Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
May, 2001
Regional Report

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I plant some old stand-bys, current favorites, and new varieties of tomatoes for production right through the end of summer.

It's Tomato Time

I finally transplanted my tomatoes. . .late, because my raised bed renovation took longer than expected. I could have planted about 6 weeks ago, but I rotate my crops every year, and this year I bordered the last of my three tomato beds with lumber. So, my tomato transplants are a foot taller than normal.

Tomato Varieties

I love trying different varieties of tomatoes every year. A small sampling of what I'm growing this year includes 'Black Krim', 'Black from Tula', 'Camp Joy', 'Cherokee Purple', 'Dr. Lyle', 'Green Zebra', 'Isis Candy', 'Lemon Boy', 'Nectar', 'Odoriko', 'Pineapple', 'Pruden's Purple', 'Stupice', and 'Sungold'.

Tomato Growing Tips

In case you are like me and haven't gotten around to planting yet, here are some of my favorite tricks to get tomatoes established and growing strongly, and controlling any pests and diseases that may attack.

Incorporate Lots of Organic Matter

Dig a 3- to 6-inch layer of organic material into the top 6- to 12- inches of soil. Organic matter stimulates microorganism, suppresses nematodes, maintains moisture in the soil at root level, and moderates soil temperatures. It works its magic in sandy and clay soils, holding moisture in the former, encouraging drainage in the later, and building vitality in both.

Plant Appropriate Varieties

I mentioned a number of varieties of tomatoes I'm growing this year. I'm always on the lookout for varieties that are recommended for our area and that have good disease resistance. In seed catalogs, letters after the variety names, such as "V" for verticillium wilt and "N" for nematodes, denote disease resistance.

Growing different types of varieties also guarantees success. Generally, the large-fruited indeterminate types of tomatoes such as 'Big Boy' won't ripen before late summer. So I like growing cherry tomatoes such as 'Sungold' and early-fruiting types such as 'Early Girl' to carry me through June and July until the large-fruited types are ready in August and September.

Rotate Crops

Avoid planting tomatoes in areas where tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, or eggplant have grown within the past three or four years. Crop rotation will not guarantee freedom from diseases, since several organisms are widely distributed in the soil, and some, such as the fusarium and verticillium wilts, persist for long periods of time. However, rotation helps to keep these organisms from gaining strength.

Plant Trap Crops

Some species of marigolds, grown as a cover crop and tilled into the soil prior to planting, deter nematodes. To help limit the number of nematodes in your soil, grow marigolds beside your vegetables and let them die back in fall. Turn them under to decompose and benefit next year's crop.

Keep Plants Well-Watered

Train plant roots to grow deep by irrigating deeply, but infrequently. I like watering every two or three weeks while the weather is still cool. When it gets hot, increase watering to once a week at the most. Beside using my leaky hose system and soaker hoses under a 2-inch layer of mulch, I also leave a 1-foot-wide depression around the tomato stems and fill it with water twice every third evening during our 100oF heat waves.

Mulch, Mulch, Mulch

Mulch with grass clippings around plants and in pathways, covering all barren soil. This helps moderate soil temperatures and reduce evaporation. Plus, it will break down into humus over the season and add nutrients for next year's crop. With a 2-inch thick layer of mulch, weeds won't get started as readily and even the few that do will be easy to pull up.

Inspect Plants Frequently

Catch problems before they become rampant by checking plants daily if possible. If plant are overwhelmed with pests of disease, remove and destroy them immediately. Don't let healthy plants touch diseased ones, and wash your hands with soap and water before handling other plants. Don't compost infected plants, because many diseases can survive the composting process.

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