Growing Tomatoes Doesn’t Have to be Heartbreaking

By Pat Naughton

  “Only two things that money can’t buy, that’s true love and homegrown tomatoes”, wrote John Denver in the song Home Grown Tomatoes.  Growing tomatoes can be a challenge in Brunswick County with the heat and drought conditions.  With a few steps and daily monitoring, you can grow tomatoes that are priceless.

  Select tomatoes that are smaller in size and disease resistant.  These tomatoes generally have shorter maturity times and can be harvested before the summer heat.  The Edible Garden at Brunswick Extension Office has success growing Atomic Grape, Creole Original, Sungold, Black Vernissage, Cherokee Purple, Eva Purple Ball, Ace 55, Porter Improved.  Look for VFN on the label, which means they carry resistance to verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt, and root-knot nematodes.

  Improve sandy soil by working in 2 to 3 inches of compost or peatmoss in the top 6 to 9 inches of soil.  If the soil has not been tested, apply ¾ cup of lime and ½ cup of 8-8-8 fertilizer for each plant.  Otherwise follow the recommendation from the soil analysis.  Soil samples can be brought to the Brunswick County Extension office for analysis for a small fee.  About two cups of soil are needed for analysis.

  Plant the tomatoes 1 ½ to 2 feet apart with the top of peat pot 1 inch below the soil.  Trim a few of the leaves so the plant is not stressed on hot days.  Place a tomato cage around the plant.  After the plants have started to set fruit, sidedress the plants with 2 to 3 tablespoons of a complete fertilizer like 10-10-10.  Repeat this every 4 to 6 weeks.  The fertilizer should be placed 4 to 6 inches from the stem to avoid fertilizer burn.

  A common problem for tomatoes is blossom-end rot.  This results in decay of the tomato fruits on their blossom end.  This is a physiological disorder caused by a lack of sufficient calcium in the blossom-end of the fruit.

Here are some steps to reduce blossom-end rot:

  1. Add lime to reach a pH 6.5 to 6.7 – If the garden has not been limed in the past 2 to 3 years, add 2 cups of lime for each plant. Work the lime into the soil 12 inches deep.  It is recommended to get a soil analysis to better determine the amount of lime needed.
  2. Fertilize properly – If no soil analysis is available then add ¼ cup of 8-8-8 per plant.
  3. Mulch – cover the base of the plant with straw, pine straw, or newspaper to help keep the soil moist.
  4. Irrigate – plants require 1.5 inches of water per week. Adjust the watering based on rainfall.
  5. Calcium – add crushed up egg shells to the soil or spray the leaves with a calcium solution. To make a solution add calcium nitrite or calcium nitrate or calcium chloride at 4 level tablespoons per gallon of water.  These sources of calcium can be found in the vitamin supplement section of food stores.  This spray should be applied 2 to 3 times a week, beginning at the time the second fruit clusters bloom.