July 2019 – Crop of the Month
Tomato – Scientific Name: Solanum lycopersicum
Written by Guest Contributor: Jennifer Goode
Tomatoes are the most popular garden vegetable crop in Texas, likely due to the relative ease with which they can be grown. Tomato season can easily last from April until October in most parts of the state, or even longer if there isn’t an early freeze. In Dripping Springs, we currently have a plot of 6 tomato plants that has been producing dozens on a weekly basis since June.
If you missed the opportunity to plant tomatoes during the spring, you can plant transplants through July and take extra care of them until they’re ready to produce in the fall. Tomatoes grow well in most Texas areas if planted in nutritious soil that drains well. They generally need at least 6 hours of sunlight each day, but the mid-summer sun in Texas can be too extreme. It is recommended to devise a way to shade the plants from the western sun during this time of year.
Texas gardeners can grow a variety of small and large fruit tomatoes, including Cherry Grande, Juliet, Red Cherry, Small Fry, Big Beef, Big Box, Celebrity, Homestead, among many others. The first thing to determine is how much space you have for your plants.
Tomatoes come in Determinate and Indeterminate varieties. Determinate varieties usually put out a large crop at a time and are ideal for container planters, or for gardeners who have the ability to preserve their harvest. Indeterminate tomato vines continue to grow and fruit over a long period of time. They require larger, sturdy cages and are not suited for container planting.
Soils with a significant amount of organic matter are best for tomatoes. It’s recommended to spread 2 to 3 inches of organic matter, such as compost or leaves, over the planting area and then mix the material into the top 4 or so inches of soil.
Most tomatoes will need to be planted at least 3 feet apart, but some varieties may require more space depending on their vine size. Proper airflow between the plants is important to prevent mildew.
You will want to plant each transplant slightly deeper than it was previously growing. Make sure the soil is loosely packed around the base of the plant, and that you leave a “donut” around the plant base to help hold water. Adding mycorrhizal inoculants will benefit the plants’ ability to absorb and retain water and nutrients.
Fertilize the plants every 3-4 weeks with one to two tablespoons of fertilizer. Once the plants begin to flower, add one to two inches of compost to the plant base for extra nutrients to help the plant develop its fruit. Liquid seaweed is also recommended during this time.
Tomatoes are susceptible to a variety of pests, and there are a variety of methods to address these ranging from seaweed extract, molasses, cornmeal, neem oil, garlic, and more.
Usually, you can find capital letters on tomato plant labels that note which diseases that particular variety is resistant to. Some of these notes include:
- A – Resistance to alternaria leaf spot
- F – Resistance to fusarium wilt
- FF – Resistance to race 1 and race 2 fusarium
- L – Resistance to septoria leaf spot
- N – Resistance to nematodes
- T – Resistance to tobacco mosaic virus
- V – Resistance to verticillium wilt