By Jordan Laio, Hometalk.com
Tomatoes are members of the nightshade family and, being natives of the South America, generally like conditions hot and dry. If you live in a warmer climate, you may already have tomato transplants growing in your garden. In other parts of the country, it will soon be warm enough to transplant. Here are some tips for preparing and managing your tomato beds for maximum efficacy.
Test the Soil
Like Robert Hendrickson says in The Great American Tomato Book, “Gardening without a soil test is like building a house without a blueprint. It can be done, but it’s harder and far more time-consuming in the long run.” Tomatoes prefer a soil pH between 6.0 and 6.8 and need adequate amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and calcium. Test kits should be available at your local garden shop, or send a soil sample to a lab such as the University of Massachusetts Soil and Plant Nutrient Testing Lab. Amend soil as needed.
The soil should be rich, but with a good balance of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Too much nitrogen will produce large, leafy plants lacking fruits. Spread compost or aged manure on each spot where a plant will be. You can also sprinkle some crushed eggshells to provide calcium. There are organic fertilizers available designed for tomatoes. These work well as a general fertilizer if you are not able to test the soil.
It is a good idea not to grow tomatoes in the same location year after year, or even to plant them where other nightshade plants (peppers, eggplants, tomatoes) have grown in recent years. Experts suggest a rotation of 3-4 years, but this is not always possible depending on the size of your garden. However, such a garden crop rotation reduces the incidence of disease, which tomatoes are particularly susceptible to.