29 April 2009
In The Garden With the Fluvanna Master Gardeners
By Irene C. Burke - Fluvanna Master Gardener
Fluvanna County Extension Office: 434.591.1950
When is a fruit not a fruit? When its a vegetable. In Nix v. Hedden, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1893 declared tomatoes were vegetables. With this decision they set the precedent for accepting popular instead of scientific terms---for tax purposes. If most people say its a vegetable, then its a vegetable.
According to the USDA Agricultural Research Service, the Tomato is the most popular home garden and the second most consumed vegetable after potato in the world.
Anyone could tell you that the tomato is rewarding and encouraging, a blooming, luxurious smile in your garden.
Think of the tomato as a beautiful creature whose inner beauty matches her outer beauty. Shes luscious unadorned, sun-warmed and fresh, but just as delicious, sauced and spicy, and so easy to look after.
Pick out transplant seedlings that havent set fruit or been pollinated. Go for stocky, dark green, vigorous unblemished plants.
Leggy plants develop strength when some of that leg or stem is buried in an inch or two of soil, with the most robust leaves above ground.
To increase yields, pinch the young plants growth tips when it has between four and five leaves.
Experiment with pruning. Some pruned varieties will boost their yield, some will not. Write a note on the seed packet, indicating which variety benefits from pinch pruning.
Gently pinch with your fingers, never a sharp tool. Mulch lightly at transplanting or as seedlings emerge. Mulch more heavily as each plant thickens.
Choose determinate varieties for a big, one-week harvest, especially for tomatoes destined for canning and sauce, or set out successively maturing plants for weeks of returns.
Select indeterminate varieties for continuing crops, until a killing frost.
Tomatoes give a lot for a little space, 10 to 15 pounds or more per plant when staked or caged.
Space staked plants two feet apart in three-foot wide rows, with each leading stem lightly secured to its stake every eight inches.
Ready the embedded stake, a foot into the ground, when the plants are a few inches high.
Prune staked tomatoes to one or two main leaders, and wire-cage plants to three or four leaders.
Though the heavy foliage of a caged plant reduces sunscald, the plant and its cage will require more room especially for air circulation. However, caged tomatoes deliver on that extra space with a higher yield.
Curling tomato leaves are protesting uneven watering and temperatures above 85 F. Watering deeply, along with renewed mulch will uncurl the leaves.
Tomatoes diseases decoded
Alternaria Stem Canker/Crown Wilt (A)
Bacterial speck Pseudomonas (B)
Early Blight (EB) (As)
Fusarium Wilts Race 1(F)
Fusarium Wilt Race 1 and Race 2 (FF)
Root-knot Nematodes (N)
Septoria leaf spot (L)
Stemphylium Gray leaf spot (St)
Tobacco Mosaic Virus (T)
Verticilium wilt (V)
Virginias top tomatoes (days to maturity)
Better Boy (105) VFN
Big Beef (73) VFFNTA
Celebrity (70) VFFNT
Mountain Spring (65) VF
Plum Dandy (82) EB, V
Sweet 100 (65) VF
For more information see publications #426-418 (2004) and #426-480 (2000) at http://www.ext.vt.edu/resources/ or request them from your local Virginia Extension Office.
Tip of the Week
Use natural or synthetic wine bottle corks at the bottom of a container as a shelf for a potted plant. Watered corks humidify the plant, preventing fragile roots from drowning. The pot-within-a-pot gives you more decorative options without scouring a fine outer pot with coarser materials like pebbles.