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How To Grow Tomatoes: the Gardening for Gains Guide

Solanum Lycopersicum; Lycopersicum esculentum

Determinate vs. Indeterminate – what type is best for you?

When I first starting gardening, I had no idea about the differences in tomatoes plant types – I just wanted to grow tomatoes! There is a really big difference between the 2 plants & it is important to know these differences and how each plant should be cared for.

Determinate Tomato Plants – these are the “bush-type” varieties of tomatoes. Typically they will grow 3-4 feet tall & 3 feet wide. They do not require pruning and tomato cages are probably your best bet for plant supports – my Grandpa drives a stake in by the plant & has fencing along one side of his that keep them supported & fruiting all summer long. Determinate varieties set fruit all at once & then they are done producing for the year, unlike Indeterminate tomatoes which produce all year long.

Indeterminate Tomato Plants – these are “vining” varieties that tend to grow more vertically. Typically they will grow between 4-6 feet tall & 2-3 feet wide. They do require pruning – remove the bottom third of branches, and prune and “suckers” that emerge between the main stem & a branch. Those suckers will basically form another head to your tomato plant. You may think this is a good thing, but it will actually suck a lot of energy from the plant & is not ideal for optimal fruit production. With proper care, Indeterminate varieties will produce fruit all year long (or until the frost gets them).

Spacing

  • 24-36″ between plants, 4-6′ between rows (room for plants to grow & accounts for 2′ walking path).

Height

  • Depending on type of plant, will grow 3-6′ tall, width 2-4′. That’s for the garden – some greenhouse varieties grow over 25′ tall!

Seeding

  • Start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before last frost date.
  • Can start in trays, but I am thinking about planting seeds straight into 4″ pots from the start next year. (Anybody with thoughts on this, would love to hear it in the comments!)

Transplanting

  • After danger of frost has past and soil temps warm to 60°, you can transplant into the garden.
  • Drop a couple tablespoons of Epsom salts in planting hole to prevent blossom end rot – also provides good source of Sulfur & Magnesium.
  • Plant your tomatoes deep – this will help establish deep, strong roots to help support the vine’s growth.

Fertilization

  • I generally mix a balanced fertilizer or manure into my garden before the year. Then wait 2-4 weeks after seedlings emerge for dry fertilizer & every 1-2 weeks after flowers & fruit have set.
  • Sprinkle Epsom salts in planting hole & soil surrounding Tomato-tone or balanced fertilizer.
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My organic pest management kit consisting of: Diatomaceous Earth, Monterey Complete Disease Control, Neem Oil, Neptune’s Harvest Hydrolyzed Fish & Seaweed Fertilizer, and my Jacto Sprayer

Cages & Stakes

Stakes

  • Best for Indeterminate varieties (vining tomatoes).
  • Place stake in ground @ time of planting to avoid harming roots later in growth cycle.
  • Metal – may want to use one with coating over metal to prevent hot metal on sensitive plants. These are great because they last multiple seasons.
  • Wood – may last a few seasons, very sturdy, solid support for plants.
  • Bamboo – most cost-effective & I have used them the last couple years with good results. Typically want to use one year to avoid the potential to spread disease.

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Cages

  • Best for Determinate varieties (bush tomatoes).
  • Place over tomato after planting.
  • Cage should be 4-5 feet tall.
  • Be mindful of the gauge of wire being used & check the welds to make sure you’re getting a quality product!
  • Can be used multiple years.
  • Several different sizes, shapes, colors.

Trellis – Florida Weave

This is my first year using the Florida weave method – I think my mom tagged me in something about it? Or maybe I found it while looking at a customer’s website? Either way, it’s an awesome alternative to traditional staking.

  • Drive stakes every 4-6′, in-between the tomato plants. Use wood so that you don’t have as much flex in your stakes as I am having with bamboo!
  • As the plants grow they will need to be supported.
  • Tie twine on the end stake.
  • Run it along one side of the plants.
  • When you get to another stake, wrap the twine around the stake a few times to hold it tight.
  • Continue down the row.
  • When you get to the end of the row, go down the other side of the plants – this gives stability to both sides, and essentially creates a long, narrow tomato cage.

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Water needs

  • Irrigation types – Drip irrigation, soaker hoses, hand-watering.
  • Water @ base of plants to avoid damaging foliage.
  • Keep water consistent – large amounts of water will cause fruit to split.
  • Containers will dry out faster than in-ground grown tomatoes & will require more attention – good opportunity for drip irrigation.
  • Soaker hoses should be placed ~6″ from the base of plants & buried a few inches to promote the water to spread through the soil.
  • Tomatoes need about 1-1.5 inches of water per week – keep them hydrated, not saturated!

General Maintenance

  • Pinching suckers – Indeterminate tomatoes require pruning, Determinate do not.
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Notice the “suckers” growing between a branch & the main stem. These need to be pinched or clipped off to keep the plant growing vertically and to keep the plant to 1 main stem.
  • Pinching Flowers – It sounds counter-productive, but in the early stages of growth, you need to pinch flowers that emerge too early. Doing this will allow the plant to focus on growing in other aspects (height, leafy growth) to support the production of fruit.
  • Fertilize – I fertilize at time of planting by putting Epsom salts in the planting hole. This supplements plants with sulfur & magnesium, and will help with overall plant health, and help to prevent blossom end rot. Fertilize @ planting with Epsom salts & your fertilizer of choice. Then once fruit sets, fertilize every 1-2 weeks to keep them healthy, growing strong, and yielding tons of tomatoes! Fertilization after the initial planting can be done with any variety of products – the easiest way to go would be to throw some Tomato-tone Fertilizer around the base of the plant. This will be incorporated into the soil when you water & I had really great luck with it last year. This year I am testing out a hydrolyzed fish & seaweed fertilizer – plants are loving it so far!
  • Pulling Weeds – a necessary evil of gardening, weeding can be done while you’re already pinching suckers & pruning your plants. Weeds will suck up the nutrients around your tomatoes, so get them outta there!

Weed Management

I think pulling weeds is kind of therapeutic. It makes you stop and focus on a “mundane” task – but you know it is essential to your garden’s success, so you suck it up. But there are other options to help prevent pulling so many weeds!

  • Groundcover Fabric – Water-permeable material that will allow the soil to breathe, but suppress weeds. You can cut holes in the fabric where your plants will go. A lot of people will use this in conjunction with drip irrigation.
  • Mulch – a natural, dye-free mulch will suppress weeds & help retain soil moisture in the same way it does in your landscape & also add some organic material to your garden.
  • Mulch Films – similar to groundcover, this will block weeds & help retain moisture. There are also red films that are supposed to increase your yields (testing this out this summer & that will discussion will be a semi-scientific article from the research I’ve done so far).

Pest Management

You’re not the only one who wants to eat your tomatoes – here are some tips on pests & what to do to control them.

  • Pests include – aphids, tomato hornworms, whitefly, among many, many more.
  • Neem Oil – this is my favorite organic pest control product. It smells citrusy and goes to work instantly – I swear I see the bugs bolt immediately and they stay away until we get a few good rains.
  • Diatomaceous Earth – this is my first year experimenting with this stuff & so far it’s had really positive results. You can apply diatomaceous earth as a dusting or mix it into a slurry. I opted for the slurry and was really pleased. Even with the heavy downpours we’ve had in Ohio this summer, that stuff really sticks to the plants’ leaves. Be careful that you don’t overcoat the plants – it may prevent/restrict growth if you suffocate it. Again, this is an organic product.
  • Basil – plant Basil around your Tomatoes & it will help to repel some insects with its aromatic foliage.

Disease Management

Tomatoes are usually bred to have pest or disease-resistance, but that doesn’t guarantee that will be the case. There are some simple steps you can take to ensure your tomatoes will survive & not suffer from diseases or pests. The most important this when it comes to disease is not necessarily treatment, but rather, your plan should be focused on prevention.

  • Epsom Salts – put a few tablespoons in the planting hole. This will supply the plant with 2 crucial elements: Magnesium, and Sulfur. Along with Calcium you would call these secondary nutrients (of secondary importance to the macronutrients of Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium), but the role they plant in the plants health is critical. Calcium, magnesium, and sulfur are required by plants for normal healthy growth and help fortify & strengthen the cell walls (important in new growth as well as existing). The secondary nutrients basically work in conjunction with the macronutrients – helping make them more available, assisting in nutrient delivery & uptake (please drop some knowledge on me if I’m out of line saying this!)
  • Neem Oil – I swear, this stuff is awesome. Not only does it take care of insects & pests, but is also listed for several diseases and fungal infestations!
  • Copper Fungicide – Copper fungicides are considered as preventative, not curative – but so are most products. If you have gotten to a point of noticing a disease taking hold of a whole plant, you’re probably too late. Prevention is always the best method of control – it’s like putting sunscreen on before going to the beach.
  • Complete Disease Control – this Monterey product is a biofungicide/bactericide – bio meaning this is a live product. The active ingredient is a naturally occurring strain of the beneficial bacterium Bacillus amyloliquefaciens. This is my first year using this product, but given the fact that we’ve had buckets of rain poured over this season and my plants are still okay – is a good sign! The really great thing is that this product is so safe that you can use it up to the day of harvest – and it’s certified Organic as well!

Harvest

  • Leave tomatoes on the vine as long as possible, picking when fruits ripen to red.
  • Heavier varieties may need to be given extra support, or pulled when green. Let it ripen in a cool, dark place – not in a sunny windowsill as this may damage the skin of the tomato.

Storage

Videos will be coming in the next couple weeks as all of my tomato plants are fruiting like crazy right now! (You can see those on the [once] greatly neglected Gardening for Gains YouTube Channel – I PROMISE MORE IS ON THE WAY SOON!) If I don’t learn how to make a perfect sauce, I’ll end up buried in tomatoes from the 55 plants we have blooming.

  • Do not store in sunny areas (unless you want sun-dried tomatoes)
  • Do not store in the fridge (unless you make salsa or pico)
  • Salsa
  • Pico de Gallo
  • Canning – Tomato Sauces & Pastes
  • Freezing

Supplies needed

  • Seeds
  • Soil mix
  • Growing trays
  • Grow lights if you don’t have south-facing window for seedlings
  • Epsom Salts
  • Tomato-tone Fertilizer
  • Stakes – bamboo, fiberglass, steel, wood.
  • Plant Tying materials
  • Sisal/Jute Twine (Florida weave method)
  • Sprayer to apply fertilizers/treatments
  • Drip irrigation / soaker hoses / sprinklers
  • Canning Jars
  • Patience, Passion, and Persistence! I used to hate growing tomatoes, but now I just love the challenge & the reward!

Really hope that this guide has given you a somewhat detailed roadmap to successfully grow tomatoes! Please like, comment, follow AND PLEASE let me know if you have any wisdom to contribute to this tomato growing guide!

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5 Ways to Prevent Pullin’ Weeds

There is nothing that seems like more of a waste of time in the world than pullin’ weeds! If you’ve ever worked for a Grounds Crew or Landscaper, we all know that this task is reserved for the grunts & freshmen. The typical, “I don’t have anything for you to do, so go break your back pulling weeds and let me know when you’re done”. Almost always confusing you, thinking that was the secret maintenance signal to go “get lost” & come back before lunch. But I digress…

As a gardener, weeding is viewed through a much different lens – but not too different, bottom line is that it still sucks! Weeding left undone will only continue to multiply, so as hard as this is to do, just keep on it every single day or pick a couple days a week to dedicate to the sacred art. When they start poppin’ up, it doesn’t seem like a big deal – but you also don’t think you need a haircut until you already look like one of the Beatles.

  1. Weed Barrier Fabric – There are so many options in this category. Woven & non-woven ground covers are pretty ideal because they will allow water & nutrients to pass through them while suppressing weed growth. This eliminates the need for installing irrigation, although adding that to the garden is never a bad idea! Plastic mulch will suppress weeds while helping retain soil heat & moisture. You may be able to water the plants @ their bases, but irrigation in the form of soaker hoses or drip irrigation would be much more ideal (article coming soon on irrigation in the garden). Biodegradable paper mulch is the last fabric-type of product that I have heard of. This is basically kraft paper & works to suppress weeds through a more natural means. Over the season it will begin to breakdown & the great thing is the convenience of not having to remove it at the end of the season – a much more sustainable option with no waste!20170523_163135-1
  2. Mulch, Straw, and Rice Hulls – The first 2 options may look familiar, but you’re probably wondering what rice hulls are or could do for the garden – we’ll get there! With mulch & straw it is important to make sure you’re getting clean product with no viable weed seeds. Mulch should be free of dyes – this is not like your landscaping mulch. The point is for weed suppression & water retention, not necessarily the aesthetics of the color. I’ve never used straw, but with fellow gardeners I follow on Instagram, it seems to be working! My only worry would be the wind blowing straw away – anybody with experience, please comment & enlighten me! Rice Hulls are relatively new to the horticulture world, and most growers use them in pots, not necessarily on the ground. Since the hulls are parboiled, they are free of weed seeds, and they come in compressed bales of 7 or 30 cubic feet bags – so that would go a long ways in the garden! Basically the rice hulls will work in the same way as straw or mulch – suppressing weeds, but loose enough to allow air & moisture to pass through.
  3. Square Foot Gardening – I try to plant things as close as possible, so that I can get as much food as possible, plus the dense planting proximity will help suppress the weeds. This year I had a bed planted with garlic bulbils (Bulbils form when a garlic scape is allowed to mature & they take a couple years to mature). Since the bulbils grow very thin, I also had a ton of weeds popping up. Once Kyla & I pulled the weeds, we planted Tomatoes & Lettuce in any possible open spots. It’s working well so far & I’ve been pulling weeds as I prune the tomato plants – luckily I have ground cover or plastic mulch on my other beds & won’t have to do much weeding there! 20170528_200254
  4. Harvest the Weeds – Believe it or not, a lot of ‘weeds’ are nutritious & some are even considered ‘superfoods’. Here is a link to flowers & weeds that you can harvest & eat: 13 Edible Weeds and Flowers.
  5. Water & Pull – This is the good ole-fashioned way to garden. Water your plants and then go down the rows & get to pullin’! Weed-pulling while the ground is soft is optimal because the weeds will easily uproot.

Happy Gardening!

 

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On Love & Gardening for Gains

“You’re going to love your birthday gift, I think it’s the best gift I’ve ever gotten anyone. You’ll find out this weekend because you have to sign a waiver.”

I thought for sure this girl was trying to kill me, but was excited to find out that I was going to a ropes course for my 26th birthday. The pure excitement of going and doing something adventurous and extreme with a girl – with my girl – was enough to blind me to the imminent fear of being 30-60 feet up in the air.

Summit Vision

We get to the course, go through the safety training, and as we are walking up to the course we realize the shear height. Despite that, I stayed pretty positive because nobody seemed phased by it, they were all the adventurous type and Kyla seemed pretty chill too. After we get all our gear on and start walking to the point where you climb up to the first platform, she turns to me with eyes huge, watery with fear, and beautiful as could be, and she says, “I’m really scared of heights”. All I could do was laugh and say, “Are ya [freaking] kidding me?”

And in that moment I felt what true love is – I felt the sacrifice and the willingness to go beyond her own fears in order to make me happy. When I think she can’t get any better, I’m always proven wrong.

She took the more difficult route up to the first platform, climbing the staples. I followed after she got up to the top and felt good until I was realizing how high up we were going to be. We sat on the first platform for at least 15 minutes trying to get the courage to adventure out, but she just couldn’t do it, so I went out on my own – I was just happy Kyla was up there and faced her fear that I didn’t know she had until a few minutes before the climb up. Oh, and the head instructor said that this sort of thing happens all the time and 9 out of 10 relationships do just fine afterwards.

I’m not exactly sure that I can say I enjoyed myself, but glad that I at least gave it a shot. My thinking was that this was going to be a physical challenge, not such a psychological one. Everything is connected by wires – wires secure the poles to each other, to the ground, and the wires all pull on each other; the tension between them creates the balance that holds everything together. The problem with this is that everything sways a little and nothing is really stable. The platforms, the ropes, the elements you’re climbing on are all connected by wire and your weight causes them to sag slightly – basically it was just really nerve-wracking because nothing felt safe because of the slight wobble and play in the lines. I walked on wooden platforms that were on wires connecting platforms, then up the Stairway of Heaven, over 2 parallel telephone poles, through rope loops, then back through the loops and telephone poles, where I then walked the plank 60 feet above the Earth to the final platform where I met Kyla to zipline back to safety, security and sanity.

Poor Kyla had to climb up to that top platform and was even more terrified about zipping down. She looked so cute as we finally got her talked into going down. They say that couples usually look at each other as they’re going down and that helps – she looks at me with those big, beautiful brown eyes full of tears of fear, we count down and as she starts zipping she says, “I love you!” and I was in such shock that she zipped and I had my mouth hanging open and had to catch up to her to tell her I loved her too! I know she didn’t take it as me snubbing her, but she just opened up in such a way I was in pure shock.

After we pulled the lines back to the platform, we wrapped our arms around each other and kissed like we were on the brink of death, with thoughts that we would never see the ground or each other again. Neither one of would have done this ropes course if we realized what we were getting into, but we Gardened for Gains. We made gains in our lives by uprooting ourselves from our conventional ways and taking a leap of faith. When you lift your roots from the Earth it may be a shock to your system, but you may just find yourself planted in a much better place when you return.

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