There’s tomatoes, then there’s TOMATOES or big ‘maters versus big yields.
The two most often asked questions in the Rogue Valley veggie gardening world are:
- How can I grow BIGGER fruits/veggies?
- How can I get a BIGGER harvest of my fruits/veggies?
One assumes that, if you do the basics – plenty of water, feed your soil and the right amount of sunlight – you’ll get that bumper crop of whatever it is that’s making your heart sing. Tomato Bob (http://www.tomatobob.com) has provided a lot of great information as have a number of other gardeners in the Rogue Valley for growing tomatoes, but most of this information can be applied to anything you’re growing. Some factors that you can’t easily modify are weather and insects. I’ve already written about some excellent home remedies for dealing with pest in a non-chemical way. Please check the archives! They say that soil is one of those things you can’t easily remedy, but I don’t believe that for a minute. Feed the soil and the soil will – to a large degree – feed your plants.
Let’s talk first about soil. The best soil conditions result in a well-drained garden that holds moisture well; within its structure, not pooled on the surface. A loose structure allows for superior root development, which is vital to healthy plants and thus greater yields. Dense clay or sandy soils can be improved greatly and immediately by adding peat moss or compost. You can use uncomposted leaves or grass clippings, but it’s recommended that you till those in four to six months before you plant as this kind of soil amendment lowers the available nitrogen. You’ll get slow growing plants with yellow leaves if there’s not enough nitrogen. If you mulch with either leaves or grass clippings, it won’t affect the nitrogen levels. It will, however, provide a really great long-term source of nutrients as well as keep down weeds and conserve water. You can add compost any time.
Perhaps the greatest mistake people make with tomatoes is over fertilizing. A number of the commercial liquid or mix with water fertilizers are high in nitrogen and produce huge glorious plants. But they do this at the expense of the harvest. The BLUE FERTILIZER than many swear by is also very high in various salts that ultimately disrupt the balance in your soil. A good average nutrient formula, found in several available commercial organic fertilizers is N-P-K (5-5-5). Nitrogen promotes growth of the plant, phosphorous promotes blossom development and potassium promotes root growth and disease resistance.
Prior to planting, you will want to till in an application of a dry organic fertilizer with an NPK rating similar to what I’ve described above. At the time of transplanting, liquid fish emulsion is a really great choice, as it will give your seedlings a nitrogen boost, as it’s a 5-1-1 fertilizer. Every three weeks throughout your growing season, use that same dry organic fertilizer as instructed on the package. When your ‘maters (or whatever) start to bloom, apply some bone meal (4-12-0) to help increase the number of blossoms and to help the dreaded Blossom End Rot, which is the result of a calcium deficiency.
Be aware of the pH of your soil. This is really important, folks. The optimal levels you need to provide for the best rate of nutrient absorption is between 6.5 and 7.5. Your local hardware store will have some inexpensive pH test kits available, as will the big box stores. If they’re out, have them order one for you.