By Gardener Jack Hardy
Tomatoes take 115-120 days from planting the seed to harvesting fully ripe fruit. Do the math and that means if you want tomatoes for Christmas you must plant some seeds right now.
Tomatoes are best started in fresh, quality potting mix such as Miracle Gro. I use a rectangular plastic bin with several holes drilled in the bottom to provide drainage. Sow the seeds three or four inches apart, no more than ¼ inch deep, and water daily until the seedlings are well rooted.
You could sow the seeds directly into your garden, but from the moment roots form they will attract microscopic worms called nematodes that infest the roots and choke off the supply of water to the plants. It is better to move your seedlings to 1-gallon pots for a month or so and then transplant them to the garden towards the end of October, just before they flower. This way, your tomato plants will be able to produce fruits before succumbing to nematodes.
Put your tomatoes into soil that has been fortified with compost. You can also start that process immediately by digging holes in your garden at least two feet apart. Whenever you have kitchen waste such as coffee grounds, cabbage and lettuce leaves, onion skins, fruit and vegetable peelings – anything that does not include seeds – drop it into the holes and let it decompose. Push in some of the removed soil now and then.
By the end of October you should have a welcome area for your transplants. Dig them in as deep as possible because roots will form on any part of the stem that is underground. Sprinkle the surrounding area with 6-6-6 or stronger granular fertilizer and work it into the soil about an inch deep. Repeat the fertilizer dosage every month.
Not much soil in your garden? Tomatoes can be grown successfully in 5-gallon containers or larger. Filling the pots with potting mix will be quite expensive but it is going nowhere. You can fortify it and re-use the soil this time next year. Tomatoes grown in containers should be fed with a time-release fertilizer such as Osmocote that does not leave a salt residue. Follow the instructions on the fertilizer container.
Technically, tomatoes are sprawling vines. You could allow your vines to grow laterally and support them with milk crates and such but they will be happier if staked. You can use bamboo or fibre rods (even broom handles) and tie your tomatoes to the stake with plastic ribbon. Upscale from this is the use of wire tomato frames or towers which often need a fibre rod hammered into the ground to keep them upright when nor’westers arrive. If you grow your tomatoes in 5-gallon pots you will find a tower slips in perfectly and provides sturdy support.
Use a pair of scissors to trim away dead leaves and stems from the lower part of the vine; dying vegetation attracts insects. Also, never allow your tomato fruits to touch the ground. Water your tomatoes regularly, balancing rainfall with water from a hose.
The best-tasting tomatoes are heirlooms but I would recommend using hybrid tomatoes for your first harvest. Hybrids are usually more productive and are more virile plants and this is of benefit as we try to grow tomatoes at the time of year when days are growing shorter.
Here on Abaco we are blessed with Pinewoods Nursery. Kevin Sawyer and his team can supply us with most of our garden needs in a friendly and helpful way. They have a fairly new Burpee tomato called Brandy Boy that I grew two years ago. It has very good flavour for a hybrid and is a moderately-heavy producer. You may like to give it a try. Another very useful tomato is Celebrity which is resistant to nematodes.
Any questions or comments? Contact Jack Hardy at firstname.lastname@example.org