PLANTING: If you start tomatoes indoor from seed, begin about 6 weeks prior to last frost. They will need a sunny, warm spot in your house, or an artificial light source. The Midwest’s growing season is too short to put tomato seeds directly in the garden. Usually by mid-May your seedling can be moved from inside to the garden. Any part of a tomato plant’s stem that is under ground will produce roots. So the most water wise and nutrient-enabling growing method is to pinch off the plant’s lower leaves and plant it in a deep hole, letting just the top 4-5 inches protrude above ground. Plant in full sun, with a southern or western exposure because tomatoes need the most sunlight as possible. In the planting hole, mix a handful of garden lime and a handful of tomato fertilizer with the existing soil. The lime adds calcium, a nutrient that helps prevent end blossom rot. It is greatly beneficial to amend the soil in the tomato beds with compost (1/3 compost to 2/3 native soil) to improve drainage and encourage beneficial soil microbes, which makes nutrients available to plants (Creek Side Compost is a rich planting compost carried at Berg’s Nursery.)
GET A HEAD START: Because the Midwest’s springs are long, cold and wet, many people get a jump on their tomato crop by warming the soil with a red plastic film held down with landscape staples or rocks. Some people leave the red plastic film on the beds throughout the growing season, because it reflects light up onto the leaves, suppresses weeds, keeps moisture levels more consistent, and gives some protection from disease.
SPACING: When you put a tiny tomato plant in the ground, it is hard to imagine the giant it can grow to be. Make sure to read the tag or seed packet to determine the proper spacing for your specific verity.
WATER: Water weekly, soaking the ground thoroughly. Do not water from above and wet the plant. Excessive water on the tomato can contribute to fungal disease. Combined with a 2-3” layer of mulch, regular watering keeps moisture levels even and helps prevent cracking and end blossom rot.
RIPENING: As the season ends, pinch off the top of the tomato plant, and any new flowers to direct the plant’s energy to ripening its fruit.
ROTATE YOUR CROP: Don’t plant tomatoes in the same spot each year. Wait three years before returning to the original spot, to help control soil dwelling pests
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