Because we are having such a mild Winter everyone is asking me if I have my tomato plants in yet. The answer is; Yes, they are going in this weekend, March 3rd. Keep in mind that April 15th is the last possible freeze date here in Dallas. It is always a gamble! These three letters will help you succeed; PPP = plant and be prepared to protect.
Because of our short tomato growing season, we need to plant before the chance of the last freeze and be prepared to protect our baby tomatoes. How do we do this? One way is empty milk jugs. Rinse out and save those gallon milk jugs,with lids on, so that you can cut the bottoms off and press down over your tomato plant in case of a below freezing night.
If your tomato plants have reached towards the sky and won’t fit under a milk jug, congratulations! You will likely be the first one in your neighborhood to reap the rewards of your preparedness! In that case you will need something bigger to protect your plants, think 3 or 5 gallon buckets. You can ask at your local donut shop or grocery deli for free ones or buy them at your local home improvement store. Don’t wait till the last minute though. Having a desperate gardener on her knees begging for buckets, the day before a frost, in your local donut shop is never a pretty site and might attract the attention of your friendly local peace keepers(please don’t ask me how I know this).
Just to be on the safe side you can slip a bottle of hot water under your bucket to keep your investment nice and toasty. This is not the time to rummage through the family recycle bin like a mad woman, cursing the teen that finally emptied it on time like you have been asking him to for the last 6 months! (don’t ask me how I know this either) This head start will unable your plants to set down a good set of roots. This way they will be ready to bloom and set fruit just as the warm Spring weather sets in. This is a huge advantage.
We here in Dallas Texas, have a VERY challenging tomato growing climate. We have a VERY short Spring growing season, because tomatoes will set fruit when it is nice and pleasant out. We all know that here in Dallas, it goes from nice and pleasant to dang hot and back and forth in a few days time. Once the night time temps creep above 75, all bets are off. What I mean is no more blossoms will turn into those luscious red orbs. You can get down on your knees and beg, spray stuff on them, curse them, shake them, pray over them, all of which I have stooped to. It is of no use, those beautiful yellow flowers will remain just that. Frustrating, I know! Trust me PPP is the key!
There are so many different types of plants to choose from! What is a gardener to do? First of all let’s clear up the difference between Determinate and Indeterminate and what all those letters mean on the label.
Indeterminate-Is a vining tomato plant that produces well into the Spring/early Summer and then after the hot summer months produces again in the Fall. That is, IF the spider mites don’t get it first. I think you can see that is a big IF! The vines of this plant grow VERY large, needing strong support to get it through the seasons.
Determinate- A bushier plant that will produce all at once in early Summer. Good for someone who is prepared to turn their crop into tomato sauce, stewed tomatoes ect. Meaning you will get your bounty all at once! This plant is then pulled before the hotter than hell period of Summer. You can start again with fresh plants around the forth of July for a Fall harvest. Trust me, DON’T try to nurture this plant through the hot Summer time, it will NOT make it. North Haven Gardens is one of the only plant stores that sell new determinate varieties in July or you could start your own along with me from seed in May.
Just a quick note; The more abbreviated letters after a tomato’s name, the more resistant to disease it is. This is a whole different post, but you might see: V, N, FF, TSWV. If you are interested in learning more I have included a link to an article here.
These are the varieties that I trust for lots of yummy tomatoes; Super Fantastic for slicers, Juliet for lots of cherry roma tomatoes, sweet 100 for my 6 year old and lemon pear cherry for me! One year I tried all heirloom tomatoes. I don’t like to reflect back on that year. It was very disappointing to say the least. However, this year both a new and old friend of mine are sending me heirloom seeds for Fall planting that are adapted to this area. I am very excited about this new adventure and will be sure to keep you posted.
Now that you have purchased and are prepared to protect your tomato plants, you might be asking; What do I put in the planting hole? Well, I have a treat for you this year! My wise tomato growing friend sent me the recipe she uses for her abundant harvest. Here it is; dig a hole as deep as the tomato transplant is tall. Pay attention that can be a deep hole! Add into the hole a handful of good organic vegetable fertilizer, an handful of bone meal, a handful of worm castings or meal worm frass if you have it, a small fish head, if you don’t have a fish head on hand then some crushed egg shells will do and finally 2 or 3 uncoated aspirins. I am going to have to hit up my favorite fisherman for fish heads and his wife for aspirin!
Before planting cut the leaves off the main stem, leaving just the top 3″ of the plant intact. Bury the plant in the hole, leaving only the top above ground. Roots will form along the buried stem enabling the plant to take up water and nutrients more easily. These strong roots also will seek out water in the deeper regions of your bed. Finally put a ring of Epsom salts around the stem to provide magnesium.
There you have it; my recipe for tomato success. I will do a post about how I support my tomatoes soon. I am expecting a hot dry Summer this year so I will probably pull my plants once the night time temps reach 75 degrees. Although I got lots of Spring/early Summer fruits last year, in the hot months the Spider mites ate my lunch, literally! It looked terrible! Let me remind you that I garden in my front yard. I do have to keep up appearances. This year I plan on starting new plants in May from seed to plant in the garden in July. I will keep you posted on how it goes. Let me know in the comments if you have any tomato success secrets. Please only for North Texans though. If you share a secret from sunny California it will just make us envious! Wishing you all the best tomato crop ever!