Tomatoes: Yes, It is Almost Time for Planting
In some areas of the country, the last frost may be behind you and if it is, you can now transplant outside any tomato plants that you started indoors. Ensure you know with a reasonable amount of certainly when the last frost date is in your area.
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Tomatoes are quite easy to start indoors six to eight weeks before the last frost. Once the plants have developed their third leaf, you can thin the plants and prepare for transplanting outside. Tomato plants need to be “hardened” off before transplanting outdoors however.
The plant needs to experience breezes and the outdoors in general, which will trigger the plant to begin developing a stronger stem. Plants grown exclusively indoors many times will not be strong enough to support the heavy fruit. You should also harden off seedlings that you purchase from a greenhouse. Most growing experts would have exposed the plants to the outdoors, but then again they may not have.
Are Tomatoes Plants Self Pollinating?
Tomato plants are called self-pollinating but this is not necessarily true, they do need help in the pollination process. They can be called self-fertilizing because the plant does not need the pollen from another plant to produce fruit.
The fact is a single plant produces both the male and female organs needed for fruit production, which means it does not need another plant nearby for cross-pollination. The blossom has an anther, similar to a hollow shaped tube, where the pollen is produced. The pollen is produced on the inside of the anther and it is distributed through pores in it. This is why the plant needs to be disturbed to move the pollen through the pores.
It is simply a birds and the bees’ discussion. Pollen must get from the stamen of the flower to the pistil. The stamen is the male reproductive organ. How does this occur? Nature helps by providing breezes outdoors, bees and animals brushing by. The shaking or vibration sets the pollen free to find its way to the pistil, which includes the stigma and ovary of the plant. You can artificially disturb the plant indoors by gently shaking or use a fan to provide a gentle breeze.
It is thought that the buzzing of bees creates a sonic wave with a frequency that can vibrate the pollen through the pores of anther.
The point is that tomato plants do need help in the pollination process whether it is bees, human hands or the gentle breezes produced by nature, so technically speaking they are not self-pollinating.
Hardening the Plants
Harden the plants by placing in a sunny location outside during the day, and then bring in at night. It can take between 7 and 10 days to harden off the plants. Bring them in even if you are convinced there will not be a frost. Tomatoes do well when the nighttime temperatures average above 50ᵒF/10ᵒC. Cooler temperatures will slow blossom production, causing you to have a late harvest or can cause the plant to drop their blossoms without developing fruit.
When transplanting, bury up to 80 percent of the tomato plant in the soil. The leaf stems once under the soil will grow/develop into roots that help support the plant. This is an important step, and it ensures the plant is sturdy enough and has a large enough root system to support heavy fruit production. Plant the seedlings about two feet apart.
The soil must be loose and have good drainage. Till up the area for planting several weeks before transplanting. As you till add compost and/or manure to ensure there are plenty of nutrients in the soil and that it remains loose.
Tomatoes need plenty of water up to two inches of water weekly, (even more in hot climates) but the water must drain past the roots. The roots collect the water and nutrients as the water flows over the roots. Roots setting in water will not perform well, unless the water is constantly moving such as in a hydroponics system.
In years past, during periods of drought gardeners/farmers sometimes placed flat rocks near the plant base to draw moisture from the soil. This helps to slow the moisture evaporation from around the plant, helping it to survive the drought.
Tomatoes need at least six hours of direct sunlight daily, but in hot climates afternoon shade is helpful. Morning and early afternoon sunlight is ideal. Even though tomatoes according to most experts originated in South America, they do not do well when the temperature exceeds 90ᵒF/32ᵒC.
Prolonged heat and over exposure to the sun will reduce harvest yields. You might say tomato plants are rather “fussy”. Not enough sun however, will cause the plants to become “leggy” as they attempt to grow towards the sunlight. The plant will grow tall with a reduced leaf system.
You can mulch around the plants after they have been in the ground for a few weeks to retain moisture and to slow the growth of weeds. Use compost, straw or other material. However, do not use fresh sawdust from oak trees because the sawdust will leach tannic acid into the soil. Any sawdust or manure must have been composted before using on your garden. Fresh manure can take in excess of six months before it is ready for your garden.
Once the plants are well developed, most will need to be staked or caged to help support the plant once the fruit starts coming on.
Do not let the fruit languish on the vine, pick as soon as it is table ready or even earlier and allow ripening on a windowsill. This encourages more fruit development. Later in the season, you can allow a few tomatoes on several of the plants to ripen longer if you plan to harvest the seeds.