Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Tomato Growing Advice

If your tomatoes are in growing pots, water them more often than weekly. Even in huge containers, pot-grown tomatoes need more water than those in the ground. Water daily in hot, dry weather and every few days in cooler weather. If tomato foliage wilts on hot afternoons but looks fine in the cooler evenings and mornings, you don't need to water more often.

If he stems of your tomatoes are weak and break off before the fruit ripens. It may be that you are using a water-soluble synthetic fertilizer on pot-grown tomato plants and watering frequently to keep them hydrated. Water soluble fertilizers are easily washed away by daily watering and only last about two weeks at best. As a result, heavy feeders like tomatoes can quickly run short of nutrients, especially if grown in less-than-ideal potting soil. For better results, use a compost-based planting mixture and switch to natural fertilizers that combine quick and slow-release foods. You can also sprinkle corn gluten at the rate of 1 cup per plant every 6-8 weeks. High in nitrogen, corn gluten also keeps tomato plants weed free.

For weak stems, try liquid seaweed. Often used in hydroponic gardening, seaweed extracts like Maxicrop are helpful when plants experience rapid growth during fluctuating weather (like a dry, hot spell followed by a cold, wet week). The fastest growing plant in the world, kelp contains micronutrients, trace elements, plant hormones and growth stimulants. These in turn increase root growth, improve the density and texture of foliage and stems and boost chlorophyll production.

If your tomatoes often get early blight mulch them early and often with used coffee grounds. High in nitrogen, coffee has been reported to have a protective effect against early blight.

Brewed compost tea can also be beneficial for tomatoes. My tea-treated plants are enormous and loaded with tomatoes, while untreated plants are smaller and less productive. In my experience, plants given tea regularly are less likely to get blights, mildew, and so forth. Again in my experience, compost teas are most effective at preventing problems than at fixing them.

Also, keep the foliage dry and prune away any yellowed leaves as soon as you notice them. This creates better air circulation and removes fungus before it spreads.

To avoid mildews, always water the soil, not the plant or the foliage. Mildew can be often suppressed with a mixture of 10 percent milk, 90 percent water, which you DO spray on the leaves early in the morning (so they can dry out quickly). Any kind of milk will do, including powdered. (This works great on squash and cucumbers too.)

More detailed information and advice can be found in How to Grow Juicy Tasty Tomatoes.

Monday, 3 September 2007

How To Grow Tomatoes Tip 7 - No Dig Gardening

Soil preparation can be back-breaking work - perhaps you would like to know how to grow tomatoes without hours of digging.

The idea of no-dig gardening was developed by an Australian named Esther Deans. It was originally both developed both as a labour saving idea, and a method to rejuvenate badly depleted soil in a vegetable garden.

The process involves starting with layers of newspaper, and by adding lucerne hay, straw and compost in succeeding layers, you can create a growing medium without resorting to heavy digging, and one that is rich in nutrients and which will simplify weeding and encourage your much desired plants to grow. The layers compost together, and greatly encourage earthworms. The gardens are maintained by adding manure, compost, etc., and should not be dug up, as this will undo the good work. I have used this approach to creating vegetable gardens, and it certainly does work.

The principle of not digging has sound foundations. Excessive cultivation of the soil, especially when very wet or very dry, will damage the structure of the soil, and lead to compaction. Such excessive cultivation can also discourage the earthworms, and they are the best free labor a gardener has.

Some followers of permaculture and organic gardening have translated no-dig into never-dig, which I believe is sadly mistaken. If you start with a base soil that is badly compacted, then your no-dig garden will initially work well, but you may find your garden does not continue to perform well. The fertile layer you have built up will encourage the earthworms, but we do know that the worms need to shelter from excessively hot, dry, cold or wet conditions. They have been found to seek shelter from extreme conditions by burrowing more deeply into the soil, sometime many feet down. If they cannot shelter in this way, it is my contention that they will die out or move out.

My belief is that an initial cultivation of the soil before you apply the no-dig system will guarantee a better environment for the worms, and thus a better garden for growing your plants, over the longer term. By all means give the no-dig approach a try – you will be pleased with the result.

You can learn about all sorts of soil preparation techniques in How to Grow Juicy Sweet Tomatoes.