How to Grow Tomatoes in Central Texas Part 2
By Colleen Dieter
It’s SXSW, and it’s tomato planting time! Friday night, after a fun day of planting ‘Celebrity’ tomatoes (the best variety for Austin) I will go down to Auditorium Shores to see some of my favorite ‘celebrities’- Flaming Lips! I’ve seen them a bunch of times and I am looking forward to hearing some new stuff from them. It’s a free show within sight of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s statue.
Now that I have my tomatoes in the ground and growing happily, here are a few things I will look out for.
You’re gonna need to get some cages, big stakes or other supports for your tomato plants. Tomatoes are kind of like big viney bushy things. If you don’t support them they will lay on the ground and take up your whole garden.
Tomatoes will need some protection from birds. I have found beautiful red fruit on my tomato vines with indents of bird footprints and large chunks gorged out of them. You can cover ripening tomatoes with small paper bags- if the birds can’t see them, they can’t eat them. Try hanging shiny things in your garden like foil pans, whirlygigs and CDs to scare the birds away. (Remember when AOL used to send CDs in the mail? They were prefect for scaring birds. Remember when you used to have CDs? Remember when you used to get mail? Weird.)
There is also a theory that the birds eat the tomatoes because they are thirsty and just want to drink the juice inside the fruit. I have had success adding birdbaths to the garden. Giving them an easy drink of water kept them from eating my tomatoes. Adding chile pequins to the perimeter of your garden will give them a little alternative food too.
Make sure you water your plants evenly, especially when they start to make fruit. This means you are watering them on a regular schedule with the same amount of water. Uneven watering will result in blossom-end rot and cracking.
If you get flowers on your plants but no fruit, it usually means that it is too hot outside for the plants to make fruit. The weather may not be on your side, or you need to plant earlier next year. There are also heat-tolerant varieties like ‘Superfantastic’ and ‘Heat Wave’ that you should try.
Once every month, scratch a handful or two of dry fertilizer into the soil around the plants. Also, foliar feeding with fish emulsion (I like Ladybug Brand John’s Recipe) is great for tomatoes.
Watch out for the dreaded tomato hornworm. These ugly beasts are hard to see because they are the same color as the tomato plants. They will strip the leaves off of the plants, leaving just blank stems. Companion planting experts say planting borage near your tomatoes will deter hornworms. Pick them off and smash them when you see them.
Join us on March 30 from 10 AM – Noon for a free basic organic vegetable gardening class at Sunfield Community Garden, 1328 Sunbright Boulevard, Buda TX 78610