chefshelle
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90 Tomato Plants---HELP!

Yesterday, my friend Laura and I went to a Mennonite auction and packed 167 plants into a Lexus SUV...yup...barely enough room to sit! 90 of those were a variety of tomato plants. We paid $80 for the tomatoes, so not bad, less than a buck a piece. (You have to buy them 5 flats at a time) So, here come the ripe, fresh tomatoes up for auction. 20lbs a box and guess how much they sold for??? $25...$30....$50...keep going...the cheapest they sold for was $76.50 per box and went up to $90! Last year at the END of the season, they were selling for about $50/20lb box and we thought that was crazy!

Since we both LOVE to garden and love hard work and love challenges, we decided last night that we are going to plant all 90 tomatoes, and possibly more.

Here are my questions...

How far apart do you space your tomato plants? (We normally only plant 20!) Having such a large quantity, I'd like to be a little more precise.

The land that we will be planting on is a little uneven. We are debating over which would be best, prepare the existing soil or put down a layer of sand, then dumping soil on top. (We do have access to unlimited amounts of dirt.) We are also going to purchase a tractor. Any tips on this would be great as well!

I really appreciate any comments or suggestions. My husband thinks we've lost our minds and Laura's husband is going tractor shopping tonight! He's ready!

BTW, we will be planting a variety like Celebrity, Early Girl, Pink Girl, Better Boy, Roma, etc.
Michele

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Cirtes
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Wow! Big topic.

There is a tomato forum just above this one where you may get a few more responses.

So, it looks like you wish to grow some Tomatoes for a commercial operation.

Local Rules: Check your local Department of Agriculture and see if there are rules and whatnot.

Soil: Tomatoes like rich loose well drained soil. They run roots deep and benefit when soil conditions are favorable. Since you plan on a tractor, test the soil in several locations for Ph and type then plow and till deep and amend as needed.

Tomato type: Determinate or Indeterminate: Determinate plants tend to be a bush type and need less support. They set fruit in a predictable time span then diminish. Indeterminate types are more vine-like and need a lot of support, produce fruit continuously during the season. Depending on how you intend to market your crop, this decision could be important. You also need to research what your market wants to buy and eat. In general, if it isn’t round, perfect skinned and red, the tomato will not sell.

Spacing: Determinate - Rows are 3 feet apart, plants two to three foot spacing in row. Indeterminate - Rows are 3 feet apart, plants are three to four feet spacing in row (depending on variety and pruning). Increase row spacing to match width of tractor plus one foot on each side if you intend to use the tractor past the soil prep stage.

Plant Support: Florida Weave. Google it.

The above is a condensed Cliff-Notes version of the bare minimum you need to think about. There are dozens of other items that you should formulate into a viable business plan ; Watering, fertilizer, pest and disease control, crop selection, crop rotation, harvesting, packaging, marketing, etc.
Sunset Zone 21 - USDA Zone 10

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Gary350
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Here is what I do. I space my tomato plants about 20" apart and I put a cage on each plant. I have to stake my cages with a steel pole because about late July they get top heavy and fall over. If you stake your tomatoes and keep the weeds out you can double your crop. If you do not stake the tomatoes and don't take care of them then you get a much smaller crop, about half. My rows are 3 feet apart.

Sometimes I crowd my tomatoes as close as 16" apart but they actually do better if you don't croud them. This year I bought 6 varieties of tomatoe plants. As it worked out I have 3 rows of tomatoes each row is 20 ft long. I have 2 rows with 12 plants in each row and 1 row with 16 plants, total of 3 rows with 40 plants.

Tomato plants have the ability to sprout roots any place dirt touches the stem. Dig a hole the size of a 10" flower pot. Put a hand full of 15/15/15 in the hole. Put a hand full of ammonium nitrate in the hole. Put a hand full of lime in the hole too. Pour a gallon of water in the hole. Come back an hour later when the water has gone down. Strip the leaves off of the bottom half of the tomato plant. Plant the roots deep so only the top leaves stick out of the dirt. Water the plants after they have been planted. In about a weeks the tomato plants will turn very green and start growing very fast about 3" every day. The plants will produce lots of very large ripe tomatoes. Each plant will produce about a bushel basket of tomatoes during the summer growing season.

August when the temperature here is 95 to 100 degrees F every day and we have maybe 1 small rain the entire month my tomato production slows way down. If I water and shade the plants they do much better that month. Black screen wire 4 ft wide 25 ft long makes pretty good shade.

I plant a row of bush beans between each row of tomatoes. Rows are 3 ft apart, 1 row of tomatoes then 3 ft over and 1 row of beans then 3 ft over and 1 row of tomatoes and so on. Beans produce great at first then fizzle out and produce almost nothing in August. I mow the beans down with the lawn mower and till the row. With that row of beans gone the tomatoe rows are now 6 ft apart. The reason for this is by August my tomato plants are giant and I can not walk down the rows if they are 3 ft apart.

There is one other thing I do to my tomatoes. One day a week I water the plants with ammonium nitrate water. I put 1 pint of ammonium nitrate in a 5 gallon bucket of water stir until it dissolves. I put 1 quart of fertilizer water on each tomato plant 1 day a week.

Late July and the month of August when we have NO RAIN I give each plant a drink of water every day this keeps the tomatoes coming. I hill the dirt up in a donut circle around each plant like a small dam. I use the garden hose to fill each dam with water every evening about 1 hour before sun down.
Last edited by Gary350 on Fri May 01, 2009 5:39 pm, edited 2 times in total.

chefshelle
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Thanks to both of you for such detailed replies! I plan to google the Florida Weave!

Gary, do you sell produce? The information you gave me was extremely helpful. What did you think about tilling up the land or dumping on top of what's already there?

We do stake with our own homemade cages, that is a must! Any suggestions about weeding around the plants?? Obviously the tiller will take care of most of it, but do you actually try to weed inside the cages??

Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Michele

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Gary350
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I go to the garden just about every morning and hoe for about 10 minutes. It is easy to hoe when the weeds are small and it is not much work if I do it at least every other day. When the rain starts coming less often and it gets hotter then I don't have much of a weed problem. I can run my tiller between the rows pretty easy and quick. It is hard to hoe inside the cages so I pull the weeds out of there by hand.

I can a lot of tomatoes in Mason Jars, about 70 pints and 8 quarts last summer. We eat a lot of tomatoes in the summer and winter too, salads, garden pizza, stir fry, shish kabob on the BBQ grill, sliced tomatoes on a sandwich, tomato juice, home made catsup, home made spagetti sauce, vegatable soup, tomato basil soup, chili, mexican food. Once we restock the pantry any tomatoes after that may be traded or given to the homeless shelter.

I will trade tomatoes of vegatables I don't have or vegatables I need more of.

chefshelle
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We did a lot of canning last year as well. I never did keep track of exactly how much. We did salsa, spaghetti sauce, tomato juice, green beans, pickles..all varieties, bruschetta, dilly green beans & dilly green tomatoes. My friend and I actually do it together. She is just now running out of things, but I still have lots of pickles and some salsa left. It definitely saves money!

We are going to try to keep up on the weeding as much as possible, but our gardens are actually at our farm, which is about 20-25 minutes away. Definitely makes it more of a challenge to keep things watered and weeded! We did go to lowes today to look for the supplies you suggested, but they didn't carry any of them! Laura thought we might not need the lime because she says that our soil in this area actually has a large amount of lime in it already.

Question for you...Last fall we tilled in horse manure. Do you think we would be over fertilizing if we added more like the 15-15-15?
Michele

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Gary350
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You won't be over fertilizing. Once tomato plants get a good root system going they can handle a lot of fertilizer. You need the lime that will keep your tomatoes from having blossom end rot. Bone meal works good too but it is slow release lime. I hauled 2000 lbs of crushed lime stone and tilled it into the soil where I plant my tomatoes. Lime stone is very very slow release lime. Check your local farm supply store for pellet lime in 50 lb bags. The local hardware store should have black fiberglass screen wire 4 ft wide, I would think Lowe's and Home Depot would have it too. If you don't live at the farm then you might want to buy a drip line irrigation system for like commercial grape grower use. It drips water right on the plant 24 hours a day.
Last edited by Gary350 on Fri May 01, 2009 5:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.

chefshelle
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Okay, this is probably a dumb question...but what is blossom end rot? Never heard of that one!
Michele

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Gary350
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I did a Google search for blossom end rot. Pictures are not very good but you get the idea. Just to make sure my plants have plenty of lime I usually put some lime in the fertilizer water about every other week.

http://www.ext.vt.edu/pubs/plantdisease ... 0-703.html

chefshelle
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Okay, as if 90 plants weren't enough, we are now up to 306 Tomato Plants!!! We also have about 300 pepper plants, lettuce, bush beans & pole beans, cucumbers, peas, spaghetti squash, zuchini, potatoes and a little more. Thought I'd post a pic, but I can't figure out how!

This is the ground we started from scratch, just a field! It's been a huge challenge since half of it is filled with tree roots and the other half is full of rocks!

The tomatoes are now staked and caged. We also put straw inside each cage, but kept the straw away from the stalk of the plant. We used a generic form of preen and a 15-10-10, which I'm pretty sure is not the best choice.

I'm very proud and can't wait to update you on our progress!

I'm going to search around the forum, but I do have a few plants that have a weird spotty look on the leaves. Any thoughts on what this could be? Is there a fungus amongus?
Michele

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chefshelle
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Here's a pic!
Image
Michele

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rootsy
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chefshelle wrote:Here's a pic!
Image


300+ tomato plants eh... Time for one of these....

Image

chefshelle
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What is that? An old fashioned tiller??
Michele

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rootsy
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chefshelle wrote:What is that? An old fashioned tiller??


It is a transplanter... In that photo it isn't complete... there are 2 seats that go on it and two trays to hold your flats of seedlings... the red mechanism at the front bolts to a tool bar that mounts to a 3 point on a tractor.

transplanter opens a furrow... the people sitting in the seats place seedlings one at a time in the little trays (yellow thing in that photo sticking out) and it goes down a track and sticks the seedling in the ground. the packer wheels firm the soil around it. You can also mount a tank for liquid starter fertilizer on that unit which will give the seedling a shot of liquid starter before the wheels close the furrow.

grew up on one of these planting tomatoes for my family as well as other local farmers when tomato contracts were plentiful in these parts... Had a tool bar with 6 to 8 of these units on it... Me, cousins, family members, friends, lot of migrant workers... planting acre after acre of tomatoes every spring (hundreds of acres actually)... Also sat on one of these as a teenager working for a local produce farmer planting everything from melons to peppers to pumpkins.

I saved this one from the scrap boat trip to china... The other 5 are probably walmart utensils now... One of these days I'll put it back to use.. but I need volunteers to ride it... I've grown up... I drive the tractor now ;)

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