Once the seedlings have four true leaves, nick off the lowest leaves (at this point the cotyledons, or seed leaves and transplant them to larger cups, burying the stem to within an inch of the lowest leaves. The buried portion of the stem will sprout roots. Repeat the leaf nicking and transplanting process with ever larger cups until the plant is a small tuft of leaves and a huge root ball. It is the exact opposite of what you get at the garden center (lots of stem and leaves on a small root ball.

Three or four weeks before your last frost date, In preparation for moving your (tomato) plants outside, dig a hole 18 inches across and 24 inches deep. Place a mixture of fresh kitchen scraps and poultry manure, blood meal or other high-nitrogen sources in the bottom of the hole to a depth of one foot. This mixture sends up warmth as it decays. Fill the rest of the hole with good garden soil. Then plant the giant root ball in good garden soil.

Set three one-gallon plastic jugs, filled with water, around the plant to absorb daytime heat and give it back on cold nights. Set a wire cage over the jugs and plant. Wrap the cage with clear plastic and cover top with more clear plastic weighted with a small plank so it won’t blow away. Remove the top plastic on warm days so the plant doesn’t overheat.

If your last frost date is May 15 (USDA Zone 6) and you planted on April 15, count 55 days to June 10. While your neighbors are just planting spindly tomato plants from the garden center, you’ll be harvesting tomatoes! No gloating allowed, though. Well, maybe a little.”

Until Next Time!
~Debee Givens