Spring season is in full swing around Ascension Parish, and as such comes the coveted tomato planting. Tomatoes are the #1 most popular plant grown in the garden and it’s also the one that can have the most problems. From insects and blight, to poor nutrition – growing tomatoes (or trying to at least) can turn into the bane of our existence. This season, turn your inadequate crop into a blockbuster with these helpful tips.
If you’re starting a new garden, it is always important to have your soil tested. There are places locally you can bring your soil, but there are usually costs involved. I came across this helpful article that shows you how to test soil pH yourself. All you need is vinegar and baking soda! Once you have determined that your soil has the right pH to plant tomatoes (around 6.0 to 6.8) you are ready to fertilize your soil for optimal nutrient absorption.
Big store fertilizers, like Miracle-Gro for example, are not optimal for your plant because they do not provide the micro-minerals that feed the beneficial bacteria in the soil. Meaning, if you soil isn’t thriving, your plants will not either. For the past several years, I’ve been using Trifecta+ Fertilizer made from a gardener and small business owner located in Michigan. The mix provides 50 trace minerals, beneficial fungi and bacteria, and fast and slow release nutrients that help build your healthy soil and keep it healthy over the long haul. This company has been growing by leaps and bounds, so stock is usually limited, but he re-stocks and updates customers often. When you buy, grab a back-up bag as well.
A common misconception is that tomatoes need daily watering. This is false and potentially damaging your plant. The root system is designed to dig deep in search of water. If you’re watering on a daily basis, the roots become stunted and remain shallow because there is no purpose for them to dive deep. Therefore, you have a weak plant with fragile roots that won’t be able to absorb vitamins or weather a storm. Keep your tomato watering to every 3rd day if possible and always water from the bottom.
Daily watering (particularly from the top) also increases the likelihood of blight fungus. This is the yellowing, spotting, and/or shriveling of the leaves, usually from the bottom. There are certain instances when weather plays a hand in blight. Daily rains and summer storms are inevitable. To counter this, you can purchase a 20 inch box fan to produce air flow under your plant and keep the top soil dry.
There is an on-going debate about whether or not to remove leaves and suckers. Over the years, I’ve tested both and found that suckers DO matter. Not necessarily in the production of fruit per se, but the production of disease. The more leaves/suckers, the more area needs to remain dry. Disease strikes faster in a crowded area.
Removing leaves at the first sign of blight is critical and will lengthen the life of your plant dramatically. Once your plant is able to be staked, it is ready to be pruned.
I don’t know about other gardeners in Ascension Parish, but I have had to self-pollinate my tomatoes for the last 2 -3 years. The lack of honey bees is a scary reality in many areas due to the high usage of insecticides. Gardeners around our area have different views and opinions on this and I understand both, however the spraying of harmful organic and non-organic pesticides should be at a minimum. Here is a list of pesticides harmful to honeybees:
- Orthene (Acephate)
- Seven (Carbaryl)
- Diazinon (Spectracide, others)
- Bayer systemic (Imidacloprid)
- Ambush, Pounce (Permethrin)
- Crossfire, Raid Flying Insect Killer (Resmethrin)
If possible, do your research before spraying big-store brands. The best insecticide I’ve ever used I made myself for free. It just goes to show, you don’t need all the other chemicals.
If you find yourself without good pollinators, the best tool you can use is a soft, fluffy paint brush. Dust lightly over each flower and you will have a plentiful crop.
I hope you found these tips helpful. Please share and comment below if you have any questions. Thanks for reading!
About the Writer
Mandy Pratt Quebedeaux was born and raised in Ascension Parish and is a country girl at heart. She has enjoyed cooking and creating recipes since she was a child with help from her parents, Ray and Debbie Pratt. Her grandparents, Edward and Katherine Pratt, taught her to bake and garden, for the freshest “from-the garden” ingredients. She has been married since 2000 to Jed Quebedeaux and has 2 daughters, Gabrielle and Lauren, a pot-belly pig named Amos and a Japanese Chin, Opie. She has worked in the beauty industry for 10+ years and currently is a freelance makeup artist for Lancome. She also enjoys writing beauty and food articles for The Creole.