Gardening Checklist for Late April and Early May
1. Improve your soil by adding composted organic matter (planting mix, compost, peat moss, etc.) Raised beds, containers, and flowerbeds will respond to your efforts!
2. Continue weed eradication; remove them now before they go to seed.
3. Bait for snails and slugs using either commercial baits or non-chemical methods such as beer in an empty tuna can. Also a big shoe never fails!
4. Set out warm season annuals and vegetables after the threat of frost is past. Frost cloth can give you added protection if you want to plant a little early this year.
5. Check your irrigation systems for cracked pipes, leaks, plugged emitters etc. Replace batteries on water timers and verify your watering schedule- both days and length of watering.
6. Feed early blooming shrubs such as azaleas, camellias, rhododendrons, etc. once they have finished blooming. Read and follow manufacturer’s application rates. Now’s the time to also feed flowers, roses, and berries.
7. Plant summer flowering bulbs such as dahlias, gladiolus, callas, cannas, lilies, and more. If you’re planting bulbs for cut flowers such as gladiolus, divide your crop by three and plant every two weeks to lengthen your flower harvest.
Plant of the Month
Tomatoes, America’s Most Widely Planted Vegetable
Tomatoes are generally divided into two categories: heirloom and hybrid. Note that GMO tomatoes are not commercially available, and that hybrid tomatoes are NOT GMO’S.
An heirloom is generally considered to be a variety that has been passed down, through several generations of a family because of its valued characteristics. Since 'heirloom' varieties have become popular in the past few years there have been liberties taken with the use of this term for commercial purposes.
DISEASES: Hybrid tomatoes are marked with a variety of letters that indicate their disease and pest resistance.
V = verticillium wilt: Verticillium is a fungus that causes plants to wilt. There is no control. Crop rotation can help prevent it.
F = fusarium wilt strain I: This is also a fungus. It is very difficult to get rid of. People can get some strains of this fungus. The toxic fusariums are VERY unpleasant fungi.
FF = fusarium wilt strain I & II
N = nematodes: Nematodes are the most numerous multicellular animals on earth. Nematodes feed on bacteria, fungi, and other nematodes. Colorless, unsegmented, and lacking appendages, nematodes may be free-living, predaceous, or parasitic. Many of the parasitic species cause important diseases of plants, animals, and humans. Other species are beneficial in attacking insect pests, mostly sterilizing or otherwise debilitating their hosts.
T = tobacco mosaic virus: Tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) is a virus that infects plants, especially tobacco and other members of the family Solanaceae. The infection causes characteristic patterns, mottling and discoloration on the leaves. Some sources say that smokers should not smoke around their tomatoes and should wash their hands before touching a tomato plant!
A = alternaria: Alternaria are any of various fungi in the genus Alternaria, many of which cause plant diseases, chiefly blights and leaf spots.
Other tomato diseases include curly top carried by leaf hoppers (insect).
PESTS: Tomatoes may be plagued by cut worms, tomato hornworms, tobacco hornworms, aphids, cabbage loopers (moth—the worm is a smooth pale green with white stripes), whiteflies, stink bugs, tomato fruitworms (the worm is cream, yellow, green, reddish, or brown with pale stripes and/or black spots-hairy-about 1 ½ - 2 inches long), flea beetles (small beetle that jumps—blackish with yellow stripes), red spider mites, slugs, and Colorado potato beetles. The larva of the Colorado potato beetle is a red to orange soft grub about 1/2 inch long when mature. It has a black head, black legs and, when large, two rows of black spots on each side of the body. The adult is a distinctive yellow and black striped beetle. Ten black stripes run along the length of the wing covers. The eggs, orange-yellow in color, can be found in clusters of about 20 on the undersides of leaves.
COLORS AND CATEGORIES: Commercial and hybrid tomatoes are most often red. A few are yellow/gold. Heirlooms vary in color. They may be red, green, yellow, orange, brown, ivory, white, or purple. Some are striped, fuzzy, or multicolored.
Tomatoes are divided into several categories based on usage. Slicing tomatoes are the usual tomatoes that are used for eating –fresh or canned. Beefsteak tomatoes are LARGE. They are great for sandwiches and burgers. Oxheart tomatoes can grow to the same size as a beefsteak, but are shaped like a strawberry!
Plum tomatoes or paste tomatoes have a greater solids contents and are used for sauce or paste. They are an oblong shape.
Pear tomatoes are pear shaped and are used for paste. They are a San Marzano type, which provides a richer paste. S.M. is Italy's most famous plum tomato, grown in Campania. It is prized for its tart flavor, firm pulp, red color, low seed-count and easily removed skin.
Cherry tomatoes are small and round. Grape tomatoes are smaller and oblong. Camparitomatoes are bigger than cherries, but are a small tomato. Their features are juicy, not mealy, and low in acid.
Tomato plants are either determinate or indeterminate. Determinate are “bushes”. Determinates are good container plants. All the fruit ripens at once, which is good for canning or commercial growers who can harvest an entire field at once. Indeterminate are vines, which should have support. They produce until fall frosts. They are best for home gardeners. Most heirlooms are indeterminate.
When selecting a variety consider climate. Some tomatoes will produce in fewer days than others. (Early Girl) The number of days is usually on the label that accompanies the plant.
Celebrity ripens in 75 days and is FVTMV resistant. It is determinate.
Better Boy ripens in 70 days, is FVA resistant and is indeterminate.
Roma-paste- ripens in 75 days, is FV resistant and is determinate.
Supersweet 100–cherry-ripens in 85 days, is FV resistant and is indeterminate.
Also consider climate in relation to when to plant. Frost will kill young tomato plants. Plant outdoors after the last frosts. In Amador County the old Italian gardeners told us not to plant until mid-May (Mother’s Day), and some suggested NOT before Memorial Day. If planted earlier, the plants would need protection. This year seems to be defying that meme. Will you take a chance?
Early Girl, Celebrity and Sweet 100’s are good for hot climates.
How Many Plants? In general grow two plants for each family member who will eat a lot of tomatoes. For canning and/or salsa, four plants per person is the recommendation.
Planting: Plant tomatoes where they will get eight hours of sun a day. Soil should be prepared before planting by digging in compost (well-rotted—no green). Generally a gardener should use five to eight pounds per square foot of ground. The organic matter should be dug in from 3 to 6 inches.
When planting, bury at least 50% of the plant. Right after planting, water the tomatoes. Indeterminate tomatoes really should be supported, but there are gardeners who let them sprawl on the ground. If supporting tomatoes, the “cage” should be put in at the time of planting. If supporting tomatoes plant them one and a half to three feet apart. If indeterminate tomatoes will sprawl, plant them three to four feet apart. In really hot climates, plant determinate and supported tomatoes closer together so they can shade each other’s fruit. In case of late frost, be prepared to cover newly planted tomatoes.
What next? Tomato plants are now planted, supported and watered. Some articles suggest 16 ounces of warm water for the first week to ten days. After that recommendations are two gallons or one inch of water per week. Plants in containers will probably need more water. Water with drip irrigation or a soaker hose to avoid getting water on the foliage and fruit. The soil should drain well and never be soggy. After a week or two put mulch around the plants. Keep weeds away from the plants.
Do not fertilize with high nitrogen fertilizer. Chemical tomato fertilizers are available. Tomatoes grow well in rich organic soil without commercial fertilizer. The Ocean Forest soil that we carry at the farm produces excellent tomatoes! Some sources suggest seaweed, like kelp, for fertilizer. Whatever the choice, do not over fertilize- it can stress the plant and produce too many leaves and not enough fruit.
Some gardeners “prune” tomatoes by pinching the “suckers”, which are small shoots that emerge from the main stem or stem side at the base of each leaf. If you prune, leave some suckers in the middle and on top for shade. Pruning results in less, but larger, fruit.
Amador Flower Farm sells: heirloom and hybrid tomato plants, potting and planting soil, including Ocean Forest, Harvest Supreme an organic soil amendment, tomato cages, support ties, tomato fertilizers, fruit and vegetable fertilizer, kelp meal, insecticidal soap, blossom set spray, companion plants, and seeds.