by Kay Bentley
These are words gardeners dream about when it comes to tomatoes. How one gets from dreams to drooling, juice-and-seed-soaked sandwiches is not really that difficult.
Tanya Chatterton knows tomatoes. Since 1996, she has been the owner of Traces, an organic garden shop at 1432 South 1100 East. She specializes in heirlooms. She says there are between 1,000 and 5,000 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, and depending on sweetness, acidity and taste, there is a type for every tomato lover’s taste.
Tanya recommends first starting with good stock. A tomato “start” should have a hearty thick stem, rich green leaves, and no yellowing or spots. Once a person gets a plant home, the traditional time to go in the ground is after Mother’s Day. To prepare the seedling, its rootball should be loosened and broken apart. Remove the bottom leaves, and plant the stem up to five inches in the ground. All the fine hairs on the stem will actually take root!
Soil for a tomato is very important. Chatterton and Alex Hardy, whose 2 1/2 pound tomato was the 2010 Utah State Fair winner, both recommend an organic approach. Soil, especially when it is full of clay, can be loosened with plant residue and manures. Traces even supplies a vegan-friendly compost made in Utah. Fertilizing should be done “weekly, weakly.” Chatterton recommends a liquid fish/seaweed mix or organic granular fertilizer to side dress around the plants.
Avoid overwatering. Stick your finger in the soil, and if the soil sticks when you pull it out, the plant is happy. When watering, Hardy recommends soaker hoses or drip lines so that deep watering can occur.
Another technique for amazing production in a small amount of space is to use a clothes line looking set up to train vines vertically up a string. More on this by Googling “vertical gardening”. Pruning and care while vines grow is also key.
When the plants flower, shake them to aid pollination. Also, pare down tomatoes in a cluster to create one or two large clumps.
Beneficial insects are vital. Praying mantises and ladybugs act as cops on the block, seriously reducing any pesticide needs.
Above all, the true esoteric secret of growing this Queen of the Garden is to have fun and do it with love. Remember, Utah grows the best tomatoes in the world. Happy gardening!
Watch a video produced by Utah Stories on How to Supersize Your Tomatoes at the top of the page.