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Instructions for growing tomatoes

 
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Alright, let me have it!  What do you like, dislike, and where am I way off with these instructions?
Tomato.png
[Thumbnail for Tomato.png]
 
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Kevin Goedeke wrote:Alright, let me have it!  What do you like, dislike, and where am I way off with these instructions?



Hi Kevin, since you opened the door, I'll let myself in with my critique.

I applaud your willingness to create a timeline and guidelines. I believe the guidelines are restrictive, and while may work for you in your local area, are not a prescription for success for someone living in a different region. In the "till the bed" section, the instructions may not be necessary for other growers, like those growing in raised beds with soil that has been stewarded for years. It also notes instructions "for best results" and I ask, best results according to who? There are many ways to approach nurturing soil. In the "heat the soil" segment, plastics are recommended, and plastics are not necessary in permaculture, where gardening is done aligned with nature. In the three sections that "test your soil, treat your soil, and re-test your soil", any results of soil pH adjustment will not be yielded within a span of a few days. Using lime to raise or sulphur to lower takes many months to an entire year or more, depending on the climatic conditions where the soil is being tested. I think the advice to water a full gallon every two days after transplanting may be ok in a sandy soil, but may be excessive, depending on the soil type a gardener is using, as this much water in a heavier soil can often result in saturation and anaerobic soil conditions.

 
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Kevin,

I am going to echo much of what James has already said.  I will add a bit of my own experience though.  Firstly, I find that tomatoes are pretty forgiving plants and as long as they have some basic necessities, they will produce tomatoes.  If this is your first try at tomatoes I might suggest that you try starting with small plants from the store as opposed to seeds--this is just to simplify things.  Starting from seeds is really satisfying, but starting with live plants is like having training wheels.  With that in mind, I would do the following:

1)  Prepare the bed (I find 8 plants gives me a lot of tomatoes and some variety but do what you want).  This means either tilling the ground or piling earth, wood chips, organic matter, etc. on top of the garden bed.  In any case, suppress the weeds.

2)  I like to dig fertile holes.  These are holes I dig that are about 12" deep by 8-12" in diameter.  I backfill these with a high quality compost or garden bedding mix.  If you are just starting out, I would not blame you if you bought in some good topsoil, manure mix or both and mix them about 50:50.  If I am feeling really ambitious, I amend with a 50:50 mixture of blood meal and bone meal.  Eventually these amendments will not be necessary.

3)  Plant the tomatoes.

4)  Stake the tomatoes.  You can also use cages, ladders, or all sorts of different devices for tomatoes to climb on.

5)  I like to heavily mulch in between the tomatoes.  In my case, I use either cardboard or newspaper laid down several thicknesses and covered with either straw or wood chips (or shredded leaves if you have them).  Basically I just cover the paper barrier with some organic weight that keeps the barrier from blowing away.  The barrier serves a couple of functions.  First, it chokes down weeds.  Secondly, it inhibits soil evaporation.  Also, by the end of the season, it will begin to rot into the soil itself.

This is just my technique.  Use or modify as you like.  My technique has changed radically since I first started gardening, but this is not a bad way to start out.  If you want any more pointers, feel free to ask.

Eric
 
Kevin Goedeke
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James and Eric,
Thank you both for the honest and timely feedback!  Greatly appreciate it.  I should have mentioned that day "0" of the timeline was inteneded to be the last expected frost for the region.  I am understanding more and more that gardening is scientific but also an art form with tons of successful "recipes" from experts like yourselves.  Thanks again and I would love additional feedback from anyone that has any.

Cheers and Merry Christmas!
 
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I will write my slightly sarcastic guide from this year:

1. allocate a row in the new garden bed and throw some collected seeds in.
2. observe lots of them germinating
3. realize that 5cm spacing is a bit narrow
4. look for spots to put a plant everywhere
5. transplant most of the plants
6. observe them grow
7. tie to some sticks (1m)
8. observe them outgrow your sticks.
9. get bigger sticks (2m)
10. observe them outgrow your sticks again.
11. try to get them grow side-wards
12. observe them outgrow your guides again.
13. harvest some nice tomatoes
14. drown in tomatoes
15. do the ever stop flowering?
16. have a frost kill most of them
17. the buggers are still alive and flowering

Next year: more space and 3m high sticks.
 
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Everyone will have different opinions based on their personal preferences and local climates.

For my area, 30 days before the last frost is definitely not sufficient. We do it about 45 days, 50 if we remember.

Many seed companies recommend 6-8 weeks before the last frost, which is 42-56 days before the last frost.

I also certainly don't want to plant *on* the last frost, as even temperatures at 40`F degrees can permanently stunt your tomato's growth, despite not killing them. Some studies show too long of a time below 50'F can stunt growth. You can still plant outside (a week or two after the last frost) if you use some method of protecting the tomatoes (e.g. frost blankets). Also, being close to the ground when young, there will be a slight microclimate close to the ground (that's actually the point of frost blankets, to hold in the microclimate warmth). I just don't like running out every evening and morning taking off and putting on frost blankets, so this year I'll try milk jugs (I've already saved 25, but I probably need 80 or so total).

What's also nice about starting longer than 30 days before the last frost is that the tomatoes get nice and long ("leggy") indoors, but when you plant them, that allows you to plant the tomato deep, burying the stem six or seven inches, giving an instant 6" deep root system.

I also don't bother repotting seeds. I just plant them in the pot large enough to contain them until it's time for outdoor planting. Imagine this: if I only have enough indoor grow lights to grow e.g. 100 medium pots, why would I start 200 small pots and throw away half the seed starts for lack of room when it's time to repot them? Or if I'm only growing 100 small pots to eventually repot into 100 medium pots, why waste extra work (and stress the young seeds) by repotting them when I could've started them in their 100 medium pots to begin with? I just start 3 seeds in each pot, incase some don't germinate, and then pick the best seedling to leave in the pot and pluck out the rest. Much less work.
 
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Consider adding info on determinate vs. indeterminate.

Determinate plants grow to a certain height and produce all at once. This is great if you plant to make lots of tomato sauce and canned tomatoes. I don't prune determinate plants because I believe this reduces harvest. However I do trim the first 2 feet, to prevent disease caused by back splash from heavy rains.

Indeterminate plant keep growing and flowering. They must be the ones Sabastian is growing 😁 I trim the first 2 feet to prevent disease, and I prune the suckers. These are the branches that develope between a producing stem and the main stock of the plant. I am zelous in spring and lazy by the end of summer. I believe it helps the stock to be stronger, because the suckers are little plants. You can ct them, put them in sprouting mix and get a cone of the original plant.  Indeterminate plants produce continuously.  The stem produces fruit, then dies back. The stock keeps producing stems.

Any way this is all based on observation and growing.

Also,  as tempting as it is to add lime to correct the ph, compost is a better long term fix.

My 2 cents...
 
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I abhor plastic wrap on seedlings.  Damping off occurs when people are inexperienced.
 
Kevin Goedeke
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Great feedback, thanks.  Keep it coming. I will take the feedback and edit the instructions accordingly and repost next week.  It will be interesting to see how these instructions progress based on the numerous of years of experience you all are sharing.  
 
Eric Hanson
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Regarding planting start dates for tomatoes.  I have tried starting tomatoes early, after the last expected frosts but still during the cooler part of spring.  I don’t recommend it.  In my experience, tomatoes are heat lovers and cool weather makes them prone to disease and they just don’t grow much.  When I wait a few weeks when the weather is consistently warm, the tomatoes grow like gangbusters and more than make up for any time lost during the early spring.

Also, regarding soil fertility for tomatoes and really any veggie:  I used to think of soil as being a bunch of chemicals with a bit of biology thrown in.  I now see soil as completely reversed:  I see soil as a bunch of biology with a little bit of chemistry.  This is the opposite of what most of us have been taught our entire lives.  I no longer feed my garden any new chemicals, rather I feed them microbes and the plants grow better than ever.  You may not be able to achieve this your first year, but it is definitely something worth striving for.  If you want more details, I would be happy to provide them.

Eric
 
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Redd said "Consider adding info on determinate vs. indeterminate.



This was my first thought.

My next thought was where is this going to be used? On a blog, a handout, etc.
 
Anne Miller
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Redd said "Consider adding info on determinate vs. indeterminate.



This was my first thought.

My next thought was where is this going to be used? On a blog, a handout, etc.
 
Anne Miller
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Redd said "Consider adding info on determinate vs. indeterminate.



This was my first thought.

My next thought was where is this going to be used? On a blog, a handout, etc.
 
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I would cut out instructions to use black plastic to heat soil.  If you tested the soil before the season 0.5 ph is nothing.  6.5-7.

Determinant vs Indeterminate.   Start indoors about 6 weeks, harden them a bit, then plant out when coldest it gets in a day is 60 F.
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