Let’s Talk Tomatoes

Maybe it’s gardeners, or maybe it’s women, or maybe it’s just that time of year, but everywhere I turn people are talking about tomatoes.

Last week at Bible study one lady was way too successful starting them from seed—twist my arm, I’ll take one. Then Ruth, who’s a few years shy of 90, told how she lays her tall seedlings flat, so she doesn’t have to dig a deep hole and winds up with a strong root system.  Smart, practical, tried-and-true—I like it.

The newbie with an abundance of seedlings wondered if it was time to start putting plants out. That’s when another wise gardener shared the benefits of walls-o-water that store up energy during the day releasing their heat overnight. With highs in the 50’s and 60’s this week, heat-loving tomatoes could use a little extra warmth around here.

You may remember I’m a total believer in the benefits of walls-o-water, so I was shocked to realize I’d had a tender tomato plant outside for two weeks without any protection.  What was I thinking? I’d have to do that when I got home…

That’s when she started sharing more tips and tricks on how to set them up easily. The plastic walls can be quite unwieldy as you fill them, so she recommended placing a 5-gallon bucket over the seedling to protect it as you add water to the individual sleeves. After the wall-o-water is completely filled, you simply remove the bucket, and you’re set.

Well last year, we had sprinklers but no tap down in the garden, so I made Baby Girl run a hose off the deck, filled a large bucket with water, and then ran back and forth with my watering can filling each sleeve. My friend’s system sounded so much easier. She even adds a controller to the hose, so she doesn’t end up with water everywhere. Someday, I’ll be that organized and efficient.

Well me and the MR went out to the garden after my new tomato plant was delivered—right to my doorstep, thank you very much—and got to work.

bucket trick

Unfortunately, my walls-o-water have seen better days. They were never perfect, but when you’ve set out tender plants that need protection, they were better than nothing. Now, we have leaks, sleeves morphed into giant pools, and totally unsteady shapes.

What all this means is that while my friend’s 5-gallon method worked like a charm, when I went back to check on my tomatoes a few days later, the walls-o-water where lying flat squishing the tomatoes and the adjacent broccoli.


So I set them up again using some small supports that were close to hand; they were a total bust. So I grabbed my 5-foot stakes and a hammer. They are a bit of overkill, but so far they’ve done the trick.

With Poles

With pooling like this, I do believe it’s time to purchase a few more walls-o-water, and this time I’ll test them before setting out my precious plants.

pool and poles


After all the tomato talk at Bible study, I figured it was a sign when one of the local garden centers was featuring tomatoes in their free Saturday seminar. The speaker was Steve Goto of Gotomato. I attended his lecture last year and reaped a banner harvest, so I figured a refresher course wouldn’t hurt. Sometimes, it takes a time or two for information to sink in.

He endorsed my friend Ruth’s method of planting tall, spindly tomatoes on their side, but he shocked the crowd by removing all but the top few leaves. This ensures good contact with the soil. By the way, if you’re buying one of those new, grafted tomatoes, this planting method totally takes away the benefits of a strong root stock, so don’t do it.

People have all this advice about suckers—to cut or not to cut? Well, that’s easy; you just have to decide what you want. If you want lots of medium-size tomatoes, leave the suckers. If you want larger and fewer tomatoes, cut to a central leader. For cherry tomatoes—they’re never going to get that big—so leave the suckers. Makes perfect sense.

Now back east, people have no problem growing tomatoes. I always thought it was because of they’re hot summers. Well, all along the west coast, we have issues growing tomatoes. It’s not just the heat; it’s the soil. This area used to all be under water, giving us a high salt content in our soil. Steve strongly recommends organic fertilizer to help combat this.

He also uses a no till method to keep the micro-organisms in place—tilling destroys the infrastructure. Well, I’m all for easy. Last year, I used his lasagna method for the garden using a layer of worm castings or compost, soil activator (humic acid), organic fertilizer, topping it all off with mulch or potting soil.

I was a little lax when it came to topping it with potting soil this year, and the dogs have been dragging worm castings and humic acid all over the deck, so I’ll have to get on to that. I also need to mix up some more organic fertilizer.

My silly worms don’t make enough castings to put a one-inch layer all over the garden, but Steve advised using different types of compost or castings each year to change up the added biology making the soil stronger. Maybe I need to pick up some compost, too.

Now some gardeners will dig a hole, add soil amendments, and then the plant. Steve said to spread out the additives to encourage a wider root system. He also said not to baby your plants and that less water boosts sugar content. Instead of checking to see if your tomato needs water in the heat of the day, check in the morning. Most plants (just like people) will look wilty in the heat of the day.

Last year, I had loads of tomatoes. Let’s hope this year will be just as bountiful.

What’s growing in your garden?





3 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Tomatoes

  1. I live in the desert and plant my veggy starts in late Feb. This is 5-15-15 and I have a crop of cherry tomatoes, and potatoes, and the zucchini is looking like it should, only it is about 2 inches long. We feel like we already have a bumper crop! I think this blog will be invaluable for all gardeners, thank you for your wisdom.

  2. Pingback: May in Limbo | big white house on the hill

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