It’s the most wonderful time of the year — for me anyway. My dogs rejoice at the beginning of tomato season too. With the exception of squirrel season (which is apparently all year), the smell of newly planted tomato seedlings means a fabulous feast ahead.
My dogs love to eat tomatoes so much that this year we have to plant them in the middle of the garden bed, away from the edges. We used to use the fence posts to help support the tomato cages, but Rufus and Dufus push the metal mesh inward until they can reach the low hanging fruit. They do this despite the fact that the fence cuts up their heads and makes a muddy-bloody mess that they enthusiastically track into the house. That’s Bullmastiffs — they feel no pain and will do anything for food.
This year we are planting Black Cherry, White Cherry, Mortgage Lifter and, a variety new to us, Oxheart Pink. (The name is gross, but the production is apparently delicious.) I banished Cherokee Purple this year since I have difficulty keeping the blight away from this variety lately. However, there are with us last year.
Like Floridians, tomatoes like it hot. Like Californians, tomatoes also like it dry. Wait for the warm weather of Memorial Day weekend to plant and hope that the heavy spring rain showers are over. Remember to read last year’s get off and running.
Plant your tomato babies in rich, fertilized soil. If you grew or bought tall and lanky fellows, plant them deeply. Tomato plant stems grow roots easily and unlike most other plants, don’t mind being sunk way down in the ground. Just pluck off any side shoots with leaves first (see photos.)
Opinions about spacing (like any other garden topic!) differ. Most advisers suggest 2-3 feet apart. Not me. Since I happen to have the room, I space mine an extremely precise “about a shovel handle” length apart. This works out to leave about 4 feet in between and means I get double duty — digging and measuring — from one tool. Good air circulation is important in our unpredictable and sometimes swampy state of Connecticut. Spacious accommodations provide easy picking and dry digs so plants are less likely to invite the blight to stay over.
Indeterminate tomato varieties need good support. They grow tall and require some kind of staking. Determinate types grow in bush form and can grow freely. Stay tuned for a future article on different ways to stake a tomato plant.
Water tomatoes deeply. Assuming you don’t have a farm and need to use a sprinkler, try to water from a jug down deep into the soil at the roots, keeping leaves dry.
Tuck them in for the season with a good layer of mulch, leaving an inch or two around the trunk so they don't burn. I have used grass clippings on top of newspaper, cardboard, store-bought mulch and even red plastic. All types provide warmth to promote fruit development and keep out weeds. If only mulch kept out my tomato-loving dogs.