April 2017 - Page 5

HORTICULTURE

AGRICULTURE

Starting Tomatoes Early

If you would like to have your tomato plants produce

earlier in the year, there are certain things to keep in

mind. Most people who try to get a jump on the season

set their tomatoes out early and hope they do well.

However, that is often not a good plan, as tomatoes

have to have certain requirements before they will

grow well. Those requirements are an acceptable soil

temperature for root growth and an acceptable air

temperature for both plant growth and fruit set. Root Growth: Tomatoes need a soil temperature of at least 55 degrees to do well. Plastic mulch is most commonly used to warm the soil. Several days may be needed to raise the soil temperature. Check the soil temperature 2.5 inches deep in the soil at about 11:00 a.m. If that is not possible, check the temperature before leaving for work and again when your return and use the average of the two. You may wish to lay a drip irrigation line before installing the plastic to make watering more convenient. See accompanying article on laying plastic mulch. Air Temperature: Plants must be protected from frost. Hot caps or water teepees are placed over the young plants to provide protection as well as provide a higher average temperature to encourage growth. Eventually the plants will outgrow the cover and start to develop flowers. But if the temperature goes below 55 degrees at night, tomato flowers may not set. The plant is not hurt, but the blossom will not set fruit, or, if it does set fruit, the fruit is often misshapen. How early can you transplant? Start with a date about 2 weeks earlier than normal.

Help for New Vegetable Gardeners

Kansans that are new to vegetable gardening often don’t know how much of each crop to plant. K-State Research and Extension has a publication that can help. The “Vegetable Garden Planting Guide” gives information on the size of planting needed per person and the average crop expected per 100 feet. Crop specific information is detailed including days to germinate, plants or seeds needed per 100 feet of row, depth of planting, spacing within the row and spacing between rows. You can find the publication online at: http://www.ksre.ksu.edu/bookstore/pubs/mf315.pdf. Another, more in-depth publication titled the “Kansas Garden Guide” is also available. This 77-page booklet has sections on planning a garden, composting, improving soil, seeding and planting, garden care, watering, planting gardens for fall production, insect and disease control, container gardening, season extension and harvesting and storing. This is followed by an extensive section on how to grow specific vegetables and herbs. You may order the print publication at http://www.ksre.ksu.edu/bookstore/Item.aspx?catId=534&pubId=8219 . This web page also provides a link to a free PDF copy of the same publication.