More Techniques for Growing Tomatoes

Two More Weeks of TomatoesIf you would like your own ripe, red tomatoes this summer, freshly-picked from your garden, the time to plant them is now.

In addition to companion planting, and growing in healthy soil, look for tomato varieties that will thrive in the brutal heat of a South Texas summer.

Tomato Varieties

Look for tomato varieties that 1) mature quickly, and 2) are tolerant of high heat.  In South Texas, we go from freezing cold to burning hot very quickly.  Tomatoes will not set fruit if the night-time soil temperature is below 55 degrees, or above 70 degrees.   So, we need to make the most of the warming period between winter and summer to grow tomatoes.

Plant Early Girl, Cherry Sweet and Cherry 100, and Juliette; these will mature within 50 days and begin delivering tomatoes very quickly.  Also plant heat-tolerant varieties, such as Solar Fire, Heatmaster, and Heatwave.  These varieties produce when nighttime soil temperature is slightly above 70 degrees, and allow you to get tomatoes even when the weather gets very hot.

Rooting Down the Stem

Bury the tomato transplant deeply, about 2/3rds of the way into the ground.  Each of the tiny hairs down the stem is a potential root, and planting the tomato deeply helps maximize the root strength of the plant.  The more vigorous the root system, the more prolific the plant will be.

Homemade Wood Ash and Crushed Oyster Shells

Before you bury the transplant, throw a handful of homemade wood ash, and another handful of crushed oyster shells, into the bottom of the hole.

Wood ash is rich in potassium, and potassium helps unlock the sugar molecules in tomatoes.  Homemade wood ash is the absolute secret weapon for growing the sweetest, most flavorful tomatoes.  But use only wood ash from native trees; pecan, live oak, or mesquite.

Crushed oyster shells are rich in calcium; they help prevent blossom end rot in tomatoes, which is a common problem in South Texas gardens.  After you bury the transplant, sprinkle another generous handful of wood ash and crushed oyster shells around the base of each tomato plant.

Crushed Oyster Shells and Homemade Wood Ash should touch roots

Crushed Oyster Shells and Homemade Wood Ash should touch roots

Corn Meal for Disease Control

Next, dust the plants with stone ground corn meal to prevent the fungal diseases that cause yellow or black spots on tomato leaves.  Corn meal stimulates the natural microorganisms that eat and destroy fungal diseases.  Grocery store corn meal won’t work on your plants because it’s too highly processed.  Look for horticultural corn meal from a feed store or nursery.

Adding Live Oak Leaf Mulch

Adding Live Oak Leaf Mulch

Native Leaf Mulch

Mulch your tomato plants thickly with native leaf mulch.  Use leaves from live oak, pecan, or even mesquite trees, whatever you can easily rake up in your neighborhood.  As the weather turns hotter, continue to add native leaf mulch until it is twelve inches thick over your plants.  This ultra-thick layer of leaf mulch will keep the soil cool and moist, and keep your tomatoes producing even in the hottest weather.

Increasing Yields and Flavor

The average tomato plant yields about 5 to 20 pounds of tomatoes during a season.  However, by using these ancient, inexpensive, and highly effective techniques, you can produce 50 pounds or more of delicious tomatoes from each of the plants in your garden.

6 responses

  1. Hello Cindy! You can find crushed oyster shells at most feed stores.

    We also feed crushed oyster shells to our laying hens, to make sure they get enough calcium in their diet, and to keep their eggshells nice and hard. We leave a pan of oyster shells in their pen, and the hens eat the oyster shells free choice. The hens seem to know exactly how many crushed oyster shells they need to eat to keep their bodies in balance.

    We don’t let them run out of crushed oyster shells, but if we do, we notice very quickly that the egg shells are brittle and break easily. I find the same is true of our plants (weak plants, that is) if they don’t have enough calcium and potassium in the soil. Thanks you so much Cindy!

  2. I started tomato seeds in the ground. Do you think I should dig up the plants and replant them deeper as you suggest for transplants?

    • Hello Jennifer! How tall are the tomato plants you planted from seed? Can you send me some pictures of your garden, from several feet away, and a couple of close-ups of your tomatoes?

      I would probably not dig them up and re-bury them, but rather let them grow. The reason we plant tomatoes by transplant is because the optimum season for growing tomatoes in our area is so short. The time between freezing cold and burning hot is very brief. If you begin with a big tall transplant, which was grown in a green house, then you will have a head start when you plant it in your garden at first of March. If the tomato has to grow all the way from seed in your garden, you lose much valuable time, and by the time the tomato plant is mature and producing fruit, you are getting to the end of the optimal season for producing tomatoes. (I say “optimal”, because you can still grow tomatoes around here in July and August, but the heat makes it very difficult, and you have to take special precautions, such as thickly mulching with native leaves.)

      But it is not too late, as you still have plenty of time to keep growing your tomatoes from seeds, or even to add a few big healthy transplants. Let’s see what the pictures tell us! Thank you so much Jennifer! I hope you are enjoying this beautiful day!

  3. Thanks for answering. I recently started the seeds, so the seedlings are only 3-5 inches. I just thought I might replant them deeper when they are a little bigger if it would make them stronger or produce better. I’m going to let them be. I don’t want to buy transplants, so I’ll just see how this goes. Next year I will get on the ball starting seeds inside earlier.

    • Three to five inch growth above the ground is pretty good, you should do okay with that. One thing you might do is add a couple handfuls of pastured poultry manure at the base of the plants now, and then add another couple handfuls when the first green tomatoes begin to show. If you are able, feel free to attach a picture directly into the comments section, so we can see how they are growing! Thanks Jennifer! Have a wonderful day!

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