"Creating Places Where People Meet to Grow"
Pikes Peak Urban Gardens
is a proud program of the Pikes Peak Community Foundation
Our mission is to:"cultivate, educate, and serve the community throughurban garden projects in the Pikes Peak region".
General Information About Tomatoes
Tomatoes can be either determinate or indeterminate. Indeterminate tomatoes keep on growing. The will form three leaves then a truss (a flower cluster) then three more leaves and a truss. They never stop producing flowers and fruit until frost. You will need alot of space for these plants. Determinate varieties, on the other hand, after a certain distance from the center of the plant each branch stops growing and forms a final flower cluster. These plants tend to be more compact and take less space than indeterminate varieties.
Keeping this in mind what varieties of tomatoes are the Old Farm Gardener's favorites? Larry and Anna absolutely love "Big Beef Tomatoes".
If you like 12 ounce tomatoes and lots of them this is the one. It has old time flavor and we love this big, tasty, meaty tomato sliced on hamburgers. Although it is indeterminate, it will yield early and often if you follow the above suggestions.
There are many varieties of tomatoes and many gardeners are growing more heirloom tomatoes (varieties that have been around for over 50 years or more). Try some new ones and see if you find a new favorite!
How to Grow Great Tomatoes
The directions are similar to peppers in many aspects. Pick a spot that receives full sun all day and plant in raised beds, cover with plastic tunnels and prepare the soil just as you would the peppers. There are some tips that we have found work for us. Tomatoes need lots of sun and lots of warmth to grow. If you have a sunny southern exposure next to your house this is the best. Tomatoes should be planted deep. For maximum yield they should be planted three feet apart. Many books state that you can plant them closer but don't. In Colorado Springs it is necessary to get the soil warm around the plants and shading from other plants defeats this purpose.
It is OK to bury the stem about 2 inches deeper than it comes in its container. Just remove the lower leaves that could be buried. Use the plastic tunnel method but be sure to partially roll up the plastic on hot days. In the evenings you can role down the plastic to keep in the warmth and hasten growth.
Another tip is to be sure to prune off the suckers that form between the main stem and the branches of your plant (see picture below). Continue to remove these suckers up about 18 inches from the ground. This keeps your plants from growing more leaves than fruit and reduces unneeded shading of the ground. This cannot be stressed enough.
Keep the soil around the base of your tomato plants free of low hanging branches! If the sun can not shine on the base of the plant then you need to prune. Tomato plants do not grow below 50ºF. The early summer nights around Colorado Springs are usually in the 50's. By the time the sun warms up the soil so the plant can start to kick in and grow it is between 10 AM and noon. If it takes longer to warm the soil it will take more days before your fruit ripens. How many gardeners say that just when it frosts in the fall their tomatoes are just starting to ripen? If they follow the above suggestions they will be eating tomatoes in the middle of July.
When your plants are 12 inches tall, trim off the bottom three or four branches. This will allow more sunlight to warm the soil around the base. As the plant grows keep the lower branches trimmed. The sun should be able to shine on the lower stem. Just doing this will dramatically increase your harvest. To discourage disease water your plants from the bottom and try not to splash your plants with soil.
To Stake or to Cage?
If you use the above method of pruning and making sure that the soil next to the base of your tomato plants "sees" the sun then staking is better. It allows you to stake and direct the growth of the plants for maximum "elbow room". Larry uses many stakes, one for each branch and sometimes two if the plant is a vigorous grower. Use soft twine or plastic tie downs but keep them a little loose to allow for a bit of movement and growth. The idea of staking is to keep the plant growing upright and the fruit off the ground (slugs and pillbugs love ripe tomatoes).
How to Grow Great Peppers
First pick a spot that will receive full sun all day. Plant your peppers or tomatoes in a raised bed. One that is 3 to 4 ft wide and any length is best. You can reach all the plants from the side without having to walk on and compact the soil around the plants. Rich, well drained soil is best. One part sphagnum peat moss, one part well rotted manure to three parts soil works well. Mix in one cup of bone meal, one cup of blood meal. Mix this into the top 6 inches of soil mix. If this is done in the fall earthworms will work your soil and make it even better for your peppers in the spring. Plant them about 16-18 inches apart. Look for pepper plants at your garden shop that are about 6 inches tall. These larger plants will produce peppers sooner than smaller plants.
What Varieties Should I Plant?
There are so many varieties of peppers but the main categories are: Sweet (bell, banana and cherry types etc.) and Hot (bell, chile, cherry, jalapeño, etc.). Our favorite sweet varieties are Honeybelle Orange, Marconi (a sweet elongated pepper with a hint of smoky taste), and most sweet green bell peppers. Some of our favorite hots are Mexibell (a mildy hot bell pepper that are excellent stuffed and cooked), Big Chile Hybrid (a hot chile that grows to over 7 inches long), Mucho Nacho Jalapeño (a little bigger and hotter than the jalpeño) and Super Chile Hybrid (this petite cayenne is great dried, crushed and shaken on pizza).
Mexibell on left and Super Chile on right
When Do I Plant and How Do I Take Care of Them?
Peppers are tender plants and can not tolerate frost. They will only grow in warm soil so don't rush them to the garden. In Colorado Springs, usually the last week in May is safe. Some of us have used plastic tunnels and plant our peppers under these tunnels. Using 1/2 inch white PVC pipes in 10 foot lengths, we cover these pipes with 4 mil or 6 mil clear plastic. In the cool days of the planting we close off the tunnel completely with plastic. Be careful because a hot day with a closed tunnel can quickly damage your plants. After about two weeks the tunnels are opened more to the outside (see the picture below). Keep the plastic partially covering your peppers throughout the season (as shown below). You will have to check almost daily to make sure that the soil stays moist. Fertilize with fish emulsion (as per dilution instructions on the bottle) once in July and once in August. You should have an abundant harvest. Remember that many peppers will turn red if you let them ripen on the plant. However letting your peppers ripen too long signals to the plant to stop producing peppers and this could decrease your yield.
Peppers planted in a hoop tunnel
Cucumbers are a warm weather crop and do not like the cold. To get a very early and long harvest, Larry plants his cucumbers under a plastic tunnel (as shown). The extra protection insures that he will be harvesting cukes the first week in July. Remember that most cucumber varieties need bees and other insects to pollinate, so keep the ends of your tunnel open once flowers are in bloom.
Two other important tips are: