Saturday, August 23, 2014

Tomato Tales Part 1

It's been a challenging tomato growing season, at least in my garden. No matter how hard I tried to protect the plants from the early summer rains and hail (7 times), then a quick transition to a week of searing 95 degrees days, the plants weren't happy.  Along with severe leaf curl on the container tomatoes, I have puny growth on two plants in the raised bed and I think I know why.

Check out the photos below. The top one was taken in early spring right before I turned over the bed with the green growth...that's a cover crop (aka green manure) I planted last fall. I mixed both Austrian peas and winter rye seeds so I had a good amount of nitrogen from the A. peas going back to the soil.  Plus lots of organic matter from the rye and the peas were returned to the soil after being turned over and left to decompose in mid-March.   

Bed near fence was heavily mulched all winter, cover crop in other

Ferris supervising the cover crop turn in mid-March

Fast forward to now - going into the last week of August. The two beds together are growing a total of five tomato plants.  There are two plants in the bed that was mulched all winter and three plants in the bed that grew the cover crop. "Do you see the difference in plant size and girth?" The picture is rather bright, so you may not be able to see the number of tomatoes (many) on the plants in the cover crop bed. The plants have healthy foliage covering the fruits and are just starting to turn red (that's another complaint...late, late, late).  The two plants in the other bed should be huge, one is a 'Better Boy', the other 'Sun Gold.'

Tomato Comparison - Two Raised Beds
'Better Boy' and Sun Gold' aren't prolific plants like the other three where cover crops grew

No doubt you agree with me that part of the growth problem could be the weather, but I covered and babied all five plants exactly the same. All five were watered and fertilized on the same schedule. If they were children I'd say that all were given vitamins, water and time in the sun equally!

Cover crops are the way to go. Their role in improving the soil both physically by breaking up clay and adding organic matter, along with nitrogen is more than obvious and a help to plants located where they were grown. Read more about cover crops by clicking on the links below. The seeds are sold in local garden centers or mail order.  

Ferris checking out the beds in winter
Cover Crops and Green Manure Crops

Cover Crops 

Cover Crops: Winter Rye 

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