Garden Tips for the Great Garden State — Planting Tomatoes
As New Jerseyans it's in our DNA to enjoy tomatoes a bit more then perhaps the rest of the country. It's no wonder that we carry such high regards for our 'Jersey Tomatas,' after all, our state is very good at pumping out tons of big, deep red, and perfectly ripe tomatoes year after year. If you have a veggie garden in NJ -- you grow tomatoes, period. In fact, I would even venture to say that most people who start growing their own food in NJ, did so because of the tomato.
So why is it that NJ tomatoes are so good? Well, it's probably more of an illusion then anything else.
Compared to the tomatoes that are available year-round, tomatoes grown in NJ are actually allowed to ripen on the vine and develop their full flavors. The tomatoes that you buy in the spring, fall, and winter were probably grown in California, picked green, and loaded onto a truck filled with ethylene gas to ripen. (Ethylene gas is the same gas a banana gives off, hence the age old trick of ripening your tomatoes in a paper bag with a banana inside). This cheat produces a sad-mealy-pinkish-tomato-like product.
Sure we have good soil and growing conditions too, but eating in season is the real reason Jersey Tomatoes are so good.
When planting your tomatoes this season remember these 5 tips to make sure you get started off on the right foot.
#1 Hold your horses:
I know spring came early this year, and we've had some hot days, and garden centers have tomatoes in stock... Just wait a few more weeks. You're not just avoiding the frost, you want to wait until Alan Kasper is reporting overnight temps well into the 50's. Tomatoes are like Floridians, they just don't like the cold!
This year I will probably set mine out around May 15th, but most years, I really wait until June 1st. Don't worry, your plants will catch up in no time. If you plant them early and battle the frost, the cooler temperatures just keep their growth slow anyway, so you really don't end up much more ahead of the game.
#2 Space 'em out:
Tomatoes need lots of room. They will get bigger if you give them space, you will get more tomatoes if you give them space, and you will have less disease and pests if you give them space. So give them space!
This is a popular rookie mistake thinking that you can jam a lot of plants into one area. Sunshine and air flow will be restricted creating the potential for more disease and pests. Plus, their roots will compete with each other for nutrients and moisture. You will actually get more tomatoes in the same area with less plants then overcrowded sad ones. It is hard to do but try to imagine the full-grown size of the plant and space accordingly.
#3 Feed them breakfast:
Have you ever gone to pick a tomato that looks perfectly ripe, but to your surprise the bottom is all rotten and gooey? This is called Blossom End Rot. It is caused by a deficiency in calcium in your soil, and is usually triggered by over watering.
Save up some eggshells every morning leading up to planting day and crush 3-4 into the bottom of each hole when planting your tomatoes. This will add the much needed calcium which also allows the tomato to develop its full flavor potential. If your tomato goals exceed your egg eating abilities, you can always bring a box to a restaurant that cooks breakfast and ask them to help you out. If they wont, then you'll have a place to throw your rotten tomatoes at.
#4 Rooting insurance:
You will have to be brave with this one. Tomato plants are pretty unique in that any part of their stem will grow roots if it's exposed to soil. Pull ALL the leaves off your young transplants EXCEPT for the top 2-3 sets of leaves. Now plant all of what you destroyed deep underground.
Think of this as rooting insurance. The more roots you have the more nutrients and water your tomatoes can take in. You have just made sure that you're starting off with more roots then exposed plant. Keep in mind things will be slow going at first while the roots establish. However, once they do, your tomatoes will take off.
#5 Give them friends:
Plant Basil and Marigolds in and around your tomatoes. These companion plants repel the bugs that will eat your tomatoes and attract the ones that will protect them.
Similarly, add a birdbath, especially in dry summers. Birds don't really eat tomatoes, but they do like the water that is inside of them. If you ever get holes in the side of your tomatoes, these are from birds trying to suck out the water. If you add a birdbath to your garden, they will leave your tomatoes alone, and also eat other pests looking to ruin all your hard work.
If you have comments, questions, or tips of your own, leave them in the comment section below using your Facebook login. Happy Planting!