No Such Thing as a Green Thumb
By Joy Scott
A beautiful, flavorful homegrown tomato bears little resemblance in flavor or appearance to what is available commercially. Based on my experience growing tomatoes in Far West Texas and what has been shared with me by other gardeners, successful tomato growing here has its challenges. The typical soil here has a high PH, which means it can be alkaline. The unique climate of our region and challenges of irrigation are also important factors in the tomato growing equation. Planning and preparation can help the home gardener manage the challenge of growing tomatoes.
Knowledge is power! Texas AgriLife Extension is a source of research-based information that can help the home gardener make informed decisions about management practices that can yield better outcomes. An excellent approach to establishing a tomato garden site is using soil testing. A small soil sample taken from a mix of different spots of a garden site can be sent to a Texas A & M soil testing laboratory. The lab will provide a detailed analysis of the nutrient profile of the soil sample, with recommendations about soil amendments. The printable form for submission and instructions for taking a soil sample can be found at soiltesting.tamu.edu/
Timing of tomato planting and selection of the variety of tomato plants are also important factors in successful tomato gardening. Tomatoes get a faster start if transplanted when nighttime temperatures are reliably in the 50-degree range. Protecting young tomato transplants is a good management practice and helps mitigate stress from strong spring winds. The variety of tomato plants selected can be a major factor in successful tomato cultivation. Texas AgriLife Extension has handouts of information on varieties of tomatoes, as well as other vegetables, that are better suited to our climate. I enjoy trying new varieties and growing my own transplants. It has been my experience that varieties which produce smaller size tomatoes usually are more productive.
The El Paso County Master Gardeners have an excellent presentation on their YouTube channel titled “Tomato Gardening Essentials for El Paso or Anywhere!”. In this video Master Gardener Bev Clark shares all the steps and tricks and tips for successful tomato growing.
Tomato gardening is a challenging but rewarding activity. The Texas Singer-Songwriter Guy Clark once produced a minor hit song with the title “Homegrown Tomatoes”. The chorus of the song “only two things that money can’t buy, true love and homegrown tomatoes” says it all. For inspiration you can view a performance of the song on YouTube by searching for Guy Clark-Homegrown Tomatoes. Happy gardening!