WASHINGTON — Several gardeners have reported tomatoes by the Fourth of July.
Francis Orroch of Fredericksburg, Va., had several by July 3. He set out his plants of the Early Girl variety the usual time, about May 10, and fertilized them lightly every three weeks with 5-10-10.
He uses plenty of cow manure in his garden and a dressing of dolomitic limestone dug in before planting. The only unusual thing he did was limit fruit set. He pinched off all except the two in the cluster that were nearest the main stem. (Ordinarily, tomatoes fruit in clusters, sometimes with seven fruits all touching in one bunch).
"I wonder if I'm stupid," he said, "but I'm the happiest man I know."
Not because of the tomatoes, of course, but in general. Maybe a happy disposition ensures an early crop? My tomatoes seem likely to ripen about Labor Day.
Several other gardeners have reported good ripe ones by the Fourth, but one gardener complains that no fruit has set on Beefmaster planted the end of May, though the plant is fully healthy at a height of 5 1/2 feet and has been fertilized every two weeks with Miracle-Gro. The blooms fall off, and why?
First, there is no point waiting till the end of May. Try May 5 to 10 next year. Second, do not fertilize until the first fruits set, and then use a third of a cup of 5-10-10 every three weeks, or some equivalent.
Be sure the plant has at least six hours of direct sun daily. If there is less sun, the crop will be less and will take longer to ripen, so do not expect miracles. A tomato plant set out the end of May that is now 5 1/2 feet tall is growing too lushly. I would let up on the fertilizer.
Tomatoes do better with a three-inch mulch. They do better when grown in a wire cage 20 to 30 inches in diameter and 5 or 6 or 7 feet high. They should have steady moisture--at least an inch of water a week. They do not like to be flooded, then dry out, then be flooded. They do not like cloudy overcast skies, not that the gardener can do much about that.
As a wit once said, just do the best you can. If it's any comfort, which I doubt, my own tomatoes have had superb culture, if I do say so, and were planted April 14. They get seven hours' sun, a flawless mulch, no weeds, good cages, no bugs and no fungus. And not even that steady white look that must appear before the first sign of pink and then red.
Possibly I lack a happy disposition, and the tomatoes know it.
Distributed by the Washington Post.