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What do I do with tomato plants?

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Post  Guinevere 4/16/2024, 5:13 pm

I am in my first year of SFGing.  I am in my first year of vegetable gardening altogether.....I planted two tomato plants last week in my box, that I bought at a local nursery.  They are both about 12" tall now, and both are starting to blossom.  I don't think they should be flowering already, should they?

Two big confusions for me:
1. What do I do with the plant?  How do I "train" it onto a trellis?  There's talk in the book about weaving tomato plants onto a trellis, but I can't find information about literally how to do that.  The plants aren't even tall enough to reach the trellis yet! 

2. Should I pinch off the flowers? I remember something about clipping off the "side stems" or something, and letting one main stem grow, but I'm not sure if I remember correctly, and it seems like that will limit the number of tomatoes that grow.  I have the vague impression that if I let it form tomatoes now the plant won't grow any more.  (My bell pepper plant is also flowering already, only 14" tall; is that normal?)

I'm boggled by those who are posting they are harvesting things already! I just got everything in the ground, and I had to skip lettuce because I started too late, I think.  My parsley and chives haven't sprouted yet, my scallions are barely showing, beets, radishes, carrots, beans, squash, cucumbers are still tiny seedlings.
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Post  sanderson 4/18/2024, 12:21 am

Hi, Guinevere. First, I just noticed your general location. Anywhere near Mountain Home?

1. Trellising tomatoes: When they are tall enough, you can loosely tie or clip to a vertical string on the trellis.

2. I am one of those people that don't intentionally remove early, low flowers. The only ones I remove are those that might touch the soil. Even though I mulch with E-Z Straw, I just prefer they don't grow at ground level. Leaving first fruits on will not stop the plant from growing. By the end of the summer, you will be sick with the never-ending harvests. Razz It is fine for a 14" pepper plant to have a pepper. especially if the plant is supported with a stake or medium tomato cage. Remove it or leave it, your choice.

Have you checked with your County Master Gardeners or Ag Extension for a vegetable planting guide? It should help you with the proper direct sowing and indoor early seed starting for your area.

Tomatoes are indeterminate, determinate, or dwarf/patio. Determinate are bushier and are usually supported with a tomato cage or stakes. They can take up an area of 9 square feet or at least 4 if planted in a South corner. They tend to produce a lot of tomatoes withing a short time.
Great for canners. Indeterminate can be pruned to just the main stem, and a daughter/sucker as a second stem if one wants. Indeterminates produce all season long, right up the stem(s). Dwarf/patio are smaller, compact plants that generally produce all summer. The fruits are smallish but bigger than cherry tomatoes.

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Post  Guinevere 4/18/2024, 11:22 am

What do I do with tomato plants? Img_0210
So helpful, thanks! I am fairly sure both my plants are indeterminate.  One is "Mortgage Lifter," a large tomato, and the other is a cherry tomato variety.  I have them staked now, to protect from the wind.  We have had ferocious winds here in March and April.  It's my first year in Arkansas, so I don't have a good handle on the timing of things and the weather yet.  (I'm about two hours west of Mountain Home, in Bella Vista.)  I'll just keep waiting until they are tall enough to reach the trellis.

I haven't mulched, because I wasn't sure if I can put mulch on before the seeds sprout, and now the seedlings are so small I think I'll smother them if I mulch.  But I can put mulch around the larger plants, and I guess I should, because with the heat and wind the soil dries out on top very quickly.

I do have a good planting timing guide for my area, but as I'm new to this, and not used to spring happening before May (I was in New England for years), I got caught behind.  And I'm not experienced enough to start my own seeds indoors yet, so some things I think I should have transplanted I just sowed right into the garden, and probably too late.  I figure this year will be somewhat of a wash, as I learn, and next year I should have a better handle on the timing. 

On another note, the flower boxes I installed in front of my house last fall, my "practice" SFG beds, are booming!  I planted mums in the fall, and I thought they were dead, and now they are coming back vigorously, and the violas I planted as a winter annual are still thriving and blooming, and have begun freely seeding themselves in the rest of the SFG bed and all over my lawn.   I think it's safe to say plants really do love Mel's Mix!  I used it in my patio containers last month, and those flowers are all growing well, too.  I wish I could board in my whole property and fill it with MM!
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Post  sanderson 4/19/2024, 12:00 am

Regarding seeds and tiny seedlings, I use 1" sections of TP and PT rolls over the seed spots and leave them on until the seedling is strong enough to handle mulch.  I use ready-to-use E-Z Straw with Tack from Tractor Supply.  It's fine enough to put straw in little rows between seed spots and little seedlings or around TP/PT rolls. If your seedlings are still small enough maybe you can slip rolls over them and mulch around. I water the straw mulch around the site and it seems to keep the seed spots moist/wet for sprouting.

Conversely, in the spring I pull back the winter mulch to let the MM warm up for a few days before sowing beans and planting starts that are ready to go into the beds.

My first year of SFG was the great experiment. I learned so much. And made 2 really bad mistakes. Embarassed Embarassed

Photo of broccoli seeding in October.
What do I do with tomato plants? Tp_rol11

Photo of emerging lettuce.
What do I do with tomato plants? Tp_rol12


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Post  Guinevere 4/19/2024, 11:26 am

Excellent ideas; I'll try the TP tubes.  I have some EZ straw from last fall that I never ended up using over the winter.  I covered the beds instead with a canvas tarp to keep out the digging creatures that would have dug up the straw and the beds.  

Teaser, the two "really bad mistakes!"  What were they?  I'm probably doing one or both!
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Post  sanderson 4/19/2024, 2:14 pm

The first mistake I made getting started.  I used Kellogg's Soil Amendment for the compost part instead of real composts. Embarassed  The plants stopped growing at 4 weeks (when the fertilizer in the amendment ran out, I guess).  The folks on this Forum helped me troubleshoot and that was the beginning of my search for good composts and home composting.

The second was thinking winter squash were to be grown in the winter.  silly me First freeze and they were a horrible mess. 12-4-13
What do I do with tomato plants? Winter12

I think they also had powdery mildew.
What do I do with tomato plants? Winter38

Every year since I have made some mistake and learned a whole lot. That's why I tell people we learn more from our mistakes than our successes. A success may be accidental, a failure is something we did wrong and can change.

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Post  Scorpio Rising 4/19/2024, 2:40 pm

Take notes!  The first year, especially in a new locale, will have a steep learning curve!
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Post  SMEDLEY BUTLER 4/21/2024, 2:04 am

Guinevere. your post took me way back many years to my first garden by myself. i was already a fairly competent gardener as a young teenager. I had helped my grandparents in their truck patch. So I had 7-8 years of pretty serious gardening under my belt. 

I forgot everything when I was on my own. My mother straightened me out by telling me that I had a lifetime to learn and make mistakes. And I've made a bunch over the years. I can remember my first tomato, (a heart) I was so proud. Have no idea what the name was. 

I spent all day in the garden, got a lot done. My Siberian tomatoes are blooming, 15+ inches tall. I love Mel's Mix, planted all kinds of things and never once used a trowel. Just bought a Birdie's raised bed and needed some course vermiculite. Co-op just had the one. Lucky me. What do I do with tomato plants? 3170584802  Just remember to mulch everything, even in the winter and grow lots of flowers. Good luck down South and keep an eye out for tornados.
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Post  Guinevere 4/22/2024, 4:23 pm

SMEDLEY BUTLER wrote: Just remember to mulch everything, even in the winter and grow lots of flowers. Good luck down South and keep an eye out for tornados.
"Mulch everything."  I did, yesterday, with EZ Straw bought last fall and unused until yesterday.  I mulched happy, green, healthy seedlings of beans, and a pepper and a tomato plant, both blooming and booming, all having been in the ground for up to three weeks prior with everything hunky-dory.

Today, my bean seedlings are sad, dark, limp, pathetic stalks, the tomato leaves are turning brown and limp, and the pepper plant is limp and going brown.

What do I do with tomato plants? 671790 What do I do with tomato plants? 671790

I didn't use barriers between the seedlings and the mulch. . . .did I kill my plants by not doing so?  I thought seeds were supposed to grow up through the straw, so I had no qualms about putting straw around; the EZ Straw seemed so light and innocuous!

Will this go down as my first big mistake?
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Post  Guinevere 4/22/2024, 8:04 pm

Embarrassed....so, yeah, the temps here got down to 32°F last night. . . .my poor seedlings froze, it wasn't the mulch.  I guess I should have mulched thicker! 

Maybe my tomatoes won't completely die...
I can replant beans...

Note to self: check nightly temps through April......the night before, not the morning after!
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Post  SMEDLEY BUTLER 4/23/2024, 1:36 am

I've been in the exact same spot you are in now. It's not really funny but I am kind of chuckling as I type this. Do not despair, the world is not about to end. I keep several portable cloches ( kind of like low tunnels) that I covered everything with plus several shipping blankets that we hung from the trellises. Took them down this morning, no damage at all. 

I push the frost date, 17 April here, trying to get a ripe tomato in May. Never had one, but I have been close. Good luck, be brutal about it, rip them all out and start over. You have plenty of time.

I think I saw a baby tomato on the Siberian tomatoes this morning. I was so happy that I brought the wife out when she got back from exercise. I don't think that she was as excited as I was.

Many years ago, we had a frost in late May. This was before instant weather and iPhones. It may have even been before Mel invented SFG. I think the onions was about the only survivor.
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Post  Guinevere 5/12/2024, 3:42 pm

Help! I replaced the tomato plant that froze, and now the new plant seems to be dying.  Any ideas?   What should I do?
What do I do with tomato plants? Img_0313
What do I do with tomato plants? Img_0314
What do I do with tomato plants? Img_0315
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Post  SMEDLEY BUTLER 5/13/2024, 12:18 am

i think I would find a spot in the second bed and plant a tomato in it. If it prospers , you have eliminated the soil and the mulch as the problem. I was given several plants once that were absolutely beautiful at 5-6 inches tall. when they got about a foot tall, they started dying and looked like they had every disease in the book. I never suspected the plants, although I should have.

After chasing my tail for a week or so, I finally got rid of all the plants. Problem was solved. I am very cautious about what I put in my garden, I grow almost all my plants from seed, occasionally I see something that I just have to have. It does go in a container until I can be sure of its quality.

On the problem tomato, it looks like there are several leaves close to the mulch. I would snip them off. Usually at the end of the year, I have no leaves on the stem for 30 inches or more. Not sure I was much help, but don't despair. It will all work out, 20 years from now, you will look back and laugh at all the mistakes you made. I've been there, I know what you are going through.
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Post  Guinevere 5/13/2024, 11:09 am

SMEDLEY BUTLER wrote:i think I would find a spot in the second bed and plant a tomato in it. If it prospers , you have eliminated the soil and the mulch as the problem. I was given several plants once that were absolutely beautiful at 5-6 inches tall. when they got about a foot tall, they started dying and looked like they had every disease in the book. I never suspected the plants, although I should have.

After chasing my tail for a week or so, I finally got rid of all the plants. Problem was solved. I am very cautious about what I put in my garden, I grow almost all my plants from seed, occasionally I see something that I just have to have. It does go in a container until I can be sure of its quality.

On the problem tomato, it looks like there are several leaves close to the mulch. I would snip them off. Usually at the end of the year, I have no leaves on the stem for 30 inches or more. Not sure I was much help, but don't despair. It will all work out, 20 years from now, you will look back and laugh at all the mistakes you made. I've been there, I know what you are going through.
I have two SFG beds, but they each have the same MM.  One bed has a cherry tomato that is doing well.  Do you mean the soil might be killing the tomato, but if I have one plant in the same soil that's not dying, then the soil is not the problem, and it's likely to be the plant itself?  You say to cut the low leaves, so I guess you recommend keeping the plant in case?  

I do think everything looks rather light green in this bed; I'm wondering if there's a shortage of nitrogen in my MM. . . .my veggies are not thriving like the flowers are that I also planted in MM.  Two basil plants in the veggie bed have been static for weeks; nothing happening at all; chives never sprouted, half the beets didn't sprout, mini pepper plant is stubbornly remaining at 4 inches high, but it does have a pepper, one cucumber never sprouted, etc. 

Smedley, I'd like to see your tomato plants that are bare for 30".  I'm still struggling to understand how to prune them; if there's just a stem, where do the tomato blossoms grow?
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Post  Scorpio Rising 5/13/2024, 4:36 pm

Guinevere, what are your night time temps?  Tomatoes like it hot!  Your plant does look yellow-ish, how long has it been in there?
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Post  Guinevere 5/13/2024, 8:47 pm

Scorpio Rising wrote:Guinevere, what are your night time temps?  Tomatoes like it hot!  Your plant does look yellow-ish, how long has it been in there?
I planted this on April 24 or 25.  Night temps in April were probably high 50's, and May so far 60's.  I don't think we've had any uncommonly cold nights.  We have had 9.5" of rain since it was planted, though.  But the Sweet 100 I have growing in my other bed looks green, healthy, and growing well.  It has tomatoes already, and was planted 4/7.  

Tomorrow I'll post a picture of the whole bed, so you can see the color.  I think most things look yellow.
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Post  SMEDLEY BUTLER 5/14/2024, 10:35 pm

Guinevere, I think I would leave the plant and trim off any leaves that are near the mulch. My first post disappeared somewhere, I think I hit draft instead of preview. The only problem with leaving the tomato plant: If it starts wilting and looks like it is starving for water, the plant needs to be pulled immediately, roots and all and discarded in the trash. 

Tomatoes are notorious for the bottom leaves turning ugly. I prune heavily at the first sign of any damage, even some times when I think their  might be damaged leaves. I mostly grow old heirloom indeterminate tomatoes that reach a height of 8 feet or more. I prune to 3 or 4 stems. I am like most people, I lose the pruning battle pretty quickly. i do continue to prune the bottom leaves. I also use a bloom booster when I think the tomatoes are ready to start blooming. 

As the tomato gets taller, blooms will continue up the plant. I'm so old, I can't remember a lot of my master gardener classes or I could explain it better.
Went by the library today, big garden book display, with Mel's original book right in the center. had to have it plus a couple of others they had to order.
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Post  Scorpio Rising 5/15/2024, 2:33 pm

SMEDLEY BUTLER wrote:Went by the library today, big garden book display, with Mel's original book right in the center. had to have it plus a couple of others they had to order.
That original book is the one I used to do my first 4x4–out of railroad ties no less! Talk about toxic!
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Post  sanderson 5/16/2024, 1:48 am

Scorpio Rising wrote:. . .
That original book is the one I used to do my first 4x4–out of railroad ties no less! Talk about toxic!
Oh, the things we used to do. Shocked

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Post  SMEDLEY BUTLER 5/16/2024, 12:33 pm

Sat outside this morning watching the birds and drinking coffee. I did a quick check on the garden and noticed a bunch of weed seedlings. Made a big mistake when I was setting out the transplants. My beds are 3 foot deep. Normally I plant tomatoes in the back, peppers in the middle of the bed and small things out front. Not this time, my peppers are in the front row of the beds. 

Live and learn, you would think that at my age I wouldn't do silly things like this. The weed seedlings bother me, normally I have almost no weeds. One and two year old straw mulch, don't think it's the mulch. One good thing this morning, I did read almost 50 pages of Mel's original book.

On the way back outside now to see if I can correct the mess I have made.
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Post  Guinevere 5/16/2024, 2:04 pm

SMEDLEY BUTLER wrote:Sat outside this morning watching the birds and drinking coffee. I did a quick check on the garden and noticed a bunch of weed seedlings. Made a big mistake when I was setting out the transplants. My beds are 3 foot deep. Normally I plant tomatoes in the back, peppers in the middle of the bed and small things out front. Not this time, my peppers are in the front row of the beds. 

Live and learn, you would think that at my age I wouldn't do silly things like this. The weed seedlings bother me, normally I have almost no weeds. One and two year old straw mulch, don't think it's the mulch. One good thing this morning, I did read almost 50 pages of Mel's original book.

On the way back outside now to see if I can correct the mess I have made.
I have grass coming up in my beds, sigh.  And I removed the sod from the area, put down weed fabric, and used weed-free Mel's Mix.  I just know it's that darn lawn grass every landscaper puts down when they build a new house.  I hate grass lawns, mainly for this reason.  I'm allowing the clover and sorrel to take over, and it's gaining ground, but there's still a lot of spreading grass left. I will have to take up the beds after the season and repull all the grass roots. 

Has anyone tried putting a SFG bed on top of plywood?
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Post  Scorpio Rising 5/16/2024, 3:54 pm

I get grass and Canadian thistle in my beds from time to time.  It is very tough!  I put my open bottomed beds on cardboard, but this only works for a couple years to keep the grass out and does nothing for the seeds of grass that righ now are common!  

The one time I used old hay or straw it was full of grass seeds.  I had to solarize the bed for a full year before I could use it again.
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Post  sanderson 5/16/2024, 4:04 pm

All of my beds are off the ground - table top beds.  One is set on a sheet of "cementy" cement board.What do I do with tomato plants? Garden11

Cement board to prevent the neighbors Italian Cyress roots from coming up into this bed.
What do I do with tomato plants? Cement17

My first experimental cement board bed.
What do I do with tomato plants? Table111

Someone else who needed to get their beds out of the invasive grass/root area.  3/4" plywood set on treated 4"x4".
What do I do with tomato plants? Table112

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Post  OhioGardener 5/20/2024, 9:34 am

Housekeeping.  This thread had become completely off-topic discussing critters, so I split it and created a separate thread for the off-topic discussions.

https://squarefoot.forumotion.com/t24113-dealing-with-critters-in-garden#309914

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Post  sanderson Today at 1:47 pm

Thank you OG.

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