Tomatoes Got Me Warmed up for SXSW

It may seem early, but March and through the first half of April is the time to plant tomato seedlings in Austin. A garden-fresh tomato warmed by the sun is a gardener’s best prize. Try them out this year and don’t hesitate to try some unusual varieties.

Speaking of unusual varieties, this year I went to the Sunshine Community Garden Plant Sale (it’s always the first Saturday in March, check it out next year), and snapped this pic of the huge crowd in the huge tent full of rare, heirloom and hard to find tomato seedlings. While in line to get into the tent, some folks behind me were talking about how crazy the crowd was and I told them “this is just practice for SXSW”.

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I always associate tomato planting with seeing new acts at SXSW, and usually while I am planting I am listening to new (to me) artists and getting psyched to see them live. More on tomato planting music at the end of my blog.

Tomatoes require a little extra care, and can be challenging to grow in Central Texas. Tomato plants need full sun to get an abundant harvest. Because of our short growing season, you will need to buy tomato starts at the garden center or local plant sale. Look for dark green, short, stocky plants that have flat (not curled) leaves. Next year you can think about starting seeds indoors in December/January.

Just like most plants, tomato seedlings require some bed preparation. Make sure your garden soil is loose and mix in about three inches of compost. I also add a handful of cottonseed meal to each planting hole. Tomatoes should be planted deep in the soil, especially if they are lanky plants. Don’t hesitate to bury the stem, since these remarkable plants can grow roots out of their stems, and more roots means more drought and heat tolerance. Water the plants right after you plant them.

Be sure to put 2-4 inches of mulch around the plants. This will keep the soil moist and cool to nurture your little plants. Plus, mulch will save you time and money when the dry season hits by conserving water.

The best tomato planting music this season is the recent Foxygen record, with that song “Shuggie” leading the pack. I am sure Foxygen will encourage my tomato seedlings to thrive, because tomatoes love funky backbeats and vintage psych grooves. Plus, tomatoes especially like it when you sing along at the top of your lungs, and those Foxygen songs are easy to sing along with. If Mick Jagger and David Bowie had that modern family they daydreamed about between takes of  “Dancin’ in the Streets” and snorts of cocaine, their sons would be the members of Foxygen. I’ll be in the crowd at Hotel San Jose on Saturday afternoon to shout my “Thank You’s” to them for helping my tomatoes.

Check in next week for part 2 of our tomato growing tips to learn about tomato troubleshooting and tomato harvesting!

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