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Hartselle Enquirer

Tips for growing tomatoes

By Clif Knight

Nothing satisfies the appetite more than a tomato sandwich made from a softball-size, garden-grown ripe tomato and a couple slices of loaf bread covered with mayonnaise and a dash of table salt. Their popularity is expressed early and often at Hartselle Farmers Market by fruit and vegetable shoppers who begin asking for them a month or two before the first harvest.

My attention was called to the subject recently as I was shopping the produce aisle in a local grocery store. I spotted a beautiful display of tomatoes and had thoughts of buying one and taking it home for a tomato sandwich. I quickly changed my mind when I saw the price was $4.78 each. That’s about $3 more than what they were selling for last summer.

Tomatoes are now out-of-season in Morgan County, and it will be three or four months before they’ll be available again. I’m wondering what their cost will be when popular varieties begin showing up on the display tables at the farmers market. Judging from complaints raised by small growers, it’s becoming difficult to grow a tomato plant that will hold up for a full season. Difficulties range from poor weather conditions to diseases causing premature death.

I found these tips on keeping tomato plants healthy and productive in an old clipping from Southern Living magazine. If you grow tomatoes for home use, you might want to keep them in mind in the future:

  • Check plants daily to detect problems and treat them before they get out of hand,
  • Mulch prevents soil from splashing on stems and leaves. It will minimize the spread of disease. Wet three or four layers of old newspaper and place them around plants. Then cover with two inches of mulch.
  • Don’t remove suckers when plants begin to fruit. Extra foliage blocks the sun and prevents sunscald.
  • Add lime to soil to help prevent blossom-end rot. If blossom-end rot occurs, spray plants with calcium chloride according to label directions.
  • Don’t over fertilize your plants or you will have too many leaves and too few tomatoes. Sprinkle fertilizer 1 to 2 feet around plants and avoid touching stem or foliage, newly planted tomato plants should be fertilized with 20-20-20 liquid feed. After the first fruit appears, fertilize with 10-10-10 granular fertilizer, repeating every four weeks. Water plants after fertilizing or put out fertilizer before rains.
  • Extend the tomato growing season by harvesting a few green tomatoes before the first frost. Wrap them individually in newspaper, and leave them in a fairly dark and cool area. Take out a few at a time and place them on a windowsill to ripen.

Here’s to a big tomato sandwich very soon.

 

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