Tomatoes are special fruits, and as such, they require special care to flourish (and bodyguards, as we’ll see later).
The heights they can grow to are determined largely by the varieties planted. There are several varieties of tomatoes, and these can be grouped into two main classes. Determinate varieties, also called bush tomatoes, can grow up to 3 or 4 feet in height. Indeterminate varieties do not stop growing until they are killed by frost. They can grow up to 12 feet in height, although the average minimum is usually 6 feet.
Tomatoes are delicate, fragile plants. I like to call them ‘gentle little reds’. A lot of gardeners prefer to grow their tomatoes in simple steps without any complexities and stress. It’s generally believed that the height they grow up to is also determined by the care they receive.
Application of fertilizer or manure, adequate light source, frequent watering, adding an air source such as a fan, trimming off the lower leaves and regular weeding. All these are all very necessary for the growth of your plants, but there’s a lot more that can be done.
Arming your tomatoes with nutrients is key
Tomato seedlings should go into the soil with fortifications. Before that, the first step is to plant the seedlings in pots. The essence of nursing them before full planting is to have better control of the critical stages of germination. Ensure to poke holes under the pots so water won’t stagnate. If you’re planting in a greenhouse, the heat should be high.
Tomatoes flourish in warmth, and they will not ripen properly if they don’t get what they need. If you don’t have a greenhouse, you can easily pre-heat the soil before planting the seedlings. They’ll then need to receive at least 8 hours of direct sunlight every day. Water your seedlings twice a day, morning and evening.
After three weeks or a month, they are ready to graduate to soil beds. While preparing your beds, you have to dig each hole to be big enough to accommodate the seedling and every other additive that’ll be joining it, 20-24 inch (50-60cm) holes are best. The holes should be spaced out by at least three feet (0.9m). The more room they have, the more fruit they can produce. If your garden is small, you can bring it down to two feet (0.6m).
Fish heads for nitrogen:
That’s right. Fish heads. This may come as a shock but they can work magic for your tomatoes. Fish heads are rich in nitrogen, and as they decompose, it is released into the soil. A lack of nitrogen will result in stunted growth for your plants, and they may also end up with yellow leaves.
In general, a nitrogen deficiency takes the beauty out of your tomatoes. They appear unappetizing and unhealthy. Organic nitrogen sources are the best. Fish heads, fishtails, fish guts, fish waste, and basically every seafood waste provides nitrogen. Fish meal is also a good supplement if the idea of fish heads is not appealing.
The fish head will go into the hole first. It should be placed with the open end in contact with the soil. You might want to keep animals away from your garden, though there’s really nothing to worry about. By the time the hole is covered, the smell won’t be a problem.
Boost your plant’s immune system with aspirin (or willow water)
This might sound weird, but next, drop in a couple of aspirin tablets into your hole. Aspirin is the trade name of a compound called acetylsalicylic acid. Apparently, it has other uses besides relieving pain and soothing inflammation. The acid helps to trigger a defense mechanism in the plant, known as the Systemic Acquired Resistance Response. This helps the tomato fight off antigens such as fungi, bacteria, and viruses. The plants have a natural hormone for this purpose, but you can aid this protective process with aspirin.
Another natural source of salicylic acid is willow water. Willow water is made from the bark of the willow tree. To make it, immerse pieces of the bark in water for a period of time. The willow bark contains up to 11% natural salicylic derivatives. Willow water has been used traditionally as an analgesic and anti-inflammatory solution. Similarly, it can trigger the SAR defensive response in your plants.
To make willow water at home, if you have access to a willow tree, you can use its fresh bark and stems. A one-year-old tree with green or yellow bark is fine. An older tree with brown or grey bark isn’t ideal for this purpose, but can still work. If, like many of us, you don’t have access to a willow tree can try purchasing willow bark from your local health food store, herbal apothecary.
To make the willow water, cut the bark into 1-inch strips and put them in a jar. If you have any dangling leaves, you can use them as compost for your garden. Next, pour hot water over the strips and allow to sit for a few days. When the color is completely stripped from the bark, decant the liquid into another jar. And voila! Your willow water.
Willow water can be stored in the refrigerator. To use it in your seedlings, soak your cutting in the liquid for 24 hours before planting. You can also pour into the soil during and after planting.
Organic willow water can be ordered online. It can also be purchased at a local food health place or a herbal medicine clinic.
Eggshells for calcium
Although fish heads are a good source of calcium, plenty more is needed. A low calcium concentration results in blossom end rot, a common disease that affects tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and squash. The fruit begins to rot from the bottom, a very upsetting sight to see. Sometimes, the rot may extend beyond the blossom end. After the aspirin or willow water, crush three or four eggshells and pour into the hole. They provide enough calcium to protect the blossom ends.
Bone meal for phosphorus
And the hole just keeps getting crowded. If your tomato plants have been growing slowly, then there’s probably a phosphorus deficiency in the soil. Phosphorus speeds up plant growth and is necessary for blossom development. Bone meal is rich in phosphorus. It’s also a great source of calcium for the tomato. The bone meal can come from any animal, or group of animals. A handful should be scooped into the hole. You can also use organic bone meal, where available. This can be made at home or purchased at a Butcher’s place.
You’re almost ready to set the queen on her throne. It’s important to add two spoonfuls of an organic NPK fertilizer after the bone meal. This will provide more nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium nutrients for the seedling. The fertilizer should have these nutrients in a 4-6-3 ratio.
Next, trim the lower leaves on the stem. This prevents competition for nutrients between them and the upper fruiting leaves.
At this point, an initial layer of soil will have to cover the hole. The height of this layer is dependent on the height of the seedling. The seedling will go in afterward, and the leaves must be above the soil level.
Before you extract the plant from the pot, you can spray a mycorrhizal fungi product on it. This healthy fungi protect the plant from diseases and increases its water and nutrient absorption. The fungi receive carbohydrates in return, creating a perfect symbiotic relationship. A product such as Xtreme Gardening’s Mykos contains the fungi.
Gently place the plant into its hole and fill with soil. A firm, but gentle push is all you need. Compacting the soil too much reduces air flow leading to low oxygen levels.
Before the first watering, use your palm to gently make a small well around the the base of the stem. This will help hold the water for a longer period of time.
Water your tomatoes several times on the first day, so will allows even the deeper soil to be hydrated . This will allow you to fall into a more consistent routine over the following days. Once every couple of weeks, apply more compost or fertilizer, and remove and weed where necessary. Ensure your tomatoes get adequate sunlight to allow them to thrive.
And that’s it – you’ll enjoy these garden fresh tomatoes!