Advice on growing tomatoes in Tennessee

laccanvasJanuary 30, 2010


I read a post about someone getting their tomato seeds started...reminds me...I don't have any experience in growing them. Last year I think mine just rotted and got eaten by critters. Grew over 20 plants. I think I got about 10 good tomatoes out of it all and maybe 20 good romas..which were mainly container. I should have pulled them green, but didn't. Even found a few Caspian pink ones in the mix by total surprise. They were all Beefsteak seeds and Romas.

Now, I have alot of other varieties of tomato seeds that do well in a multitude of weather conditions...I think Cherokee Purple, Porter, a Chocolate Cherry, some european ones, etc.

Any suggestions for soil preparations, growing etc?

Last year I just worked the soil and then planted. I didn't "pinch" off any growth or treat or fertilize. I think alot of the plants had fungus or blight due to the wet humid weather. All set out fruit and grew, but just rotted and got ate up by bugs and rodents.

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Hi laccanvas,
Do you start seeds inside? I think you need to so that the tomatoes plants are a decent size once frost date passes. We had problems with blight but, I had TONS of tomatoes from about a flat of seeds. I started the seeds inside and didn't do anything special other than -- DON'T OVERWATER THEM.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2010 at 11:10AM
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To be honest...
I think growing tomatoes from seed at the end of spring outdoors in flats seems to catch up with growth with seeds that I started indoors months before. I even started seeds in mid june outdoors and had plants bigger and with more flowers than plants I started indoors early.

I am though, starting some early girl and a cold weather hardy tomato variety right now.

I think I had problems with hornworm and late blight on alot of my beautiful tomatoes...many were pecked by birds (I think) or some critter. I didn't prune..I will do this season...because I wanna grow that guinness world book "Delicious" variety and try for a BIG one. I didn't trellis all of them either. Only about 6 plants out of 15. Some were in containers. My San Marzano's did best and were the lastest that I started outdoors. They were red and tastey.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2010 at 3:30PM
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I started a few flats last year and then had so many i was giving them away. They all started out healthy! Last year was just so wet.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2010 at 7:25PM
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Hello laccanvas ...
tomatos tend to be "heavy feeders", and usually do best in rich soil. Some quality Compost worked into the soil before planting, and "side dressed" when the plants start to bloom; might make a big difference for you.

Personally, I don't recommend the use of chemical fertilizer at all. I suppose that works for some folks; but you can easily (and will probably) cause more harm by using chemical fertilizers.

To reduce Rot and spoilage: water the soil (not the plants), stake/cage/trellis the plants to keep them off the ground, and allow space for good air circulation around/through the plants.

Best of luck with this year's crop!

    Bookmark   January 31, 2010 at 9:42PM
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I like farmerlon's advice on this subject. =) Also, there has never been a truer statement than this, " Last year was just so wet." lol...hopefully, if you follow the advice given here, you should have better luck this year. Tennessee does have a ton of bugs, especially ones that attack veggie plants. If that's one of your main worries, but you don't want to spray any chemicals on your veggie plants, then buy some organic pest repellant. GardeSafe (greenish aqua bottle) has at least 3 different gardening pest repellants products that are completely organic. Give them a try. Also, overwatering last year was an easy thing to happen to anyone. With that month long of rain almost all the US had during peak growing season, it was very likely to happen. Stick with the basics when watering. If you can dig down an inch or two into the potting mix & it's still even slightly wet, the plant does not need more water. Maybe a pH testing kit along with the knowledge of proper levels that your plants should have (Google plant name + "proper soil pH level) will also help you alleviate some of the problems you ran into last season.

- Steve

    Bookmark   February 1, 2010 at 1:19AM
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Thanks guys!!!

I definitely will do different this growing season!

A tomato growing book I have also suggests to not go into the garden when the leaves are wet too.

I have seen people grow their tomatoe plants close together with bountiful success..I don't know how they do it though. I'm trying a new way of trellising this season too. Last season I just found old poles that were too short and weak to support them. I think this year I will use brush tree limbs (saves on buying anything). I have a large roll of twine. I think I will add a little wood ash to the soil too..but very carefully not to mess with the PH. I have organic tomatoe fertilizer that I didn't use last season, but will try this season. Also, I have my eggshells grinded up and ready to go. Compost is already on the garden. I watch how to videos that add all those store bought soil admendments and I think how in the world do they break even on the cost to grow them?? Plus the cost for plastic mulches and straw...

Does anyone know much about the advice on rotating tomatoes every season to a different plot??

    Bookmark   February 1, 2010 at 11:31AM
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I don't do so well growing tomatoes in the ground, but last year, I made some self watering containers out of 5-gallon buckets, and my toms did great.

This year, I'm moving them to the front yard (and building some kind of cinder block 'wall' around them, so that I don't have a bunch of ugly buckets in my front neighbors already think I'm nuts!) where they'll get more sun during the day. I'm also trying winter sowing some of them this year...fingers crossed!

    Bookmark   February 1, 2010 at 3:13PM
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Hello again,
you said... "Does anyone know much about the advice on rotating tomatoes every season to a different plot??"

Yes, you should avoid growing your tomatos in the same spot every season (to help reduce pest, disease, and soil fertility problem). In fact, don't grow anything in the same "family" in that spot... for tomatos, that family includes eggplant, potatos, peppers, and okra.

Rotate to a different family; maybe Beans/Peas, or Melons.
Alternating from year to year will help some; and rotation plans of 3 to 5 years can often be most beneficial.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2010 at 10:11PM
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I like the SWC's & 'tainers. I think i'm going to buy a pre-made one (or two) to try out this year. Any recommendations for a good place to order them from The whole kit)? - Steve

    Bookmark   February 1, 2010 at 11:37PM
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anntn6b(z6b TN)

Celebrity is the cultivar of choice near Knoxville, it transports poorly, but is a base of the commercial growers in Grainger County.
After last years blights, DEFINITELY don't plant tomatoes in the same places this year.
The more variety of cultivars you plant, the better your chances of getting great production at different times of the summer.

Since you probably had hornworms last year, watch for them this year. When you find them, don't squish them if them have the wasp eggs attached to their back, move them to an empty lot far from gardens....keep the beneficial insect populations growing.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2010 at 12:53PM
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I had heard (from someone in Grainger County) that a variety grown there many years ago was called "Luscious Lady" ... but I haven't been able to find any seeds or info for that tomato at all.
Does anyone here know anything about that tomato?

    Bookmark   February 11, 2010 at 2:24PM
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Ok, I so do not have room for all these veggies, but i'm gonna fit what I can! lol...Tomatoes i'm growing this year:

Wisconsin 55
Better Boy
Sun Gold
Martino's Roma
Amish Paste
Sungold Select II
Black Cherry

I think it's a great variety for only 9 different types. Now, where the heck do I put them all?!?! Along with all my peppers, few herbs & fruits! Ahhhhhhhhhh!!! =)

- Steve

    Bookmark   February 11, 2010 at 11:27PM
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Does anyone have any comments on growing tomatoes and other vegetables in large containers in the garden, instead of the ground? I'm planning on planting some of my tomatoes in 8 gallon brown plastic totes on top of white poly film. My thoughts are that I can control them better than if they were planted in the ground. Especially with all the rain we've been getting. The varieties I've started for this year are Brandywine, Chadwick cherry, Lemon boy and big beef. Here's a link to my website showing my indoor progress.

Here is a link that might be useful: Urban Garden

    Bookmark   February 14, 2010 at 3:16PM
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anntn6b(z6b TN)

You may find great success, depending on what kind of summer we have. A neighbor grows maters up against a hot brick wall. Some years they look puny by mid July. This past year, he had the best looking maters at our end of the county.
Black plastic totes might just give the roots the heat they desire. I wonder what kind of potting soil you should use - moisture retention wise? If you have the room, you might want to plant in both a high moisture retention (in case it's dry with low humidity) as well as a low moisture case we get rain like last year.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2010 at 11:19AM
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urban: I grow everything in my vegetable garden in containers. 8 gallon pots should do you well & you are correct, you can control some things easier in a container than in the ground. Anyways, i'm a major container gardener, so if you have any questions, let me know. =)

- Steve

Here is a link that might be useful: Steve's Garden

    Bookmark   February 19, 2010 at 12:15PM
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I read about planting tomatoes with banana peel. Tried it last year and had some amazing tomatoes before all the rain. I just save up banana peels all winter in the freezer. This year I should have enough to plant a whole banana peel per plant. My kids eat a lot of bananas.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2010 at 10:55PM
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I throw in some plant food (short term nutrients), compost (longer term nutrients), and a bit of epsom salt. After mixing that with some of the dirt, I bury my tomatoes so they have good roots.

Blight hit mine later in the season, but we had plenty of tomatoes before.

For tomatoes I use the coffee filter/paper towel and ziplock bag method of germinating seeds and then plop the seedlings into some medium in flats. This has incredible germination rates if you have few seeds.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2010 at 1:42PM
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I didn't know about the banana thing, but I have been tossing banana peels over in my rose bush area all winter (I eat at least one banana a day). I'll start saving some for my SWCs.

I also germinate using the paper towel/ziploc bag method and have great success. I've got a good 30-ish tomato seedlings going under lights and in windowsills right now. I'm not sure where I'm going to put all of them when it's time to plant out, but I guess I'll cross that bridge when I get to it!

I use Moisture Control Miracle Grow Potting Mix in my SWCs, and it works very well.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2010 at 1:10AM
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I had horrible hornworm problems last year but found an amazing and beautiful way to get rid of it...
Turns out the caterpillars HATE the smell of marigolds... plant a few near your tomatos and you will almost never find another hormworm gorging on your plants...
Hope this helps!

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 5:54PM
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We lost a few tomatoes last year to Southern Blight and a lot of them to the neighborhood squirrels. Varieties in '10 included TN Green, Rutgers, Early Girl, Cherokee Purple, Nebraska Wedding, Lemon Boy, Roma, Jetsetter, and a few cherry varieties.

In general, I focus on improving the soil. Healthy soil makes for healthy plants, and healthy plants are less susceptible to disease and pests - although of course there's only so much you can do about some! Test your soil now with a kit from your local Extension office, and you will know what you may need to add before planting your summer tomato crop. It is worth the small fee for test - you won't waste money on fertilizers you don't need, and you'll know exactly if there are some specific deficiencies.

About rotation: I do rotate plant families on a 4-year rotation. After last summer's wet weather and fungi, I definitely wouldn't want any plants from this family in the same area.

Some other tips that help: Last year we made tomato cages out of 150-foot roll of 10-gauge concrete reinforcing wire. These cages were great for our indeterminate plants, keeping them well off the ground. When the fungus started attacking plants, we removed low branching vines, pulled back the mulch from the bases of the vines, and the resulting air circulation at the soil level probably helped keep the fungus from spreading as quickly as it would otherwise. The only problem with the cages was where to store them all!

Good luck!

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 10:18PM
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Wow, Steve - you grow garlic in containers!

    Bookmark   April 4, 2011 at 8:05PM
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