The Garden Patch: Tomatoes, a gardener’s favorite – Osage County Online | Osage County News

The Garden Patch: Tomatoes, a gardener’s favorite

One of the most common garden-grown vegetables, tomatoes are a traditional favorite for many gardeners.



We haven’t talked a lot about spuds, and there is a special spud that almost everyone enjoys – sweet potatoes. But first, let’s talk about the reason most people even have a garden of ANY size – TOMATOES!


Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable grown in Kansas gardens. They are easy to grow, productive in small garden areas and used in a wide variety of ways. Tomatoes require a location that is fairly fertile, well drained and sunny, getting at least a half day of sun or more. Smaller vine tomatoes can be grown in containers.

Varieties. Most modern tomato varieties are hybrids with disease resistance. Certain varieties produce well in our variable climate. Jet Star, Celebrity, President, Carnival, Baja and Pik Rite are adapted varieties as well as several other varieties (the first two of this series are my favorites!). Whopper and Beefmaster are large “beefsteak” types. For canning, chose the productive and firm fruited LaRoma, Campbells or Heinz varieties. Small fruited or cherry varieties include Red Cherry, Small Fry, Sweet 100 and Cherry Grande. Patio, Pixie and Tiny Tim are dwarf varieties well suited to container growing. Greenhouse varieties grow best indoors and include Caruso, Perfecto and Laura.

When to plant. Plant tomatoes after all danger of frost is past. Early May is the common spring planting time. For a later harvest, tomatoes can be planted as late as early June.

Spacing. Most garden tomatoes should be spaced at least 18 inches to two feet apart in rows 3 to 5 feet apart. Dwarf varieties can be spaced closer.

Care. Tomatoes are usually grown from transplants. Choose a strong, healthy transplant that has a dark green color and balance between the size of the plant the container. Set the plant slightly deeper than the container and firm soil well around the root system. Water with a starter solution immediately after planting. Tomatoes respond to mulching because they require stable soil moisture. Black plastic mulch encourages early growth, while organic mulches are excellent for summer when applied two to three weeks after planting. Weeds compete with tomatoes for nutrients, water and light. Use shallow cultivation near the plants to scrape away small weeds. A side dressing of fertilizer when the first fruit on the plant are about the size of a walnut usually will increase yield and lengthen the harvest period. Cold nights early in the growth period or hot, dry windy weather may cause blossom damage or blossom drop. Irregular shaped fruit called “cat faced” fruit may develop from early cold periods. Avoid excessive fertilization as it may increase cat facing and blossom drop as well as fruit deformities.

Harvesting. Tomatoes will ripen on or off the plant when the fruit are full sized and starting to show a slight tinge of color. Harvest early to reduce the chance of cracking, fruit rots and other damage. Early harvest encourages additional production. Store ripening fruit at 55 degrees F for maximum storage life or place them in a warmer location for quicker ripening. Red pigments do not form in temperatures of 95 degrees F or above; therefore, deeper red color will result from ripening on the vine in summer heat. At the end of the season, harvest all full-sized fruit and store them in a cool basement for ripening to enjoy fresh tomatoes one to two months after the last freeze.

Common Concerns. Leaf blight diseases, mites, aphids, blossom end rot and fruit worms or hornworms.

And now, I can almost taste them, YUM! So, here we go with …

Sweet Potatoes

022014-sweetpotatoesSweet potatoes, like sweet corn, are a warm weather crop that is often overlooked as an easy-to-grow productive garden vegetable. They are tolerant of hot, dry weather, and have few pest concerns. Sweet potatoes do sprawl more than Irish potatoes and therefore need plenty of room. Sweet potatoes are nutritious and easy to store in household conditions for future use.

Varieties. Most common varieties are dark orange, moist and sweet and fall into the Puerto Rican type varieties. Jewel, Pope, Georgia Jet (red skin and my favorite), Centennial and Travis (red skin) are common varieties. Sweet potatoes are grown from plants, usually called “slips” that can be purchased in bundles from your local garden center. You can also grow your own by placing a sweet potato root in a container filled with moist sand and allowing it to sprout in a warm location for about six weeks before setting plants in the garden.

When to plant. Sweet potatoes can be injured by any degree of cold weather. Wait until mid- to late May before attempting to plant. Sweet potatoes need to be planted on a ridge or mound of loose soil about 8 to 12 inches high to provide a bearing area for the for the fleshy roots to develop later in the season.

Spacing. Plant about 12 inches apart in rows at least 3 feet apart. Vines may spread to 6 to 8 feet wide.

Care. Avoid planting sweet potatoes in excessively rich soils or highly fertilized soils. The plants grow best in moderately fertile soil. Sweet potatoes are adapted to grow well in drier weather, but a thorough , deep watering in early August during dry periods will increase yields. Hoe as needed early in the season to prevent weeds from developing; later in the season, the dense vine growth will suppress weeds.

Harvesting. Sweet potatoes continue to develop throughout the season and DO NOT deteriorate in quality if they get too large. It usually takes until mid-September to mid-October for the fleshy roots to enlarge to a harvest stage. Dig before freezing weather occurs. Cut or chop the vines a few days before digging to make digging easier. After digging, break the roots from the vine and allow them to air dry for a few hours before picking them up. Gently place roots in baskets or boxes to avoid injury to the tender skin. Sweet potatoes must be “cured” in a warm humid location for one to two weeks to improve keeping quality and flavor. Place the baskets in an 80 to 90 degree F environment with high humidity for 7 to 10 days. Then lower the temperature to around 55 degrees F for long term storage. NEVER allow temperatures to drop below 50 degrees F as poor keeping quality, flavor and dark colors will result. If sweet potatoes are washed before storing, make sure they are handled carefully and dried before curing.

Common concerns. Few reported.

That’s it for this time. Sounds like a lot of work but like anything else – if you start the project right – you shouldn’t have many problems! Oh, I forgot to mention it above but many tomato problems are soil-borne so rotate your crop annually. Container growing? Replace the soil every spring. Have fun planning your crop! It won’t be long now before planting and HARVEST and EATING! Till next week!

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 [email protected], or leave questions or comments below.

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