The Garden Patch: Grow gardeners’ favorite fruit – Osage County Online | Osage County News

The Garden Patch: Grow gardeners’ favorite fruit

Well, here we go with the last of the specific gardening series – today we finish with everyone’s favorite garden product – tomatoes! It has been said (and proven) that the majority of folks who plant only one item in their garden (or bucket or whatever) plant tomatoes. Why not? ‘Most everybody eats ‘em! So, let’s give a try with tomatoes

Nothing tastes quite as good as a fresh-picked, garden-ripe tomato. And you can easily grow them in your garden or in pots.

Sun and soil. Plant tomatoes in full sun, but provide shelter from high winds (in Kansas?) by planting them downwind of other tall crops or even by setting up a section of slatted lattice (who said snow fence?) in the path of prevailing winds. They do best in rich, well-drained soil.

Planting. Plant tomatoes about 2 weeks after the last spring frost. Plant them so the lowest set of leaves is at soil level, and press the soil down gently.

Growing. Provide support to reduce the risk of disease and ensure a better harvest. To avoid problems with disease, water from the bottom and early in the day. Tomatoes need even moisture, though, so don’t let your beds dry out. Once your tomato plants are established, apply a thick mulch of straw, grass clippings or composted leaves. As long as you’ve added compost to your beds before planting, you shouldn’t need to add any other fertilizer for tomatoes.

Problem solving. If you spot speckles on any leaves (especially lower leaves) during the growing season, pinch off the affected leaves to reduce problems with early blight, late blight and other leaf spot diseases. Apply mulch to prevent spores from splashing up off the soil surface. Spray compost tea or Bacillus Subtilis to prevent blight from spreading. (Apply early in the day so foliage will dry rapidly.) Water by hand rather than with a sprinkler.

Blossom-end rot is marked by a sunken, brownish-black area at the blossom end of tomatoes. Remove fruit that shows symptoms, so plants can put their energy into new, healthy fruit. At the end of the season, pull out and destroy or throw away (not on your compost pile, though) all of your tomato plants if they showed any signs of disease.

If you notice holes in the leaves of your tomato plants or big, fat, green caterpillars lolling on the plants, you’re probably dealing with tomato hornworms. Handpick them and squash them or dump them in soapy water. If the worms are 2 inches long or smaller, apply Bacillus thuringiensis. Curled-down leaves and small pink, green or black insects on leaf undersides signal aphids. Natural enemies may come to the scene to control the problem.

Harvesting. Harvest tomatoes when they are firm and have reached full color, depending on the variety. If you pick underripe tomatoes, set them away from direct sunlight to ripen. Never put tomatoes in the refrigerator, cold temperatures spoil their flavor and texture!

Well, that’s it for the series on the vegetable you are most likely to grow and enjoy. We’ll be back with some different goodies to think about and perhaps plant on your “farm”! Thank you for reading, we enjoyed writing! Till next time!

stevehallerSteve Haller, of Osage City, a K-State Research and Extension Master Gardener, writes The Garden Patch, featuring gardening ideas and tips for gardeners in northeast Kansas. In his words: “I am not a horticulturist. By education I am an economist. By experience, I am a marketing guru from a local to an international scale. Gardening was taught to me by my grandfather and my mom, and I’ve been doing it since World War II was going on.”

Steve can be contacted at, or leave questions or comments below.

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