The summer tomato, veggie season is coming soon
Our new greenhouses, under construction all winter, are finally open, and several times a day I am asked the same question: "What are you going to do with all these new greenhouses?" I can't give a specific answer because the details are still kind of vague in my mind, but I can let you in on the big picture as I see it.
My plan is to flip the layout of the garden center. At the back of the property, in "all these new greenhouses," we'll house the largest displays of annual flowers, vegetables and herbs. Here they can be environmentally controlled to be happier plants and better flowers at a manageable cost for heating and cooling. All of the space freed up at the front of the center will be displays of perennials, including flowering shrubs.
I've learned that I have to live with a new space for a season before I figure out how to fully utilize the area. So, I'm comfortable that it may take us a few months to determine the best use of all the new walls, paved walkways, greenhouses, and display fixtures, but when it all comes together it will be an esthetically pleasing and practically functioning facility. I can hardly wait.
This week at the garden center tomatoes have taken over our display benches. It's time to plan for this favorite crop in most kitchen gardens. So, whether you are a first-time tomato gardener or had some problems this past year, here are some tips for tomato harvest success. Choosing climate-appropriate varieties is a must. Because of cold night temperatures at this altitude, larger tomatoes struggle. Consequently, select medium-sized tomatoes like Champion, Celebrity, Early Girl, Better Boy. Also, any of the smaller varieties like pear and cherry tomatoes and Sweet 100's perform exceptionally well.
Tomatoes enjoy a rich garden soil that drains well. Be careful not to add too much manure to the soil as this results in a huge vine with little fruit growth. You want to starve tomatoes of nitrogen and give them plenty of phosphorus, the middle of the three numbers on a fertilizer bag. Phosphorus helps plants produce more roots and fruits, which is exactly what we want from a tomato plant.
Along with compost and mulch consider turning into the soil some bone meal, 0-10-0, or triple super phosphate, 0-45-0. These additives encourage larger, better tasting fruits. I also recommend using gypsum to produce superior tomatoes. Gypsum is made of calcium sulfate, which reduces blossom end rot and fruits that split open. I like to sprinkle a little gypsum in the bottom of the planting hole, cover it with just a little dirt, then add my tomato plant.
Always plant a tomato as deeply as possible. Tomatoes are one of the few plants that will root from the hairs on the vine. Prune off the side shoots and leaves from the bottom of the plant, 2-6 inches above the rootball. Then plant the vine as deeply as possible, but don't bury the attached leaves. Roots will begin to grow quickly from up and down the buried vine. This means a larger, deeper root structure for your tomato plant. Exactly what it needs to contend with the arid months of May and June.
Personally, I like to wait until after Mother's Day to put in all warm season plants like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. By then, our weather usually is beyond risk of frost and the soil is warm enough that the garden takes off quickly with new growth. Tomatoes don't like temps below 45 degrees so be careful of our colder April nights. Watch the weather or your plants could be damaged. However, if you're like many of our customers, and can't wait to get your tomatoes into the ground, remember the Wall-O-Water. These handy little structures protect tomatoes from frost and warms the soil around the vines so they produce fruit at least one month earlier than unprotected plants.
A Wall-O-Water is like a greenhouse around each plant and can be reused for years. Go online or stop by your favorite garden center for detailed information on this water-filled plant protector. Of course, if you want to get your tomatoes into the ground now, Wall-O-Water isn't your only defense against cold nights. You can always watch the weather forecast and just as the sunsets throw a sheet or box over the plants. Just don't forget to take it off the next morning.
I received some great photos from readers last week. I am amazed at how many beautiful plants, gardens, and landscapes are grown locally. They really are very inspirational.
Remember that I give a $20 garden center gift certificate if I use your garden photo for this column. Submit your photographs to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Even if your photo doesn't win a gift certificate, it will be shared for others to enjoy at our website: wattersonline.com. Check out some of the entries already on display on the website's photo gallery page.
Until next week, I'll see you at the garden center.
Ken Lain, owner of Watters Garden Center in Prescott, is a certified nursery professional and master gardener who has gardened extensively throughout Yavapai County.