The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (5/12/06)
As with all high maintenance trophies, tomatoes expect luxury, especially the luxuries of food and bed. Tomatoes do not do well in beds of hard Coconino concrete (sandstone), with mattresses of volcanic rubble, or on ticking of red clay. They thrive in the best of soils which means soil amended with compost or imported. Even imported soil should be amended. The compost can be store-bought or home-made; however, home-made is best. Sometimes, store-bought compost has fillers, such as sawdust. Also, often the imported soil isn’t much good, either. Just because some guy has a dump truck full of dirt doesn’t mean the dirt is any good. Dirt has lineage, ancestry, and genealogy like anyone else, and its origins and history should be checked out.
If tomato plants are going to be bedded in the ground, it should be warmed for several days beforehand with a blanket of clear or black plastic. If in a container, the container and the soil in it should be heated for several days beforehand by enshrouding it in a black or clear plastic bag to destroy any lingering bugs and to welcome the tomato plant with a warm bed.
Tomatoes also like to be well and carefully fed. No mess hall fare or chow line, certainly no MRE’s or K-rations. A high nitrogen fertilizer will help start the plant off well, but as soon as the plant is off to a good start, the best fertilizer ratio is low on nitrogen (N), high on phosphorous (P), and medium to high on potassium (K). Too much nitrogen will produce a beautiful trophy which does nothing except hang around the garden looking beautiful sans tomatoes. Although harder to manage, natural fertilizers are better rather than chemical as a means of keeping friendly mycorrhizae (fungus roots) in balance around the plant’s roots.
In Flagstaff and on the Colorado Plateau short-season
varieties of tomatoes do best because the growing season is so short. This sadly means that a lot of old favorites from back home are chancy in the High Country, especially those coming from soft, sultry climes. Many tomato varieties, like the Vamp of Savannah, like it “nice and warm,” but in the High Country Vamps can be hazardous to a gardener’s emotional well-being. Tough trophies do best. Vamps “tease them and thrill ‘em,” but then “torture and kill ‘em.”
Early Girl Hybrid (FV) and Big Boy Hybrid are popular short-season varieties. Several Siberian tomatoes, such as Galina, Market Miracle, Glasnost, and Perestroika are short-season. Seeds for these Siberians can be obtained from Seeds Trust in Cornville, AZ, at www.seedstrust.com or (928) 649-3315. Siberia is an excellent training ground for the High Country. Nichols Garden Nursery at www.nicholsgardennursery.com or (800) 422-3985 offers two short season varieties, SunSugar Hybrid (62 days) and Sweet Baby Girl F1 Hybrid (65 days.)
Nurseries offer a limited number of varieties. Seeds offer more variety. Seeds can be started indoors in peat moss, vermiculite, or potting soil six to eight weeks before planting outside after the danger of frost is past. Any south-facing window sill will do. However, if picking tomato plants from a nursery, choose sturdy, dark green plants. Avoid leggy plants and be sure to check for insects, looking on the underside of the leaves. Nurseries as with hospitals often incubate maladies.
A big advantage to growing tomatoes in Flagstaff and on the Colorado Plateau is few diseases. The harsh weather (low humidity, wind, and frost) does bad things to pests as well as tomatoes. For the few fungi and sucking pests nicotine spray or insecticidal soap can be effective. The various worms can be picked off by hand. High maintenance trophies don’t like bugs crawling over them.
The prices of growing tomatoes are great, but when successful, the fruit of the vine is worth the work, worry, and anxiety. It is luscious to eat, piquant to taste, beautifully shaped, wonderfully colored, and chock full of human nutrients.
Copyright © Dana Prom Smith (2006)