Terrific Tomatoes Class

Last night I attended the “Growing Terrific Tomatoes” class sponsored by Clemson University’s Cooperative Extension, and was very glad I did! After delivering my soil sample (for a professional test, included in the price of the class), I made my way to the front of a large room filled with 40 or 50 people. I snagged a seat at the front table and discovered I was sitting next to a master gardener. I figured it couldn’t get any better than that – until I saw the fresh tomatoes on the snack table. Yum! What a great way to introduce a class on growing tomatoes!

After a fun quiz, we got down to business. I can’t possibly share everything that was taught, but I will tell you some of the interesting things I learned.

PLANTING:

WHAT I KNEW: Tomatoes should be transplanted deeply, burying the stem to at least the first set of branches.

WHAT I DIDN’T KNOW: A cup of garden gypsum mixed into the soil the tomato will be planted in will give the plant enough calcium for the season to help ward off blossom end rot. (Note: Irregular watering or rain vs. drought conditions can interfere with the plant’s absorption of calcium, which also causes blossom end rot.)

WATERING:

WHAT I KNEW: Tomatoes require a lot of water, and they shouldn’t get their leaves wet (as it makes them susceptible to diseases).

WHAT I DIDN’T KNOW: How MUCH water tomatoes need. Each plant requires 1 to 1.5 gallons of water a day! They don’t necessarily need to be given that much water daily, but the water does need to be available to the roots. Thus the recommendation of soil high in organic matter, mulching, and the use of soaker hoses.

POLLINATION:

WHAT I KNEW: Bees help with pollination and can be attracted by planting French Marigolds around the tomatoes.

WHAT I DIDN’T KNOW: The pollen is shaken down through the flower, shedding between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. The sound of the bees buzzing helps to shake the pollen loose.

FRUITING:

WHAT I KNEW: As every Southerner knows, in the heat and humidity of the summer – when the air is so thick, you could chew it – tomato plants slow down in fruiting.

WHAT I DIDN’T KNOW: The WHY! High temperatures and humidity interfere with the shedding process of the pollen. The pollen sticks together and doesn’t shed properly, which hinders fruiting.

PRUNING:

WHAT I KNEW: Suckers suck, so clip them off early to be sure the plant’s energy is directed only to the main stems and the fruit.

WHAT I DIDN’T KNOW: If you over prune, removing too many leaves, the tomatoes won’t have sufficient shade from the summer sun and will get sun scald.

PESTS & DISEASES:

The last half of the class was a slide show of pests and diseases. I admit, it wasn’t my favorite part of the class. Especially the insects. Ew! But, compared to what I saw on the screen, I realized that I didn’t have it so bad last year after all. Clemson University has great fact sheets on Tomato Insect Pests and Tomato Diseases if you would like more information.

Overall, it was a great two hours of tomato wisdom. Next stop, Carolina Yard Gardening School!

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