Tomato Soil and Raised Bed Question

Fred_in_Maine(Southern Maine)May 11, 2007

First time trying raised beds. I will be transplanting tomato seedlings into raised beds. Each tomato plant will be in its own 2 foot X 2 foot by 6 inch high wood-framed bed.

A 2 foot wide walkway surrounding each bed will mean that there will be 4 feet between tomato plants in all directions.

Each 2 X 2 foot wood-framed bed will be laying on top of last year's open-space garden, so there will be a 6 inch cushion of last year's composted manure and top soil under each bed.

This year I bought enough equal amounts of top soil and composted cow manure to be mixed and then poured into the 2 X 2 tomato beds to a depth of 6 inches. Would this mix be enough, or should I add anything to the mixture before I pour it into the tomato beds?

I do have plenty of dried leaves, Bone Meal, fish emulsion and Vigora Plant Food 12-10-5. I also have about 200 pounds of stale bread and an additional 100 pounds of bread coming every week. Long story about the bread.

Thank you for any suggestions. This is only my second year gardening. I have learned so much from this forum.


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Hello Fred in Maine, this is Charles in South Carolina

I'll take first stab at your question since the real experts are a little slow tonight. I would tend to add some more organic matter to "loosen" your soil structure somewhat. Although organic, sometimes the cow manure, which is great, is a little firmer than I like.

I grew last year using "Dixie Mix" which would be a mite expensive to truck to Maine (plus the surcharge for above the Mason Dixon line). This year I added pine bark fines, peat moss, cow manure and shredded leaves. So far after one month, the tomatoes are looking great. I have one each of 20 heirlooms and 3 hybrids. But, who's counting. Actually, I'm somewhat afraid to go near Aunt Ginny's Purple because she looks like she might do bodily harm to some male she doesn't like. I've got Zogola next to her so he should be able to hold his own.

Seriously, I think if you could shread those leaves (lawnmower) and add them they would help. Down here I think the pine bark fines are really beneficial. I did throw a little Tomato Tone in each hole also.

Good luck. Trial and error is part of the fun. I'm just waiting for that first slice with a little salt and pepper.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2007 at 9:42PM
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Hey guys---now usually over here , but someone put the bug in my ear about planting tomatoes on a raised bed. I only have room for 3 plants branywine, parks whopper and better boy. They look really healthy, about 13 or 14 inches high and my brandywine has a half dozen bloom and 3 of those are full blown . I mixed scotts garden soil with composted cow manure, compost is about 30%. I water them most evenings, I notice the compost seems to get pretty firm.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2007 at 9:59PM
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gumby_ct(CT it says Z5)

First let me say you have a very well written post with cohesive thoughts. It sounds like you will have a wonderful garden too.

Make certain, the plants get at least 6 hrs of DIRECT sunlight, that is DIRECT sunlight without shade or shadows. Otherwise, tomatoes don't like to set fruit. So unless you like green, it's DIRECT sunlight.

If you haven't yet done a soil test I would suggest you start there. If you are lucky enough to get them free thru the local aggie, I would do one for each bed. Find a way to mark (ID) your beds and keep a journal, good idea to have for those times when you can't remember what you planted where or the amendements or other changes you made. The soil test will also let you know if you need to add bone meal, lime, organic matter, etc. Your plants and wallet will both love you for it.

Don't put your plants in the ground UNTIL your soil temp is at least 60 degrees. Digital thermometer $10 at Walmart (6in. kitchen thermometer)

In my row garden days, I planted my tomatoes 4ft each direction but I NEVER pruned. Before the season was over it was like a jungle you could only squeeze in to harvest and usu. broke a branch or two. So I would suggest pruning the suckers. If you don't know how a google search will turn up many ideas.

Tho, I caged & staked the plants, when the season peaked & the tomatoes weighed the plants down, they would usu. fall over. So I would suggest you try a trellis. I trellis mine by using 2 (1x2) uprights (2x2's work better) no higher than YOU can reach, connected by a 1x2 crossbeam. Like an upsidedown 'U'. Then use a string, (or rope or wire or jute twine) run down to the plant. Wind the plant around the string each day (or every other day or so). While you are doing that, you can pinch the suckers off. It really doesn't take that long once you get it down. If the plants get high enough, let them grow back down the other side.

After converting to beds, my soil is much too soft to support a stake or cage. If you have cages, use them for peppers or eggplants. If you are growing more than one variety of tomatoes, you may want to find a way to tag (mark) the plants before you forget which is what.

Even if you choose not to prune, you should pinch off the lower branches up to the first set of blossoms. If the blossoms are too close to the ground I would pinch them off too.

Use the leaves you have to mulch (heavily) below each plant. This will help keep the rain from splashing back up to the lower leaves and keep some diseases in check. Water evenly and deeply. Uneven watering is the major cause of Blossom End Rot (BER). I used buckets between the plants at this spacing. Keep in mind the roots will got out for about 4ft each way, so a bucket in your walkways would work. I moved the buckets when I didn't have enough. Put leaves in the walkways too. This will help keep weeds down and keep the soil moist out where the roots are feeding (at the tips). When the plants begin to fruit, you may have to water twice a day, if you can. If the fruit begin to crack (esp. following a soaking rain) they have not been getting enough water prior to the rain. Adjust accordingly.

Even if you are opposed to pruning, consider trying it on a few plants to see if it is worthwhile for you.

You sound like you are off to a GREAT Garden, so....hope that helps and...

Great Gardenin to ya,

ps. Plant basil too. Even if you have to plant one in each bed, Basil enhances the flavor ;-)

Here is a link that might be useful: Deep Watering for heavy feeders

    Bookmark   May 13, 2007 at 1:39AM
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I have been growing tomatoes in raised beds for about 3 years. I made the mistake of filling my beds with a compost mix and there was no available nitrogen to the plants as it was all taken up to decompose the compost.

I am gradually adding more soil to the mix and I sidedress the plants with fishmeal and vermicompost to get more nitrogen to the plants.

Here is a link that might be useful: Growing tomatoes in raised beds

    Bookmark   May 29, 2009 at 12:03PM
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    Bookmark   March 17, 2014 at 1:08AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Yes you can. It is a common practice for many gardeners with space limitations. However it requires that you keep your soil well amended with fresh batches of compost on a regular basis and maintain the pH and nutrient levels properly.

Soil depth requirements is the same for determinates and indeterminates. 8" is sufficient in most cases, 12" is better.


    Bookmark   March 17, 2014 at 2:37PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

Growing tomato, is no different from growing peppers, squash, cucumber or many garden veggies. As far as fertilizing, it is also the same, with an exception that tomatoes needs some extra CALCIUM. If you look at the labels on the fertilized targeted for tomatoes, you will see that they contain Calcium. So any fertilizer with a 3-1-2 ratios (e.g, 28 -8- 24, 12- 4 -8) is all you need. Some recommend cutting back on "N" when plants start blooming and switch to things like BLOOM BOOSTER, which is high on "P". This fertilizing scheme is normally followed in container gardening. In-ground gardening, with good compost rich soil, things are different and you don't switch back and forth because the soil has already has a good reservoir of the nutrient toward the mid season. So that is why some gardener just will stop fertilizing after fruiting starts.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2014 at 5:12PM
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Definitely add bone meal to the mix to make the soil less acidic and to avoid bottom end rot. Topsoil on its own depending on which kind it is has a pH of about 7.5

    Bookmark   March 26, 2014 at 3:18PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Definitely add bone meal to the mix to make the soil less acidic and to avoid bottom end rot.

Not this claim yet again! Sorry but it just isn't accurate for many reasons often discussed in great detail here.


    Bookmark   March 26, 2014 at 3:59PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

What is bone meal ? Is it high in phosphorus ? If so,probably that is not the best option. Most recommendation for tomato fertilizer is something with a 3-1-2 (NPK) ration PLUS calcium and magnesium.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2014 at 7:36PM
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geosankie(5a NEPA)

Two important suggestions:
1. get a soil test before you start pouring any fertilizers into your soil.
2. listen to Dave (digdirt)..he knows what he speaks.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2014 at 8:01PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Yes bone meal is high in P and also a good source of Ca. But it is also very slow to decompose and affect the soil or become available to the plants. So you might see some results from it the following year.

Plus it has effect on the soil pH and as is well established, plays no role in the prevention of BER.

Since very few soils can be found in the US that are low in P or Ca deficient adding it for those purposes is a waste of money and effort.

Yet the claims persist, primarily due to posts just like this add-on to a thread from 3 years ago.


    Bookmark   March 26, 2014 at 8:20PM
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For a month or two before planting tomatoes I begin saving my egg shells, which I crush and put in the bottom of the planting holes. No blossom rot yet!

    Bookmark   March 29, 2014 at 12:09PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

For a month or two before planting tomatoes I begin saving my egg shells, which I crush and put in the bottom of the planting holes. No blossom rot yet!

And, as often discussed here, well proven to have no possible effect at all on the prevention of BER.


    Bookmark   March 29, 2014 at 3:56PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

Egg shells will take years to break down naturally. Some people use TUM's antacid tablets too !!
Better than crushing is grinding in coffee mill.

I used to burn them in fireplace for fast calcium release. Just my thinking.

I consider these things just personal, not substantiated which may or may not be effective.

Back to Topic:
I also vote for a soil test to be certain what is laccking and is needed.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2014 at 6:04PM
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I use a special planting stick, an ornamental one made for me by my son when he was small, to plant seeds. I used the planting stick for the last few years, and haven't gotten BER.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2014 at 7:46PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Good one Lucille! :)


    Bookmark   March 29, 2014 at 8:29PM
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