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7-20-homespun-tomatoesRISMEDIA, July 20, 2009-(MCT)-It’s time for another round of tomatoes to be set into the vegetable garden or even large containers in a sunny spot. Because of the huge national interest in vegetable gardening this spring, almost unprecedented since the World War II era, tomato transplants specifically for fall planting are available from many local nurseries and big-box retailers.

They need to be planted in your garden immediately. You can plant them throughout the month, say tomato experts, but the sooner they go in the ground, the better your chances for having a good harvest before frost kills them.

When planting tomatoes now, it helps to choose varieties that mature relatively quickly, if you can find them. You want the tomatoes to have time to mature before our days begin to shorten and to produce well before the first frost, which, on average, comes in mid-November. ‘Sungold’ cherry tomatoes, for instance, will mature in about 57 days and the popular ‘Celebrity’ tomato matures in about 70 days; it might take 100 days for the tasty heirloom ‘Brandywine’ to mature. Do the math: 100 days from now, it will be late in October.

“The shortened hours of daylight interfere with growth and maturation at that time,” says local tomato expert Tom Wilten. And cold weather will likely be right around the corner.

The other trick to planting tomatoes for fall production is helping them survive the summer heat. Water them consistently and mulch with a thick layer at least 3 inches deep for best results.

Choose healthy, dark-green transplants and put them in a sunny location with well-draining, reasonably rich soil. Bury the tomato transplant a little deeper than it was growing in its original container, snipping off the pairs of leaves that would be below the soil level.

Jeanette Howeth Crumpler, who has been growing tomatoes for about 70 years, says she has had good results planting two transplants deeply in one hole. “My dad taught me that establishes a great root system.”

Add a cupful of soft rock phosphate or a handful of fertilizer denoted as tomato food to each planting hole. Spray the foliage with seaweed, fish emulsion or both every week or two. Many organic gardeners find the seaweed to be especially beneficial to plants during periods of extreme weather stress – hot or cold.

Water the planting area well before setting your transplant in, then water again after planting. Try to keep the soil consistently moist, but not consistently soggy, as long as temperatures are extremely high.

(c) 2009, The Dallas Morning News.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.