Tomatoes - Grow the Best, the Biggest, and the Sweetest This Year - Tips from the Tomato Man's Daughter

Tomatoes are the most popular home grown food. Actually a fruit, most people use them as a vegetable. Once called Love Apples, tomatoes were thought to be poisonous and were grown only as ornamental plants.

Today, the competition is fierce to grow the first, the sweetest and the biggest fruit a home gardener can produce. We might all improve our chances for an abundant harvest with some advice from an area expert.

Lisa Merrell is the daughter of Tulsa's Tomato Man, Darrell Merrell. She calls her business The Tomato Man's Daughter ( At The Old Home Place-the same location of her father's business, Lisa sells tomato, pepper and eggplant seedlings.
During the season, Lisa sells 30,000 plants at festivals and the Old Home Place. Most of those plants are grown from seeds Darrell and Lisa saved in a freezer over the past two decades.
If you go
The Old Home Place, 2208 West 81 St, Tulsa OK
Open Monday through Saturday April 8 to May 29
9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and 918-446-7522

She starts all of these seeds in trays. The trays are filled to the top with Sunshine LC1 potting soil and watered. The soil is given time to absorb the water before planting.

Tomato seeds need 70 to 85-degree warmth to germinate so I use only warm water, Merrell said. They take 3 days to germinate in a climate controlled warm spot or 5 to 7 days to come up on top of the refrigerator.

Lisa grows 85 tomato varieties. Her Top Ten tomato varieties for 2010 are Cherokee Purple, Carbon, Yellow 1884 Pinkheart, Sioux, Eva Purple Ball, Royal Hillbilly, Grandma Suzy's Beefsteak, Break O'Day, Oxheart and Sweet 100.
To get an idea of the size of this one-woman operation's responsibility, consider starting 780 flats of 3-inch pots.

The seeds started on Feb 16 were planted into pots on March 9 to have them ready for her Early Bird sale April 8 to 14. In addition to the Old Home Place, Merrell will sell her plants at the Sand Springs Herbal Affair & Festival on April 17 and at the Jenks Herb and Plant Festival on April 24.

Each plant is $3.50, with a buy-12-get-one-free deal.

Merrell's Tips - Planting Tomatoes

Select a site with at least 6-hours of sun. The plants appreciate afternoon shade in late summer.

Add compost to planting soil. Mushroom compost is proven to work well.

Add a pound of composed manure and a tablespoon of Epsom salts to the planting hole.

An alternative to animal manure is a mixture of 1 Tablespoon blood meal, one-half cup bone meal, one-half cup greensand, 1-Tablespoon Epsom Salt, 1 whole banana, and 2-crushed calcium tablets.

Plant 3-feet apart. Bury the plant half way up the stem. Bury or remove the lower branches.

Water during planting and again after planted.

Mulch with straw or hay.

Water twice a week with a soaker hose or the equivalent of one-two gallons of water per plant per week.

Merrell's Tips - Growing Tomatoes
Soak the soil to 8 inches deep twice a week. Punch holes in gallon jugs and put them into the ground next to tomatoes at planting time. Fill the jugs twice a week while you are checking plants.

Mulch plants, and fertilize with alfalfa, Epsom salts, or manure. Shake plants gently twice a day after flowers appear to help set fruit.

Spray with Bordeaux before any signs of disease appear.

Use Bacillus Thuringiensis to control tomato hornworms and Pyrethrum for spider mites and aphids.

Blossom end rot is a water-soaked spot on the bottom of the tomato that turns black. Extreme weather conditions during a growth spurt are the culprits. Foliar feeding with liquid calcium can correct the problem.

Prune if you want to shape plants but it is not necessary.

Cover plants with shade cloth in July and August

With a cat standing guard over freshly planted seeds in sterile soil, what could go wrong?


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