Dishing the Dirt: Tomatoes
By Jeff and Eileen Bidwell
Believe it or not, spring has arrived in Ballard! The nurseries are packed and plant sales abound, enticing us to get out there and plant. We see our neighbors bringing home carloads of wondrous treasures. But baby, its cold outside!
We are all aware that this spring has been cooler and wetter than normal. Still, we rejoice when that one bright, sunny day arrives and we can quickly guide our treasures into their new homes. But for some plants, particularly late summer edibles and ornamental annuals, this is when we need to hold back, and express our love by finding a warm, light and sheltered place to keep them safe and healthy a little longer.
Gradually, as the days get longer and warmer, put summer flowers such as geraniums and summer veggie starts (tomatoes, squash, peppers and basil) in a sheltered spot outdoors to enjoy the warmth. Then bring them indoors for the night. This hardens your plants, readying them for planting when warmer days arrive, and night time temperatures rise above 50 – 55 degrees.
Tomatoes are summertime favorites in the Northwest. Their cheery color and delectable flavor evoke fond memories of long sunny summer days. Many scrumptious varieties perform well in our summer gardens, but because they love heat and sun, patience is essential for their success.
Soon the days will be warm enough, but again we emphasize that tomatoes need protection from night time chill. When your plants are festooned with clusters of tiny yellow blossoms, caution is still required, as night temperatures may still dip below 50 – 55. Air temperatures below 50 can make tender blossoms sterile, and dash your hopes for a bountiful harvest.
At our house, we generally plant our tomatoes around the second week in June. However, new and easy to use products for protecting tomatoes are available at garden centers and online. These not only allow plants to go into the ground sooner; they also prolong the season well into fall.
To fertilize tomatoes, use a balanced organic vegetable fertilizer (10-10-10, equal parts nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.) Sprinkle the mix around each plant, cover with 2 inches of topsoil, then soak the mixture. Repeat every 2 -3 weeks. Be extra careful not to allow the fertilizer to make contact with your plants, as this can burn them.
For more information, check out the outstanding Fact Sheet Home Gardening. Go to the Master Gardener website http://king.wsu.edu/gardening/mastergardener.htm
and search for EBO-422. This 24 page guide includes loads of valuable information, including Planting Guides, tools and advice.
See you at the Market!
Jeff and Eileen Bidwell are King County Master Gardeners and long-time Ballard residents. You can find the Master Gardener Plant Answer Clinic at the Ballard Sunday Farmers Market every Sunday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., May 1st through September 25th.