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Vegetable gardening: The mighty tomato by Dr. Mario Villarino

County Extension Agent for Ag and Natural Resources- Hopkins.

Tomato is considering by many, the ultimate crop for the home garden. Personally, tomato are a fundamental part of our family diet. Having both French, Italian and Mexican influences growing up, I vividly remember my mother preparing a roma tomato with salt as a mid-day snack. Joe Masabni, Texas AgriLife Extension horticulturist indicated that tomatoes are the most popular garden vegetable crop in Texas. They are a good source of vitamin A and fair source of vitamin C. Fresh tomatoes are popular in salads, on sandwiches and sliced. They can be cooked and used in many ways. Texas gardeners can grow a variety of small- and large-fruited tomatoes: (Small fruit: Presto, Red Cherry, Saladette, Small Fry) ( Largefruit: Big Set , Bingo, Bonus, Carnival, Homestead , Spring Giant, Terrific, Celebrity or Walter) Tomatoes grow well in most Texas areas if planted in soil that drains well. They need at least 6 hours of sunlight each day. Work the garden soil only when it is dry enough not to stick to the garden tools. Several weeks before planting, work the top 8 to 10 inches of soil. Remove all rocks and trash from the soil and rake it to break up large clods. Tomatoes grow best in soils that have lots of organic matter. If possible, spread 2 to 3 inches of organic material such as compost, leaves, or rotted hay over the planting area. Mix this organic material into the top 4 to 6 inches of soil. Most families need only a few plants, so it is best to buy plants and not grow them from seed. Buy healthy, green plants that are 6 to 8 inches tall. Do not set out tomato plants until all danger of frost has passed. If possible, set out tomatoes on raised beds of soil that are about 6 inches high. Make the transplant holes 3 to 4 inches deep and 2 to 4 feet apart in the row. For staked or caged plants, space the rows at least 3 feet apart. For unsupported plants, leave 4 to 5 feet between the rows. Transplant your tomatoes in the evening or on a cloudy day to keep them from drying too much and wilting. Before placing transplants into the soil, fill the transplant holes with water and let it soak in. If you plan to grow single plants, dig a hole 2 feet wide and 10 inches deep. Refill the hole with half soil and half organic matter. For this type of planting, mix 2 level tablespoons of fertilizer into this planting area. Add 2 to 3 pounds of fertilizer such as10-10-10 for every 100 square feet of garden area. Spread the fertilizer evenly over the area, and then mix it into the top 3 to 4 inches of soil. Water the tomato plants slowly and deeply to help them develop a strong root system. Do not let the tomatoes wilt severely, or yields and fruit quality will low. For the highest yields, place mulch around the tomato plants. Spread a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic material such as compost, leaves, or hay around the growing plants. Mulching will help stop weed growth and water loss from the soil. You can let tomatoes grow on the ground or support them with stakes or cages. When you stake tomatoes, put the stake or cage in shortly after transplanting to lessen root damage. Scatter 1 level tablespoon of fertilizer around each plant. Scatter it about 6 inches from the stalks. Work it lightly into the soil. Water the plants after fertilizing. Fertilize the plants every 3 to 4 weeks with 1 to 2 level tablespoons of fertilizer. To control weeds, you may cultivate or hoe around the plants. Work the soil only deep enough to kill the weeds but shallow enough not to damage the tomato plant roots. To learn more vegetable gardening, the Hopkins County Master Gardeners have organized the 2015 Basic Home Vegetable Gardening scheduled for March 31, 2015 at 6:30 PM at the professional Ag Workers Building located at 957 Connally Street in Sulphur Springs. The training will cover soil preparation, site selection, what and when to grow it, and gardening problems with their potential solutions. The Basic Home Vegetable Gardening Training cost is $10. For more information on this or any other agricultural topic please contact the Hopkins County Extension Office at 903-885-3443 or email me at [email protected]

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