The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (3/10/2013)
Lest the reader think the title of this essay indicates arrogance on my part, an accusation frequently found on the lips of meine Űberfrau, let me say that growing tomatoes induces the same humility as do my computer and my new television remote with 61 buttons. I write with trepidation because I’m no authority and have had spectacular failures in growing of tomatoes along with some surprising successes. Victims of forces beyond their control, gardens are acts of faith, not certitude. The thermodynamic concept of dissipation seems apt since all kinds of things, such as cold spells, hail, wind, and diseases, can change a garden’s equilibrium. In growing tomatoes, there are lots of “Why me’s?”
As a dummy amongst tomato geeks, my essay is autobiographical rather than prescriptive. Gardening without a greenhouse, I don’t buy expensive equipment or work hard. I start with seeds in mini-greenhouses, called pellet kits. As for seeds, I search out tomatoes that mature in 55-65 days because of our short growing season. Anything that matures in 80 days means that you’ll be lucky to have about eight days of fresh tomatoes. I always plant Galina, Sasha’s Altai, Stupice, Prairie Fire, and a couple of others along with a new one. This year the new one is Beaver Lodge Slicer, a 55 day determinate tomato developed at the Beaver Lodge Horticultural Research Station in
Alberta, . Canada
From the middle of March to the early part of April, I embed three seeds of each variety in six of the little discs of the mini-greenhouses. I keep them moist and put the kit on a sunny windowsill. I always plant twice as many discs as I will need because nothing ever succeeds completely. Ted Williams once said that greatness as a batter means failing at bat only seven times out of ten.
Then watching the miracle of life as the seeds sprout into seedlings, I thank God. Thanksgiving should be twice a year, at the birth of life and the harvest. Pity the secularists, atheists, and other spiritual flatliners with no one to thank. Thank, like bless, is a transitive verb.
About a week after the seedlings have developed true leaves, I transplant the strongest into bio-degradable quart pots full of planting mix. After lightly fertilizing them with a balanced fertilizer, I keep them moist and watch them grow on various sunny windowsills throughout the house. What a delight it is to watch growth especially in an age favoring apocalyptic doom!
About the middle of May, it’s time to put the young plants outside. The older I get the more I favor container gardening for tomatoes. The reasons are elementary: control of water and nutrients and protection from various soil-borne and air-borne diseases. Tomatoes like a rich, friable soil. Also, the containers can be placed throughout a deck or yard so that the plants aren’t close together, protecting them from the air-borne diseases of nearby plants. If using a container, be sure to sterilize the soil if it isn’t sterilized already by putting a clear plastic sheet over the container for ten days, letting the sun do the work.
Gradually introducing the plants to the outside, I plant them in containers, where I shelter them with another mini-greenhouse, the Wall o’ Water. When it’s safe from freezing beyond the June 15 statistical date, the Walls o’ Water can be replaced with wire cages.
Using a balanced fertilizer the first week or so, I use a low in nitrogen fertilizer afterwards so that the nutrients will go to produce more fruit rather than foliage. Tomato plants like it damp but not wet. Now begins the season of tomato adolescence when parents have to keep a watchful eye for bad influences such as air-borne and soil-borne diseases, cankers, wilts, curly leaves, blossom end rot, etc. If everything goes well, along about the later part of July, all through August, and into early September, I enjoy fresh tomatoes every day, and you can, too. By the way, my favorite is the Siberian Galina, a golden cherry of luscious flavor.
For more information check out this Master Gardening site:
Copyright (c) Dana Prom Smith 2013
Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit GARDENING ETCETERA for the Arizona Daily Sun in which this article appeared on 3/16/2013. Smith may be emailed at email@example.com. He blogs at http://highcountrygardener.blogspot.com.