Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable grown in home gardens. They are nutritious vegetables that provide good quantities of vitamins A and C. Tomatoes are used in many cooking recipes or as a fresh item in combination with salads.
Tomatoes are either determinate or indeterminate. The determinate types are gaining in popularity in home gardens. Determinate tomatoes are referred to as “self-topping” or low growing types. They will usually grow to a height of 3 to 4 feet depending on the variety. As a result, they can usually be staked with 4 to 5 foot stakes or cages. Determinate varieties will bear fruit primarily over a four to five week period, then fruit production decreased considerably.
Indeterminate types have a different growth habit than determinate types; they are not self-toppers and usually produce fruit throughout the entire season unless they are killed by diseases or insects.
Some recommended varieties for the home gardener are: Floramerica, Celebrity, Amelia, BHN602, Fletcher, Florida 91 and Talladega.
To raise any vegetable successfully, you need to begin with adequate soil preparation, and tomato culture is no different. Tomatoes need a slightly acid, soil, with a pH between 6.0 and 6.8 if the pH of your soil is less than 6.0 you need to add lime to raise the pH.
Since some of our soils in Florida are slightly alkaline, you really shouldn’t add lime unless you have a soil test that indicates the need for it. Then about 5 pounds of dolomite per hundred square feet of garden is the average recommended rate. Be sure you work the dolomite into the soil well in advance of planting.
Another important part of soil preparation is fertilization in which I will give some tips, also talk about setting the transplants into the garden and mention some of the early cultural care they need. My information was provided by Extension Vegetable Specialist Dr. Steve Olson of the University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
There are a couple of schools of thought on when to add fertilizer. Some people believe in fertilizing the soil before planting. In this system you apply 2.5 pounds of fertilizer for every 100 square feet of garden use an 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 with minor elements. Do this a week before planting, and mix the fertilizer thoroughly into the soil. Three weeks or so after you plant the tomatoes, and another two pounds of fertilizer per hundred square feet. You should irrigate/water thoroughly to get the maximum benefit from the fertilizer.
In the other system, fertilizer isn’t added to the soil until planting time. Apply 5.0 pounds of all-purpose fertilizer, such as 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 per 100 square feet. Spread it in furrows three inches from either side of the garden row. Three weeks after planting, apply 2.5 pounds of fertilizer as side-dressing. Every ten days after that apply one more pound of fertilizer. Always water it in well.
Before you set out the plants, make sure all danger of frost has passed. Keep in mind that it’s easy to injure tomato transplants so choose the healthiest looking plants you can find and handle them gently. It’s best to transplant on a cloudy day or late in the afternoon, and as soon as possible after a rain.
When setting the plants, it’s a good idea to set them slightly deeper than they were rowing at the nursery. You also might want to add a cutworm control at the same time. If you wait even a day before controlling cutworms, you might have to buy new plants. If the tomato varieties you’re growing require staking, you can drive stakes into the soil at the time of planting. Place the stakes three or four inches from the plant. As the plant grows, simply tie it to the stake with string.
For more information on tomato production contact the Gulf County Extension Service @ 639-3200 or visit our website: http://gulf.ifas.ufl.edu.