AUBURN, Ala. — Calling all tomato lovers: why pick up tomatoes from the grocery store when you can grow them yourself? If you love the fruit, this is your time of year. According to Dani Carroll, a regional Extension agent in Home Grounds, Gardens and Home Pests with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, “when soil temperatures warm up to about 65 degrees,” it is the perfect time to start your tomato garden. She said another great time is in July, when you can plant again for fall tomatoes. “I like for people to plant twice,” she said.
There are many benefits of growing your own tomatoes. Carroll said “being able to pick them the day you eat them,” is her main reason for growing the fruit herself.
Other benefits include avoiding a trip to the grocery store and preserving them for later. Carroll says she loves to jar and preserve tomatoes as “they freeze pretty well.” She said one of the best benefits is always having Italian sauces on hand for the year.
However, before you dive into the wonderful world of planting tomatoes, there are a few things you’ll need: well-drained soil, good potting mix, slow release fertilizer and a good eye for insects and diseases.
“In Alabama, there are a lot of fungal diseases and insects,” said Carroll. “You need to have a good eye for these things so you can catch it before it gets out of hand.”
You can either start from seeds or simply by purchasing a transplant tomato plant from the store.
“I love starting with seeds,” Carroll added. She explained that to plant with seeds, you would plant in potted soil inside first, then transfer to the ground after 6 to 8 weeks.
“You can put seeds directly in the ground, but I don’t recommend it,” she said. She said that using a transplant is faster and more efficient.
The first thing to look for when selecting the type of tomato, according to Carroll, is the disease resistance. She explained that when purchasing tomatoes, there are letters next to their name that detail what diseases that particular tomato is tolerant or resistant of.
Carroll explained that hybrid tomato types, such as Bella Rosa or Talledega, have a lot of disease resistance and will also set fruit in the summer. She said that these hybrids, along with Cherokee and Brandywine Suddith Strain, types work well in Alabama.
Lastly, Carroll stressed the importance of mulching well and making sure your plant receives full sun.
“If you’re going to use irrigation,” she said, “make sure you do it early in the morning so the leaves can dry in the morning sun. If you irrigate at night, the leaves will stay wet and I can guarantee you’ll get a fungal disease.”
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