Tomatoes are a delicious addition to the home garden. A little more difficult to grow than other salad vegetables, tomatoes are a favorite among more advanced home gardeners. Although tomato propagation takes a bit more effort on the part of the gardener, the results are well worth it!
Following is a week to week summary on the propagation of tomatoes:
Week one: Sow - germinate the seeds at soil temperatures of 65 to 75 degrees F. As soon as the seedlings are up, put them under flourescent bulbs.
Week three: Begin cold treatment: cut back light to 12 hrs. a day and temperature to the mid-50's.
Week five: End cold treatment and fertilize. Week six: Transplant the seedlings, in order to prevent the plants from becoming rootbound.
Week eight: Harden off. Subject plants to lower temperatures gradually, extending time spent outdoors gradually.
Week nine: Plant outdoors, taking care to protect the plants.
Week ten to eleven: Remove covers, fertilize.
Weeks fourteen to sixteen: Root prune.
Weeks seventeen to nineteen: Pick the tomatoes.
Tomatoes are susceptible to a number of diseases and disorders, and are often attractive to animals who may frequent the garden. Blossom end rot is a physiological disorder, especially noticeable as the tomatoes first start to ripen. This disease occurs on the blossom end and appears as a brown to black discoloration.
Prevention of this disease includes the removal of those fruit which exhibit these symptoms, alleviating the problem for later ripening fruits. Several tactics are recommended to reduce the amount of damage incurred by Blossom end rot. The soil should not be allowed to become too dry, and should be tested often. If a soil test indicates that calcium is low, a more severe problem may be present. In this case, a foliar spray containing calcium may be beneficial.
Attempts are constantly being made to reduce the amount of labor necessary on the home gardener's part in the propagation of tomatoes. Many of these improvements are being implemented not into the variety itself, but in the method of growth. For many years, home gardeners have staked and/or mulched their tomato plants to keep them off the ground; many have grown their plants on trellises. These practices are employed to improve the quality of the fruit harvested; however, the pruning, suckering, and training required is a great investment in labor. Also, regular pruning has been shown to actually reduce total yields. Presently, vegetable scientists are studying a system of growing high quality tomatoes with larger yields resulting from less labor. Under this system, the tomato plant is grown in a cage.
Tomato cages are mesh wire cylinders 15 to 22 inches in diameter and 2 to 5 feet tall. They are usually made from 6" x 6" or 8" x 8" mesh concrete reinforcement wire, but can also be made from other types of mesh wire if the mesh is large enough to permit easy harvesting. Where concrete reinforcement wire is used, a 4 to 6 foot section of 5- foot-wide wire should be used. With the use of a cage, the plants are allowed to grow naturally. No pruning or training is required. The results should include improved fruit quality from less labor and perhaps even an increase in yields.
These cages may be built by the gardener; it is not necessary to buy a pre-constructed cage. A four-and-one- half foot cage can be made by bending and hooking or welding together the ends of a four to six foot section of a five- foot-wide, 6"x6" mesh wire and removing the bottom rung. Two 2-foot cages can be made from the same sized wire section by removing the center rung and hooking or welding the ends together. It is usually better to hook the ends instead of welding them, since the cages can then be unhooked for storage. The prongs formed by the removal of the bottom rung (of the 4 1/2-foot cage) and the center rung (of the 2 foot cage) are pushed into the soil to support the cage. Tall cages and cages made from 10-gauge concrete reinforcement wire should last for 15 to 20 years and perhaps longer if coated with a rust-preventive paint.
Tomatoes to be caged should be planted at spacings of two to three feet in the row, with five feet between rows. To avoid injury to the plant, the cage should be put in place soon after transplanting.
Cages can be used on both determinate (self-topping) and indeterminate tomato varieties. Short cages can be used on determinate varieties, while tall cages should be used on indeterminate varieties and can also be used on determinate varieties. For home gardens, tall cages are suggested. In cages, the plants are allowed to grow naturally - no pruning or training is required. The results should be improved fruit quality, less labor, and perhaps higher yields.
Although tomatoes are excellent when consumed fresh from the garden, they are also quite tasty when canned. Thus, tomatoes are a favorite with the home canner.
Some varieties have lower acid levels, and if canned, require the addition of lemon juice necessary to retard spoilage. Some low acid varieties are Garden State, Cal Ace, Ace, and Ace 55 V.F.
Michigan State University Food and Nutrition Specialists LINES July 18, 1986.
NATIONAL GARDENING VOLUME 10, NO. 2 FEBRUARY 1987 'Earliest Tomatoes Ever' by Warren Schultz
Hortopics: 8/81, J. Lee Taylor Department of Horticulture, Michigan State University
D. M. Jones, J. E. Motes and H. C. Price Department of Horticulture Michigan State University
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