In many areas of the country, the county and state fair is getting ready to start.
Throughout the fair, prized vegetables and fruits will be displayed alongside prized livestock.
In the past, these displays gave country folk a chance to show off their skills.
In my great grandmother’s case, it was a chance to become a county champion for 30 years.
Her secret was long kept by the family and passed from one generation to the next when we turned 16 years of age. Below are the secrets to her successful tomato garden. Her success was defined as humongous tomatoes, which won several county and state awards.
While following these steps cannot guarantee a world record tomato, it can help you become a more successful tomato gardener.
1. Prepare the soil – Preparing the soil correctly can mean the difference between a good year and an excellent tomato season. Every year, you will need to mix in a large amount of compost. This will act as fertilizer along with keeping the soil loose and improving drainage. In my great grandmother’s time, she used rabbit manure and kitchen scraps that she had been composting for a year.
2. Choose the right tomato – To grow the largest tomato requires only growing indeterminate tomatoes. These are the ones that have to be trellised so be prepared to do this the same day you plant. In my great grandmother’s time, she planted the seeds she had saved from last year.
3. Get an early start – My great grandmother knew the importance of starting early. While her local frost-free date was always around the second weekend in May, she always got her plants in the ground around the second week in April. Once in the ground, she would protect them with glass cloches. Today, you can make your own cloches with plastic bottles or use commercial Wall-O-Waters.
4. Water correctly – Watering in the morning and only watering the soil is one of the important tasks that my great grandmother knew. She also knew that tomatoes needed one inch of water a week. To determine when to water, she would place a rain gauge in her tomato garden to know when and how much to water.
5. Mulch the right time – My great grandmother knew the importance of mulch but she also knew that mulching too early in the season could cause more harm then good. Mulching when the soil has had time to warm up and the plant is beginning to bloom is the best approach when it comes to producing an award winning tomato.
6. Train correctly – Pruning tomatoes is another task that my great grandmother understood to be extremely important. Removing suckers and blooms allowed the plant to send its energy to fruit production. Also, blooms should be removed from the top of the plant and only two to three fruits should be allowed to form per plant. As far as the fruit, make sure that the ones you keep are closer to the stem verses out on a branch. Support the tomatoes with nylon pantyhose slings.
7. Fertilize to encourage blooming – In my great grandmother’s time, commercial fertilizer was not available. Instead, she made her own with rabbit manure and Epsom salt. Today, it is recommended to use a formula of 50 percent water and 50 percent fish emulsion. To this formulation, I would also add Epsom salt. This homemade fertilizer mix provides the correct amount of N,P,K, which will encourage bloom and fruit formation verses vegetative growth.
Today, there are several products that promise to help the gardener produce the largest tomatoes ever but there is nothing better then time-tested techniques.
So until we blog again, tomato garden methods of the past become part of the tool belt of the 21st century gardener.