CORVALLIS - As the song goes, "there's only two things that money can't buy, and that's true love and home-grown tomatoes."
Although love blossoms freely, growing tomatoes can be a challenge in Oregon. Wet springs and cool summers often mean slow-ripening fruits. Experts at Oregon State University Extension Service offer some advice on one of life's true pleasures: home-grown tomatoes.
First, choose tomato varieties that will meet the challenges of chilly nights and short seasons. Luckily OSU plant breeders, led by Jim Myers, the OSU Baggett-Frazier Professor of Vegetable Breeding, have developed tomato varieties for our region, including the new "Legend" tomato.
- Plant only high quality, semi-hardened transplants without blossoms. Pinch blossoms off the transplants if they have them. Young transplants with flowers may have delayed or stunted growth.
- Prevent transplant shock by setting plants in a protected area for a week before transplanting to their final place in the garden. Sudden heat, cold or bright sunlight can damage tender tomato transplants, so move them gradually to the garden..
- Thoroughly water plants 12 to 14 hours before transplanting to the garden..
- Plant tomato transplants about two to three feet apart. Provide supports to keep tomatoes from sprawling on the ground, where they are vulnerable to slugs.
- Use plastic sheeting or other row covers, cloches or tunnels to improve early growth and trap heat where the nights are cool. Plastic mulch conserves moisture, increases soil temperatures, protects the fruits from rot and enhances early ripening and yields. Remove the covers after about four weeks, or when daytime temperatures get into the 80s..
- Don't over-fertilize young plants. Too much nitrogen can cause excessive vegetative growth and delay fruit set.
- Irrigate tomatoes to maintain steady moisture in the soil to avoid blossom end rot.
- Lengthen the tomato harvest season by gathering mature green tomatoes (those with jell in the seed cavity) before the first frost. Store them at 50 degrees and ripen at 70 degrees.
For more information on "Grow Your Own Tomatoes," (EC 1333) visit our on-line catalog. Our publications and video catalog at: http://extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog/ shows which publications are available on the Web and which can be ordered as printed publications.