Here are 3 basic things to help grow a successful crop of tomatoes.
1. Plant deep - As we all know, root development is key to the life of almost all plants. And all those hairs on the stem of the tomato plant are actually potential roots, ready to develop and suck up nutrients. So, to take advantage of the tomato's root-iful characteristics, lower at least 50% of the green part our plants into its planting hole. The hole, by the way, should be approximately the size of a half-wine barrel: 18 inches deep, 2 feet in diameter.
Be sure to fill that hole with good stuff. Tomatoes like well-drained soil -- they will suffocate in our lovely Contra Costa clay. To get that result the easy way, fill the hole with a good, balanced mix like Navlet's Planting Mix. Then, give the hole with the plant in it a great, big initial drink. Fill the hole basically to overflowing so that the entire root ball and contents of the hole are wetted.
We also recommend the following for the initial planting. These additions should be mixed evenly into the hole, except for the fish head:
- 1 fish head at the bottom of the hole for nitrogen, phosphorus and calcium, and for a big boost to the wonderful soil life that digest the fish head and make nutrients available to the plants. I got mine at Ranch 99 for $.79/lb, but any fish monger or Asian-style market is likely to have them. If the heads are big, like salmon, it's perfectly OK to cut them in half;
- 3-4 crushed eggshells, for calcium, that I saved over the winter;
- 1 handful of bone meal which is rich in phosphorus and critical to fruit production;
- 1 modest handful of worm castings for a delicious first feed;
- the recommended dose of mycorrhizae from Bountiful Gardens, where you can read about the amazing things this product does.
I know this may seem excessive, but given the resources that you are going to give the plant in terms of time and water, do yourself a favor and make sure to give the plants the best start.
2. Feed well - tomatoes need to be fed about once a month after planting. There are many and complicated recipes. However, a balanced organic fertilizer that emphasizes phosphorus is a good choice, e.g., a 4-6-4. Phosphorus, the second number in all fertilizer forumulas, is key for fruit production. Many good organic fertilizers can be purchased at your local nursery. We got our plants off to their great start with combinations of products from Dr. Earth, Whitney Farms (currently, a Scotts company), and E.B. Stone.
3. I'll have another sip - be consistent in watering tomatoes after planting to avoid "bingeing". It's not good to drown them one day and follow up with a week of neglect. You can easily monitor the plants' needs by sticking your finger down a couple of inches into the soil. If it's dry, they may need a drink, but maybe not: tomatoes like a bit of drying, even to the point of mild wilting. Mulch also helps -- it slows down moisture loss and keeps roots cooler by providing shade for the soil. Put the mulch up to about 6 inches from the stem; that way, certain pests won't be able to stage a sneak attack under the cover of the mulch.
One last thing: rotate your tomato sites year over year for disease control. Many of the most common tomato pests live in the soil, but you can usually outrun 'em by planting in different locations.