S & J’s Tips and Tricks for Tomato Gardening
in Northeast Florida
When planting tomato seeds, keep in mind that temperatures required for seed germination are 70-80 degrees. Keep seeds in a nice warm spot or use a heat lamp of seed heat mat to keep the soil warm during winter when seeding indoors.
Minimum night temperatures for tomato plants is 53 degrees, so remember to wait till all danger of frost has passed before planting out into the garden, or protect young transplants from cold by placing the top of a cut off milk jug or sod a bottle over the plant and into the soil to protect it during cool nights.
When transplanting newly emerged seedling to larger containers or out into the garden, many people find it beneficial to bury the stem portion up to just under the leaves into the soil. The stem will root into the soil and you’re tomato plant will establish itself into the garden quickly.
Give large determinate varieties plenty of room to grow and consider making you’re own cage out of cow fencing. They will require good stable structures to grow on and support the large crop of tomatoes.
Stake determinate tomato varieties with store bought cages or homemade bamboo tepees.
Normal tomato spacing is 2-3+ ft on center. Intensive gardening can be done on 12 inch spacing providing heavy pruning techniques will be used to train the plants to a central stem, and all suckers and side branches are removed when plants are still young.
If at all possible, here in the Northeast Florida area garden, plant you’re tomato plants into a raised bed or mound up soil so the roots are above water level during heavy summer rains.
When planting tomatoes into containers, be sure to give them adequate space for the large root system they will develop.
Smaller determinate and patio sized tomato:
I find that a 5 gallon bucket, purchased from your local hardware store or gotten from a local restaurant, works well for smaller patio tomato varieties and determinate selections. (a Nursery size pot of a #10 gallon of #15 gallon will work as well.
Larger indeterminate and Heirloom tomato:
A large pot at least the size of a half whiskey barrel or a half pickle barrel ( an equivalent of a nursery # 30 gallon size container) should be used for heirloom and indeterminate varieties. Plant one plant per container in the center and under plant with a nice companion plant like basil or marigolds.
Cut worms are the nemesis of newly transplanted tomatoes, you may want to consider placing a small piece of cut off PVC pipe around the base of the tomato seedling after panting, bury it about 1/2 inch into the soil and have it sticking up above the soil an inch or two. paper cups with the bottoms cut out will work for this as well.
Mulch plants generously with straw or hay, being sure to keep the mulch off of the stem. Mulch will help the plants conserve water and keep the soil moisture at a more consistent level, which will in turn, reduce fruit cracking and catfacing.
Stake plants when young to avoid root damage. Make sure to have plants supported on all sides by a cage or a 3 sided triangle of bamboo with side supports for load bearing branches.
Never smoke near your tomato plants and avoid touching them without washing your hands if you have touched tobacco leaves in any form. Tobacco mosaic virus, tomato plant’s number one enemy, is easily transferred to tomato plants from use of tobacco products in the garden. Botanica’s “Organic Gardening” book claims that tomato plants can suffer from ‘passive smoking”. I know it seems wired, but its better safe than sorry with all that hard work you will put into your crop of delicious garden fresh tomatoes.
Rotate your crops annually, don’t plant tomatoes in areas that eggplants, peppers, tomatillos, okra, or potatoes were planted in last year. Fusarium wilt is likely to occur in the second planting, and nematodes can be a problem. IF you must, plant marigolds into the soil to help drive nematodes away and amend the area generously with fresh compost. And watch for signs of fungus, treat with copper sulfate.
Some varieties of tomato suffer from blossom end rot. It can be caused by calcium deficiency in the soil, or soil moisture levels that go from wet to dry and are not kept consistent. To help prevent this problem add crushed eggshell’s to your tomato plants or amend the soil with dolomite when planting. And keep plants heavily mulched to provide a more even soil moisture level.
If leaves begin to show a purple cast, or general yellowing, the plant has not got adequate nutrition available to it. Mix a batch of fish emulsion and spray down foliage and water the soil with the solution every 10 days as needed.