Friday, August 04, 2006

Tomato Troubles


Tilt! This isn’t an artsy Dutch Angle shot of a tomato plant. It is, in fact, listing at an angle of about 45 degrees off the perpendicular. And this is after I shored it up with an ingenious (NOT!) rigging of monofilament fishing line and tent stakes. A few days ago, it was flopped over in the other direction. Are tomato cages utterly useless or what? Every year I dutifully enclose my little plants in them, and the plants invariably grow to four or five feet and make a mockery out of their so-called supports.

My jerry-rigged solution looks like hell but at least (for now) all the tomatoes are off the ground and out of the reach of slugs. That’s something.

One positive thing I’ll say about this strapping plant—an Arkansas Traveler—is that it is extremely healthy and producing much better than the Arkansas Traveler I planted last year. Last year, the Trav didn’t put out much (cold night temperatures led to a lot of blossom drop), but what it did produce had an outstanding flavor. This year looks much more promising. There’s a blush of color on a couple of the fruits, so maybe by the end of next week, I’ll be slicing into my first ripe Trav.

My other tomato plants are all pretty much a massive disappointment. They’re scrawny and short and are in no way putting their tomato cages to the test. They each have two or three dozen tomatoes on them—max. I couldn’t even bear to take photos of them they look so pathetic. The Taxi Yellow that produced mass quantities of delicious mid-size tomatoes last year has so far produced three or four puny tomatoes that rival the tomatoes Safeway sells in January as far as flavor goes. As I said, disappointing. In the extreme.

It’s all my fault. I’ve been growing tomatoes in the same spot for three years running, and I’ve done nothing to make sure the soil stays fertile. Here’s my tomato-planting method. Dig a hole, toss in a scant handful of hydrated lime to sweeten the acidic soil, a sprinkle of bone meal, and a handful of compost. Plug my little tomato set into the hole. Backfill with a bit more compost and the soil from the hole, spread a miserly “collar” of compost around the base of the plant. Water and call it good. This highly scientific method has worked fine for the past two years, but I expect that by now tomatoes of years past—the ones that produced a hundred or more tomatoes per plant—have rather exhausted the nutrient stores in the soil. I should have realized this and plowed generous shovel loads of well-rotted manure into the soil before planting this year.

My theory on what went wrong is borne out by the fact that the Trav’s is colossal and is the only plant that is growing in a space where I never grew tomatoes before. I need to amend my ways.


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