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GARDEN FANATIC: It’s tomato time

Most gardeners are ready to plant their tomatoes, which are available at your favorite nursery now. Best Laguna varieties include Early Girl and Celebrity. If you are growing in containers, select Patio, a compact grower. Super Steak and Better Boy, planted in your tomato patch, are good choices for large fruit. Super 100 is a fine cherry tomato, Lemon Boy produces yellow fruit, and La Roma is planted for tomato paste.

Purchase plants that are bushy, not leggy. Although beckoning with the promise of early harvest, avoid plants already in bloom or bearing fruit; they may not transplant well.

Plant tomatoes deep, as roots will develop where the soil touches the stem. This makes for a bushier, stronger plant. Finally, choose a location that receives at least six hours of sunlight. Pinch off the bottom leaves and reserve a minimum of three pairs at the top.

Tomatoes appreciate well-prepared soil, so begin by using plenty of planter’s mix to ensure good soil structure and add a few ounces of a balanced starter fertilizer and gypsite per plant. This initial fertilizer application will be sufficient for the plant until it sets fruit, then it will be time to reapply vegetable fertilizer. Feed once a month while the fruit develops and then discontinue once they near maturity.

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Tomatoes require regular watering after the fruit has set, about two inches a week. One can stimulate earlier fruit production by placing the plant under a little water stress early; however, be careful not to overdo it. As harvest time approaches, cut back on watering, to get less watery fruit and increase flavor.

Most of the diseases and problems associated with tomato root systems are in the past, thanks to the introduction of disease-resistant plants. Hornworms must still be dealt with, either by hand picking or eliminated by Bacillus thuringiensis. The occasional aphids are easily managed using an insecticidal soap.

Sunken black areas at the distal part of the fruit are caused by not maintaining uniform soil moisture after fruit has set, and/or calcium deficiency. This problem is called blossom-end rot and cannot be controlled with a pesticide. A white scald on the cheek of the fruit indicates sunburn and is prevented through good cultural practices.

I hold a true culinary affection for the tomato because it can be served in so many ways. It is used in submarine sandwiches, club sandwiches, BLTs, sloppy Joes and Catharine’s green salads. Without this versatile vegetable, one couldn’t possibly eat a pizza, huevos rancheros, shish kebab, guacamole, ratatouille, Spanish rice, Manhattan clam chowder ...

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See you next time.


STEVE KAWARATANI is happily married to award winning writer Catharine Cooper, and has two dogs. He can be reached at (949) 497-8168, or e-mail to plantman2@mac.com.


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