Hurrying Up Tomatoes
Theres nothin in the world like homegrown tomatoes.
. . . .
The only two things that money cant buy
Are true love and homegrown tomatoes!
The words of the song are simple but true. Even the most casual
gardener wants a couple of tomato plants somewhere in the yard.
The problem with growing tomatoes in Texas is a problem inherent
in tomatoes. The plants refuse to set fruit once the temperature
is routinely above ninety degrees. As we know, spring has barely
sprung around here before the temperature gets that warm. The
key to a good tomato crop, then, is to get the plants in early,
get them growing quickly and get the fruit set before hot weather
The other tricky part is that while tomatoes wont set
fruit when it is too hot, they also dont care for cold
weather at all. The best solution I have found is to plant your
tender young tomato plants inside a tomato cage covered with
a light fabric designed as row cover. This material is feather-light
so that sun, rain, and air can easily reach the growing plant,
but it has insulating properties that keep out the harsh winds
and cold night temperatures. It is sold under several names
(Harvest Guard, Plant Shield, Remay, Row Cover, etc.), but it
is all the same material. You wrap the tomato cages completely,
including the top, and hold the material on with clothespins.
You dont have to worry about the plant getting too hot
as you do when you use plastic to wrap the cages. You can leave
the material on until the plants begin to bloom and need insects
inside to pollinate the flowers.
Which is another benefit of the protective fabric: it keeps
insects away from the young, tasty plants. You can use the same
material to protect other tender young plants by draping it
over rows and holding it down with rocks or dirt. Although the
material is extremely light, it is also pretty tough. You can
use it year after year if you take care of it.
Another way to assure a good supply of tomatoes is to plant
more than one variety. Each type of tomato has its own characteristics,
including the temperature at which it quits setting fruit. Generally,
the smaller the fruit, the more heat tolerant. Cherry tomatoes,
the small pear tomatoes and the wild tomato berries will generally
continue to produce fruit throughout the hot weather. Last year
my tiny little Texas Wild tomato berries started in the spring,
went through the summer and were still producing when I got
tired of the sprawling plant and pulled it up in October.
The old Porter tomatoes were developed with Texas summers in
mind and will produce well for a long time. If you are interested
in heirloom varieties, you might enjoy seeing how some of them
perform. Yellow pear is one of the oldest and it performs like
a champ year after year.
Once you select your tomato and get it tucked into the ground
in a spot where it gets full sun, you have to encourage the
plant to grow quickly. You do this the same way you encourage
any baby to growyou feed it! Naturally, you will have
worked compost or manure into your soil and planted the seedling
on a handful of rock phosphate. Now, to keep it going great
guns, start a program of good nutrition. I like to use liquid
plant food because it doesnt involve my getting down and
scratching around in the soil and it goes directly into the
plants system. During the growing season, spray (or pour)
of liquid fish emulsion and seaweed on the plants about every
two weeks. This provides all the elements and trace elements
the plants need to grow strong and healthy.
Strong, healthy plants are the best protection from insects
and diseases. If you have good soil and good plants to start
with, you should have a good crop. One of the biggest threats
to tomatoes is the dread Tomato Hornworm. Looking like a creature
from a Japanese horror movie circa 1956, the hornworms are big,
fat, juicy and will rare up and face you down. But, relax, they
only bite leaves. Pick them off your plants and squash them.
If you have a big problem with caterpillars, spray or dust your
plants with Bacillus Thuringensus, known as Bt. This is a biological
control that harms only caterpillars. It
wont hurt any other creature in the garden, including
Also remember to keep your tomatoes watered if the rains dont
accommodate. Tomatoes dont like drought. Then sit back
and enjoy your homegrown tomatoes. Theyre a lot easier
to manage than true love.