Published Friday, February 12, 2021
By Victoria Torley
The tomatoes are back!
I don't plant them, these are volunteers that pop up as the rainy season slows down. And they pop up everywhere.
Tomatoes are notorious for hating wet feet so we do without the homegrown tomatoes we love during the rainy season, relying instead on tomatoes from the vegetable market in town. Hot-house tomatoes. Not that they aren't fresh, but sometimes they are still a bit green and we like our tomatoes ripe all the way through. It's also difficult to find the small salad tomatoes in our area, and we miss them, so that is usually what we grow.
So, how do you grow things that dislike the rain? My gardener and all-around handyman, Armando, built me a nice raised bed under an extension of the roof. It gets great sun. But the sun can be a problem. Concrete blocks hold the heat on sunny days and transfer it to the soil and that can heat the roots of any plant to the point where those roots can no longer function. The solution is to use Styrofoam insulation between the block and the soil, inhibiting heat transfer. Let the sun heat the soil directly, and you should have enough heat to keep the roots happy. The raised bed itself allows water to drain away and prevents root rot. Just make sure you have a few drainage holes somewhere.
There is the problem of too much sun. Are the leaves of your tomato plants looking a little pale? When I get sunburned, I turn red. When leaves get sunburned, they turn grey or even white. They have been sun-bleached!
Last year, I had a volunteer tomato plant – probably bird-planted – snuggled up to the foundation of the house. It was under the roof extension, got full morning sun, but by about 1:00 it was almost completely in the shade. It was growing in a terraced area and, by the time it was done, it had extended stems down all three terraces, rooting along the way, and produced more tomatoes than any other three plants. All this, despite the fact that I initially didn't even know it was there! Go figure.
Well, wherever you grow them, it is about time to start your tomatoes from seed – which can be as easy as buying tomatoes at the market and using seeds from them. Just remember the few simple rules. No wet feet, so make sure your drainage is good. Rich soil – kitchen veggie scraps for that. Not too much sun – if you see bleached leaves, move the plant or get some shade cloth. Then get ready for a home-grown treat.
Plant for the week
We have wonderful soil for the azalea, a beautiful shrub with striking flowers, as they prefer an acid soil. Although they are shade tolerant, they have done better for me in full sun. Sadly, they do attract leaf-cutter ants. They are another shrub that dislikes wet feet, which is why they are often planted on slopes. So, rich, well-drained soil and lots of mulch, then sit back and enjoy the blooms.
For more information on this article Ms. Victoria Torley, gardener columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org