Thursday, November 8, 2012

Growing the Tomato Plant

Growing the Tomato Plant
Growing the Tomato Plant
To manage a crop, one must needs know the plant. To know the various characters of the tomato helps one to master its culture.

The tomato belongs to the night shade family, the Solanaceae of the botanist, along with the potato, tobacco, petunia, pepper, eggplant, night shade, jimson weed and many other plants useful and noxious.

The tomato is a warm-season crop, sensitive to frost but reasonably resistant to heat and drought, thriving under a wide range of climate and soil. A frost free season of seventy-five to ninety days will mature home garden tomatoes in useful quantities if good plants are set but over 120 days are needed for economical commercial production. Plant growing requires six to eight weeks previous to setting out-of-doors. Each fruit requires about six weeks from blossom to ripeness. The fruit ripens best for yield, color and quality when the weather is warm and sunny. Low temperatures without frost are not favorable for growth and prolonged conditions of this sort may "check" the plant and retard the response when higher temperatures come.

The tomato is sensitive to extreme day-length, setting fruit at 7 to 19 hours but not at 5 or 24 hours.

The tomato responds readily to fertilizers and to moisture, coming quickly into vigorous growth after unfavorable conditions, unless too badly stunted.

As long as moisture and nutrients are available and other conditions are favorable, a tomato plant will continue to branch and blossom and make fruit almost indefinitely. A pruned single stem plant in a greenhouse at Cornell once reached a length of over 40 feet during a year and a half of growth. Thus, it is really a herbaceous perennial grown in northern climates as an annual.

The plant branches freely at leaf joints but fruit clusters are formed along the bare stem,—a habit not common among plants. Some varieties are "determinate" in habit, sometimes miscalled "self-pruning," as branches only attain limited length.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Using Tomato Beds With a Hairy Vetch

Tomatos Hairy Vetch
Excerpted from the USDA

The first step toward high tomato yields is taken in early September when you prepare permanent raised tomato beds. If you're trying this method for the first time, use an inoculum to establish the proper soil bacteria.

Seed the beds with hairy vetch, a winter-hardy legume that's becoming widely available. Do this about 2 months before winter freezeup. Seedlings will emerge within 1 week. By the time that frost arrives, plants will be 5 to 6 inches tall.

Above ground, these skinny little vines will form a mat. Underground, the root systems will all this time be growing into an extensive network. Foliage and root systems will be working together, above and below ground, to hold the soil firmly and stop erosion.

Below-freezing weather will cause the vetch vines to become dormant, but never fear—Spring reinvigorates growth.

Now that wasn't too tough. And the good news is, you won't have to do anything else until May.

By May, individual vines will be 4 or 5 feet long and form thick stands about 2 feet high. Now it's time to kill them.

Yes, I said kill them!

Determine your ideal tomato-planting time. The day before, go out and buy however many tomato seedlings you're prepared to cultivate.

Then mow the vetch (a high-speed flail mower is recommended) and leave the residue in place on the beds. For the next several months, the dead vines are going to form a nutritious organic blanket that will snuggle up to your tomato plants (keeping out weeds) and gradually break down into soil nutrients.

Tomorrow you'll transplant young tomato plants right through the mulch residue and into the underlying soil.

Moisture is vital, so you'll need to irrigate. Immediately after planting, install trickle irrigation lines on top of the vetch and 3 to 4 inches from the tomato row. Fix them in place with U-shaped wires.

Fertilizers? A good stand of vetch provides sufficient nitrogen to meet from half to all the nitrogen needed by tomatoes. As for phosphorus, potassium, and essential micronutrients, it's best to have your soil tested—and supplement according to the soil's specific needs.

In June, during the first month after mowing, expect the vetch mulch to suppress weed emergence. After that, as the decomposition of the residue advances, weed seedlings are likely to emerge.

One herbicidal application of 0.5 pound active ingredient of metribuzin per acre should do the trick, applied 3 to 4 weeks after transplanting. (Your nursery professional can help compute the quantity needed for small applications.) This application will also kill any regrowth from the mowed vetch plants.

By summer's end, your tomato plants will bear an abundance of fruit, the organic mulch will decompose to a fare-thee-well, and the year will have come full circle.

Mow the old tomato plants and leave them in the field to decompose like the vetch mulch.

Now it's time to reseed with... hairy vetch!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Best Soil for Home Gardening

Soil for Tomato Gardening
Of the 10 largest yields of which I have personal knowledge and which ran from 1,000 to 1,200 bushels of fruit (acceptable for canning and at least two-thirds of it of prime market quality) an acre, four were grown on soils classed as clay loam, two on heavy clay—one of which was so heavy that clay for making brick was subsequently taken from the very spot which yielded the most and best fruit—one on what had been a black ash swamp, one on a sandy muck, two on a sandy loam and one on a light sand made very rich by heavy, annual manuring for several years. They were all perfectly watered and drained, in good heart, liberally fertilized with manures of proved right proportions for each field, and above all, the fields were put into and kept in perfect tilth by methods suited to each case; while the plants used were of good stock and so grown, set and cultivated that their growth was never stopped or hardly checked for even a day. These conditions as to soil and culture, together with seasons of exceptionally favorable weather, resulted in uniformly large crops on these widely different soils.

Here [at home] we seldom have a choice, but no one need despair and abandon effort, no matter what the soil may be, for it is quite possible to raise an abundant home supply on any soil and that, too, without inordinate cost and labor. Some of the most prolific plants and the finest fruits I have ever seen were grown in a village lot which five years before had been filled in to a depth of 3 to 10 feet with clay, coal ashes and refuse from a brick and coal yard. In another instance magnificent fruit was grown in a garden where the soil was originally made up chiefly of sawdust mixed with sand, drawn on a foundation of sawmill edgings so as to raise it above the water of a swamp.

Where one has to contend with such conditions he should make an effort to create a friable soil with a supply of humus by adding the material needed. A very few loads, sometimes even a single load, of clay or sand will greatly change the character of the soil of a sufficient area to grow the one or two dozen plants necessary for a family supply. In the two cases mentioned, the owner of the first named garden used both sand and sawdust to lighten his soil, while the second drew a great many loads of clay on his.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Damping Off

Young plants in seed-beds often perish suddenly from a rot of the stem at the surface of the ground. This occurs as a rule in dull, cloudy weather among plants kept at too high a temperature, crowded too closely in the beds or not sufficiently ventilated. Several kinds of fungi are capable of causing damping off, under such conditions.

Preventive measures are of the first importance. Since old soil is often full of fungous spores left by previous crops, it is the wisest plan to use sterilized soil for the seed-bed. When the young plants are growing, constant watchfulness is required to avoid conditions that will weaken the seedlings and favor the damping off fungi.

Watering and ventilation are the two points that require especial skill. Watering should be done at midday, to allow the beds to drain before night, and only enough water for the thorough moistening of the soil should be applied. Ventilation should be given every warm day as the temperature and sunshine will permit, but the plants must be protected from rain and cold winds. Work the surface of the soil to permit aeration and do not crowd the plants too closely in the beds. If damping off develops something can be done to check it by scattering a layer of dry, warm sand over the surface, and by spraying the bed thoroughly with weak Bordeaux or by applying dry sulphur and air-slaked lime.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Fruit at the Least Expenditure of Labor

When this is the desire, many growers omit the hotbed and even the pricking out, sowing the seed as early as they judge the plants will be safe from frost, and broadcast, either in cold-frames or in uncovered beds, at the rate of 50 to 150 to the square foot and transplanting directly to the field. Or they may be advantageously sown in broad drills either by the use of the pepper-box arrangement suggested on page 60, or a garden drill adjusted to sow a broad row. In Maryland and the adjoining states, as well as in some places in the West, most of the plants for crops for the canners are grown in this way and at a cost of 40 cents or even less a 1,000.

The seed should be sown so that it will be from ¼ to ½ inch apart and the plants thinned as soon as they are up so that they will be at least ½ inch apart. Where seed is sown early with no provision for protection from the frost it is always well to make other sowings as soon as the last begins to break ground in order to furnish reserve plants, if the earlier sown lots be destroyed by frost. Others even sow the seed in place in the field, thinning out to a single one in a hill when the plants are about 2 inches high. Some of the largest yields I have ever known have been raised in this way, but the fruit is late in maturing and generally the method is not so satisfactory as starting the plants where they can be given some protection, and transplanting them to the field.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Point Rot

Tomato point rotThis trouble, called also "blossom-end rot," and "black-rot," occurs on the green fruit at various stages of development, as shown above. It begins at the blossom end as a sunken brown spot,which gradually enlarges until the fruit is rendered worthless. The decayed spot is often covered in its later stages by a dense black fungous growth (Alternaria fasciculata (C. & E.) J. & G. syn. Macrosporium tomato Cke.), formerly thought to be the cause of the rot, but now known to be merely a saprophyte. Point-rot sometimes occurs in greenhouses, but is more common in field culture. It is one of the most destructive diseases of the tomato, but its nature is not fully worked out, and a uniformly successful treatment is unknown. It has been thought to be due to bacterial invasion, but complete demonstrations of that fact have not yet been published. The physiological conditions of the plant appear to be important. The disease is worst in dry weather and light soils, where the moisture supply is insufficient, and irrigation is beneficial in such cases. Spraying does not control point-rot so far as present evidence goes.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Tomato Plants from Cuttings

Tomato plants from cuttings may be easily grown, but such plants, when planted in the open ground, do not yield as much fruit as seedlings nor is this apt to be of so good quality; so that, in practice, seedlings only are used for outside crops. Under glass, plants from cuttings do relatively better and some growers prefer them, as they commence to fruit earlier and do not make so rank a growth.

Seedlings can be most easily started and grown, at least up to the time of pricking out, in light, well-ventilated greenhouses, and many large growers have them for this specific purpose. Houses for starting tomato plants should be so situated as to be fully exposed to the sun and not shaded in any way; be provided with heating apparatus by which a night temperature of 60 and up to one of 80° F. in the day can be maintained even in the coldest weather and darkest days likely to occur for 60 to 90 days before the plants can be safely set out in the open field; and the houses should be well glazed and ventilated.

Houses well suited for this purpose are often built of hotbed sash with no frame but a simple ridge-board and sides 1 or 2 feet high, head room being gained by a central sunken path and the sash so fastened in place that they may be easily lifted to give ventilation or entirely removed to give full exposure to sunshine, or for storing when the house is not needed. Hotbed sash 3x6 feet with side-bars projecting at the ends to facilitate fastening them in place are usually kept by dealers, who offer them at from $1.50 to $3 each, according to the quality of the material used.

A hot water heating apparatus is the best, but often[Pg 50] one can use a brick furnace or an iron heating stove, connected with a flue of sewer or drain-pipe that will answer very well and cost much less. It requires but 6 to 10 square feet of bench to start plants enough for an acre, and a house costing only from $25 to $50 will enable one to grow plants enough for 20 acres up to the stage when they can be pricked out into sash or cloth-covered cold-frames in which they can be grown on to the size best suited for setting in the field. When a grower plants less than 5 acres it is often better for him to sow his seed in flats or shallow boxes and arrange to have these cared for in some neighboring greenhouse for the 10 to 20 days before they can be pricked out.