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Beacon Senior News

Time for tomatoes!

May 15, 2019 03:21PM ● By Paige Slaughter

There’s something about growing tomatoes that gardeners adore. I love the way Sara Tymczyszyn, director of Highwater Farm Project in Garfield County, put it. “What I love about growing tomatoes is that they’re such a great analogy for farming itself,” she said. “They require so much work upfront, and their reward isn’t felt until the peak of summer. I love the sweet, tangy taste and the way they start to ripen suddenly, when nature allows, marking the height of summer’s abundance.”

Paola Legarre, owner of Sage Creations Organic Farm, has her own reasons. “They’re the ultimate sign of summer and a great source of vitamins,” said Legarre. “Growing them means I get to eat fresh Caprese salads all summer long.”

For me, it’s simply the fact that nothing tastes like a fresh tomato. I can no longer buy tomatoes outside of tomato season. Instead, I can and dry tomatoes to enjoy them year-round, and growing them means I have a beautiful bounty to preserve.

Like reader Crystal Mars said, “They taste better than any other tomatoes anywhere.”

Into the garden Last month, we sowed a foundation for our biodiverse garden. (Feel free to catch up by direct sowing last month’s seeds now!)

This month, we’re laying warm season crops on top of the sections we covered with fast-growing buckwheat and peas. Save your tomato and pepper plantings for after Mother’s Day. It may be hard, but it’s better to wait until we’re clear of frosts and let your happy plants catch up than to lose your plants and have to start over.

How to plant tomatoes into a bed of buckwheat Buckwheat’s a nitrogen fixer, pulling nitrogen from the air into the soil where bugs can turn it into something that can be absorbed by other plants. The flowering crop also attracts beneficial insects and is incredibly easy to work with, which is why I love to plant it along with tomatoes. You can cut all the buckwheat back, or keep some along the edges of the bed. Simply cut the buckwheat at its base; you can use the clippings to mulch around the tomatoes after you’re finished planting.

In this 12-foot row, place three stakes firmly in the ground, each 6 feet apart. Between each stake, we’ll plant four tomato plants (eight total).

Start by digging eight deep holes, evenly spaced apart. The holes should be almost deep enough to bury the plant (of course, we’ll want to situate the plant so that a few branching stems remain above ground).

Azomite is a natural trace mineral that helps plants absorb calcium; add about 1 teaspoon to each hole. Fill holes with water then prepare your plant starts.

Pinch off any suckers that may be starting to pop out from between stems. Pull plants out of their pots, loosen the roots with your hands, and remove all lower stems. When you bury the stem, roots will emerge from that lower stem, giving your plant more capacity to root itself firmly in the soil. Fill any remaining gaps with soil and tamp down on the soil surrounding each plant so that the roots can make good contact with the soil. If you’re using drip lines, now’s the time to set them in place. Either way, tomatoes prefer to be watered from below.

Finally, create a trellis by tying a strong twine to the end stake, just a few inches off the ground. Pull the twine across one side of the plants; the twine should sit nicely alongside the plants, below the first branching stem. You can remove the lowest stem if necessary. Wrap it all the way around the middle stake, then continue on towards the stake on the other end; wrap it twice around, then pull the twine back toward the middle stake along the other side of the plants. Wrap it around the middle stake, then pull it towards the stake you started with, again hugging the opposite sides of the plants, and secure it tightly.

The end result is a line of twine that’s wrapped around your entire row of tomatoes. Go ahead pull the branching stems up and over the twine so that the plants’ lowest stems are supported by this line of twine. If your starts are tall, add another line of twine a few inches above this bottom one.

Repeat this process as your plants grow taller, continuing to pull the branching stems above the twine so that the plants are fully supported. Cut or pull out encroaching buckwheat as both crops continue to grow and your tomatoes need more room or sunlight.

Three sisters This companion planting has been practiced for thousands of years: maize, beans and squash. Corn is the “big sister,” providing support for climbing nitrogen-fixing pole beans. The large leaves of squash act as living mulch that keep soil cool and moist and help suppress weeds. I like to sow a few sunflower seeds in with the corn, and plant in some nasturtium starts among the squash. Flowers attract beneficial insects and aromatic nasturtium deter squash bugs. Soak corn seeds in water for a few hours before you plant them. In choosing corn, consider growing an organic, heirloom variety of sweet corn, popping corn or flour corn; this crop is heavily industrialized, and we gardeners can each do our part to preserve and perpetuate some incredible varieties. When you’re ready to plant, pull up the pea shoots and turn them into the soil. Use your finger to make 3- to 4-inch holes, six inches apart. Leave at least a foot of spacing around the outside of your corn “grid;” this is where you’ll plant the other sisters.

Wait for your corn to start coming up. Once sprouts are 4 inches tall, sow a row of pole beans around the perimeter of your grid. Finally, around the edge of your bed, create small mounds of soil, 18 inches apart, and sow three squash seeds in each mound. Later, if all three sprouts come up, you can thin your mounds so that one strong plant comes up from each mound. The squash plants will spread outward and you’ll need room for weeding and harvesting; opt for bush beans in place of squash anywhere you’re limited on space.

Peppers and herbs In Section 3, we’ll consolidate our greens to make room for peppers and herbs. Take a few weeks in the beginning of May to harvest from the row of greens closest to your aisle. You can leave a few greens planted between peppers while the pepper plants are still small. If you have spaces in your beds of greens, plant in another succession of lettuce so that you’ll continue to have tasty greens throughout summer. Transplant peppers so that they’re 1 foot apart and staggered. Use the remaining three feet in this row for your favorite herbs, like basil or cilantro.

Remember to play Adjust anything and everything as you see fit. To me, the most important piece of gardening is exploring, experimenting and enhancing our relationship with nature and the food we eat.