How to Grow Better Tomatoes
By: Cynthia Sandberg
Tomatoes are the number one edible plant people grow in their yards. Unfortunately, many people think you just plop a plant in the ground and with water it will grow. If you’re really lucky, and the planets and stars are in alignment, then this may be true. That unusual occurrence doesn’t duplicate itself, because tomatoes will deplete the soil of nutrients pretty quickly. I wouldn’t risk just winging it if this is your first year growing, as you can do a lot to ensure you get a fabulous and healthy tomato garden. If you weren’t born with a green thumb, however, don’t despair. With just a bit of knowledge and perseverance, you can have loads of wonderful tomatoes.
For additional instructions on How to Grow Tomatoes in Pots or Containers, click here.
Also, check out the 2013 Tomato Planting Guide and Calendar!
TOP 10 DO'S
1. Choose the right type of tomato for your growing conditions.
Every garden, even if right next door to each other, may have differing needs. Your tomato might get less hours of sunlight than your neighbor across the street because of a tree shading part of your garden. You may not be able to grow a large tomato if you are too close to the ocean and get a lot of coastal fog. You might have to wait later to plant your tomatoes if you are at a higher elevation (even a slight elevation can make a difference). You may only be able to grow a tomato in a container on your deck because you don't have any ground to grow in.
The good news, however, is that there are varieties of tomatoes for all growing conditions. Tomatoes, particularly heirlooms, come in all sizes: cherry, small, medium, and large. One of the things I was surprised to find out when I started talking to a lot of customers about tomatoes, is that many people think that tomatoes are either cherry-sized or big, no in-betweens or different shapes.
If you are lucky enough to be able to plant your tomatoes where they will get 6 or more hours of direct sunlight, then you should be able to grow a big tomato. With less than 6 hours (or in coastal areas) choose medium to smaller-fruited tomato varieties. Some good medium ones are Black Prince, Stupice, Bloody Butcher, Arkansas Traveler, Green Zebra, Siletz, Jetstar, Taxi, and Orange Blossom. The colors of these run the gamut from red, yellow, orange, bi-color, purple, pink, and black.
Some good small and cherry-sized tomatoes are Sungold, Riesentraube, Black Cherry, Blondkopfchen, Black Plum, Yellow Pear, White Cherry, Black Ethiopian, Matina, and Jaune Flamme. Cherries also come in all shapes as well: pear, plum, grape, and round.
Large tomato varieties include Henderson's Pink Ponderosa, Brandywine Sudduth's, Kellogg's Breakfast, Yellow Brandwine, Texas Star, and White Oxheart. There are many more examples of fine tomato varieties than those above, but these are some of my personal favorites.
Although many of you yearn to grow a gigantic tomato, you just may have to admit that your growing conditions cannot handle it. Learn to love smaller fruited varieties. Some of our customers swear that they are tastiest, anyway!
For those who only have space for one small plant on an apartment balcony in a pot, try a dwarf variety or a cherry tomato. Pots should be at least 15 gallons (or a half wine barrel will do nicely), and use only the very best potting soil. We use Gardner & Bloome brand potting soil. You may need to water pots every single day when it's hot and fertilize once a week if you grow in a pot. Plants in pots cannot search out moisture and food, you have to be their sole provider. So if you must grow in a pot, do it right!
Please don't limit yourself just to those varieties listed above. If you can't find those specific ones, just read the descriptions of varieties and choose which type you want to grow: small, medium or large (and if you have all day sun, you can grow all three!).
2. Try something different.
There are thousands of varieties of hybrid and heirloom tomato varieties, in “normal” colors like red, yellow, and orange. Then there are “kooky” colors such as black, purple, pink, bi-color, green, and white. There are also different shapes than the standard round tomato. Also available are pear, plum, heart-shaped (called “oxhearts”), ruffled, and elongated.
Why not try something that none of your neighbors have, or something that opens your eyes to a wonderful new taste sensation? How about showing off a Japanese Black Trifele, a Green Giant, a Hippie Zebra, or an Ananas Noir? Don’t turn your nose up at different-colored tomatoes thinking you won’t like them as much. Many blind taste tests are won by non-normal tomato colors. Each of the tomato colors seem to have different flavors - all delicious. I know many people who swear the tastiest tomatoes are white or green.
3. Choose the sunniest spot.
Tomatoes thrive on sun. It will be almost impossible to grow your tomatoes in the shade, or with less than 3 hours of direct sunlight. Even with up to 5 hours of sunlight, it may only be worthwhile to grow small or cherry tomatoes. If you have 5 or more hours of sunlight, you should be able to grow a large tomato.
Unwittingly, some people plant their tomatoes up against a solid fence, which serves the nefarious purpose of blocking out several hours of precious sunlight in the morning or afternoon. If you’re serious about growing tomatoes, you might need to trim some trees, take out that pesky eucalyptus or acacia, or even cut out a space right smack dab in the middle of your lawn to get the maximum amount of sunlight. Make your edible garden the spotlight of your backyard!
4. Soil health is key.
Soil is the most important thing you can do to help your tomatoes thrive. Tomatoes are very hungry feeders. Amend your soil beds with compost (either your own or purchased), dry timed release fertilizer, and the best amendment of all: worm castings. For every 50 square foot garden space, add 5 cubic feet of Gardner & Bloome compost, 5 quarts of Gardner & Bloome 4-6-3 Tomato, Vegetable & Herb fertilizer, and a quart of 100% pure worm castings.
Once all your amendments are on top of the soil, turn them over into the soil below with a spade fork (looks like a broad-tined short pitchfork).
5. Plant them deep and give them space.
Tomato plants want to be planted with only a few sets of leaves sticking up out of the ground. If you can get two-thirds of that stem underground, you will find your tomatoes to eventually be healthier and happier.
A couple of key things to do at the time of planting are to add a couple more amendments. At the bottom of two-foot-deep planting hole, I like to put a fresh fish head. Raccoons or dogs will not dig up a fish head buried two feet deep. Don't bother to do this if growing in a pot or if you can't dig a two foot deep hole. The fish head slowly decomposes, feeding both nitrogen and calcium to the tomato plant. Fish emulsion is not a substitute, as that quickly dissipates.
We also add two or three crushed chicken egg shells. The value of egg shells is that it's a cheap, organic method of adding calcium to your soil. There is a nasty and fairly common ailment that bothers tomato fruits called "blossom end rot" or BER. If your tomato fruits have ever had their bottoms turn black, this is what you've got. It is caused by both calcium deficiency and inconsistent watering (water is the way that calcium is taken from the soil up into the tomato plant. If watering is withheld during a time when your plant needs it, then calcium is unable to get up into the plant).
The other amendment that should go into the planting hole is a handful of bone meal. Bone meal is a high-phosphorous fertilizer and is essential to getting a lot of tomatoes on your plant later. I also recommend putting two handfuls of Gardner & Bloome brand Tomato, Vegetable & Herb fertilizer (4-6-3). It’s a great all-purpose timed release organic fertilizer. Also in the planting hole should go a heaping tablespoon of pure worm castings. Also extremely beneficial and an aid to upping disease resistance is to sprinkle a teaspoon of a product called Xtreme Gardening Mykos on the root ball of the tomato plant just before popping it into the hole and backfilling with soil. Mykos is a myrchorrizal fungus that grows along with the tomato roots and helps keep them safe from soil viruses.
As far as spacing is concerned, at the time of planting, I see a lot of people crowding their tomato plants too close together, or too close to other plants. They see this tiny seedling, and don’t realize it will grow to six feet or taller, and just as wide if happy and well-cared for. Crowding your tomato plants will backfire and give you less fruit, not more. Tomato plants also need a free flow of air around them to keep down foliar diseases, and crowding them will inhibit airflow.
You will also find it much easier to harvest the tomatoes if they are not locked together in an impenetrable thicket. I like to plant my tomatoes three feet apart, but if you just don’t have that much space, and you can’t control yourself, you might be able to get away with putting them two feet apart, but that is the bare minimum.
6. Stake them.
We like to call tomato plants “vines,” although technically they are not. They don’t cling naturally to a stake or other structure. It’s important, however, to keep the branches and fruit up off the ground. If you allow the tomato plants to sprawl all over willy nilly, then they are more susceptible to soil-borne diseases, and the fruits that are touching the ground will often end up ruined by either crawling insects or rot. Believe me on this one, it's important!
There are as many methods of staking as there are gardeners, it seems. The conical cages found at most nurseries simply do not do the trick for most types of tomatoes. If you are growing what are called “indeterminate” varieties (and most heirlooms are indeterminate), then that plant is going to get really big.
A preferred method of staking among many experienced gardeners is to build your own cages out of concrete reinforcing wire. It’s available at most big lumber yards and home improvement stores in rolls of 5 feet tall by 50 feet long. Simply cut six foot lengths, attach them into a cylinder using either narrow gauge wire, or bend back and twist the cut ends together to secure. Central Home Supply at 180 El Pueblo Road in Scotts Valley sells the wire pre-cut. These cylindrical cages can then be placed over your plant (one per cage). Drive a six foot length of rebar or bamboo two feet into the ground next to the cage, then tie the cage to the rebar at several intervals. As the tomato plant starts to grow out of the cage, gently push back inside the cylinder, any branches that are poking out, training the plant to grow up inside the cage.
7. Feed them and protect them.
Despite all of the amendments in the garden bed and in the planting hole, your tomatoes would benefit greatly from a weekly foliar feed of worm casting tea. This is simple to make and has been shown in agriculture university testing to not only fertilize, but help reduce incidents or pests and diseases when used often throughout the growing season. We fertilize our entire garden with it.
Our recipe is two handfuls of pure worm castings in a five gallon bucket of water. Let it steep for two days, and then strain through cheese cloth into a two gallon garden sprayer. We then like to add one and a half aspirin tablets to the spray solution. Small amounts of aspirin sprayed on plants improve their growth, sometimes remarkably. Aspirin also triggers the plants’ natural defenses against harmful bacteria, fungi and viruses. If you'd like to read one of the many studies done on aspirin (salicytic acid) and tomato plants, here is a scholarly article.
Every week or at least every other week spray the tomatoes with this elixir. You are feeding the plant through the microscopic openings in its leaves. Try to do this only in the morning, however, as you don't want the tomatoes to go into the cool evening hours still wet.
Tomato plants are susceptible to a host of different blights, wilts, and other aggravating diseases. It’s best to start off pro-actively, rather than waiting for your plant to show signs of disease. Starting off with healthy, fertile soil is the best disease control. Staking them is essential. Not getting the foliage wet when watering (unless spraying with the above mentioned aspirin spray and worm casting tea) will also help keep down the diseases.
If your tomatoes have suffered diseases in the past, and you are at your wit’s end, try growing hybrids with the initials V, F, N, T or A after the name on the label. These initials mean that that variety is less likely to get a particular disease (V for verticillium wilt, F is for fusarium wilt, N is for nematodes, T is for tobacco mosaic virus and A is for alternaria).
If you notice a gray or blackened patch at the bottom of your tomato fruits, this is called blossom end rot, and usually indicates a calcium deficiency. See the section 5 above for how to correct this. If you didn't do anything at the beginning of the season to add calcium to the soil, then you can do this at the first sign of blossom end rot. I recommend Folical as the quickest way to correct low-calcium soils and prevent the rest of your season's crop from this quite common malady.
If all else fails, and every year you are experiencing dying plants, then I recommend growing in pots. Make sure they are 15 gallons, one plant per pot, new organic potting soil each year, and disinfect them every year. If you place the pot on top of your infected soil, then make sure to put down a plastic barrier, like a tarp or clear plastic sheeting, between the bad soil and your pots (otherwise, the roots will grow out of the pot, into the bad soil, leach the wilt up into the pot, and you have the same old problem all over again!).
SPECIAL NOTE ON LATE BLIGHT
Many gardens in Northern California experienced Late Blight, or Phytopthera Infestans, in Summer 2011. This fungal disease travels with the wind and is exacerbated by cool and wet weather. If you can grow your tomatoes under plastic hoops (properly vented for hot days) or at least put a plastic cover over them before a rain, they'd stay much happier. The good news is that Late Blight does not overwinter, so in years with warm, dry summers it is not an issue. You may also want to start a weekly regimen of preventative foliar spray of worm casting tea (see tip 7) or an organic disease-control spray such as Serenade. Spray early in the morning so as not to burn the leaves.
9. Protect them from varmints.
If you have pesky gophers, you MUST reduce their numbers, simply using a gopher cage around your root ball is not enough. A female gopher can have three or four litters each year, with 7 or 8 young per litter. The best gopher traps are called cinch traps, and can be found at www.GophersLimited.com. Buy the cinch trap for moles (it’s the smaller version). The ones that say “for gophers” are for the larger gophers they have in other parts of the country, rather here in California.
Deer can be another problem. Try deer netting or sprays. Internet bulletin boards which specialize in tomato growing such as www.GardenWeb.com have loads of tips on controlling deer, from using soap bars to animal urine. I have used something called a Scarecrow, which is a pricey ($75) motion-controlled sprinkler that you can turn on at night and turn off in the morning. This worked for me at my old property because my deer only came down the driveway, so the spray was projected on them in a narrow entry area. If the deer are coming at you from all sides, then you'll have to put up some deer netting. The higher the better. A catalog company called Farmtek has some good cheap deer fencing materials and information.
Opossums, raccoons, birds, and mice can also eat your tomatoes. Cats do a decent job of scaring them away, also try plenty of bird feeders, which will satiate their appetite and leave you to your tomatoes. Covering your vines with bird netting is a last resort, because then you will have to deal with the plant growing through the netting, making it difficult for you to harvest the fruit.
Some of the worst varmints are bugs. I fight fire with fire. Since I grow organically, I use parasitic bugs (also called "beneficials" to get rid of the bag bugs). In my garden, the worst offenders are tomato fruit worms. These are not tomato horn worms, which can also be a problem. Tomato fruit worms can decimate your tomato crop. If you find tiny black specks on the top of your tomato fruit, then the worms aren't far behind. Once they hatch, they bore into the fruit surrounding the stem, causing the unripe tomato to fall to the ground. If you see small green worms, around one inch long and skinny, these are probably tomato fruit worms (also called cabbage loopers or corn silk worms).
The best organic method for controlling tomato fruit worms is to buy some parasitic wasps, called trichogramma wasps. Don't worry, all you receive are the eggs on a card, and when they hatch, they are too small to see. They're not like the big buzzing wasps you're used to. Planet Natural carries these as well as other beneficials.
If your tomato problem is white flies (tiny flies that become airborne when the plant is disturbed), then a nice beneficial insect to order through the mail is called whitefly parasite (Encarsia Formosa), also available through Planet Natural. They also carry aphid predators and house fly predators.
Spider mites are another problem that can attack tomato plants. Spider mites are hard to see, but if you see slight webbing on the underside of the leaves, then that's a clue. Spider mites can cause spotting and wilting of tomato leaves, often resulting in yellowed leaves and stunted plants. If I see these tiny spider-like creatures hanging out in the underside of my tomato leaves, I order a supply of predatory mites, called Phytoseiulus persimilis. Again, Planet Natural is a good source for these.
You'll be amazed at how easy, cheap, and effective using beneficial insects is. You get the peace of mind in knowing that you're not infecting your precious tomato fruits (not to mention your precious children and pets) with harmful chemical pesticides. Once I started using beneficial insects, I quickly became a convert.
SPECIAL NOTE ON THE WORST PEST OF TOMATOES: THE TOMATO RUSSET MITE!
Although the tomato russet mite (TRM) has been problematic to tomato growers the world over and for many decades, our growing year of 2010 was the worst we've seen in the Bay Area of California. TRM can blow into your garden on the wind or can be brought in by infected nursery plants. TRM love tomato plants the most, but have also been known to bother eggplant and peppers too. TRM infection doesn't become visible until the plant starts to set fruit, and then the lower leaves brown and wither. The necrosis continues traveling up the plant, as the mites travel into fresh, new foliage, eventually killing it.
It's very important to start observing your tomato leaves THROUGH a hand lens of 20x or 30x. Often called jeweler's loupes, these lenses are essential to any good gardener. The TRM cannot be seen by the naked eye, yet their destruction will break your heart as they destroy your plants. Be sure to check the healthy green foliage, as once the lower leaves have yellowed and wilted, the mite has traveled on to greener pastures (up the plant).
If you spot them at all (they look like little green slugs with antennae in your scope, you need to act quickly or you will be sorry. An organic miticide, such as Agri-mek or Azatrol should be purchased immediately and used often (according to the direction). Eradicating this particular mite organically is very difficult, so don't just ignore it or substitute other pesticides. You need a "miticide." Sulfur sprays can be a preventative, but not the cure online sources often tout them being.
If you've had the TRM in your garden before, you may not be willing to wait to see them. You may want to act before their damage is seen. What I will be doing with my plants is spray them with Neem Oil or another smothering-type spray such as wettable sulfur at the time of fruit set. Then I will follow up 10 days later with another such spray. Be careful with any spray. Don't spray when it's hot out or the foliage is hot. Do it in the morning.
Finally, on a positive note, TRM doesn't stay alive throughout the winter or in your soil unless you've got tomatoes, peppers, eggplants or morning glory vine growing in your yard. The good news is that all of these plants naturally die back or die completely in the fall, and the chance of the TRM staying put to re-infest your plants is small. Again, if you are worried, pull up and trash any morning glory you may have, buy a jewelers loupe (they're only about 10 bucks or so), inspect your plants often, and do some preventative spraying.
10. Save seeds.
If one or more of your tomato plants turn out extra fabulous, try saving the seed from one of your most luscious fruits. This only works, though, with heirloom varieties. Hybrids have two genetic parents; when you save the seed from a hybrid tomato, you are most likely to get a plant showing the characteristics of one of its two parents, not necessarily bearing any resemblance to the fruit you loved the season before. Seeds saved from heirloom varieties, however, usually grow true to type the next season.
If you continually save seeds from varieties that grow well in your garden, you may eventually, by localized adaptation to your specific environment, create your own strain of a particular variety. Different strains of probably the most popular heirloom variety, Brandywine, have been developed by astute gardeners who have identified extra productive, extra tasty or extra disease resistant offspring. Over the years, when these special offspring continued to produce the same unique traits, these savvy gardeners were able to claim and name their own strain, such as Sudduth's, OTV and Croatia.
With this type of seed selection and saving, you can become that Auntie or Grandpa who hands down your own wonderful family heirloom variety of tomato to future generations. You might even be able to name it something completely different, like Grandma Viney's Yellow and Pink or Dana's Dusty Rose.
TOP FIVE DON'TS
1. Planting too early.
It seems to me that the more inexperienced the gardener, the sooner they want to put in their summer crops. Tomatoes need warm soil and warm weather to thrive and ward off diseases. In the California Bay Area, there are many micro-climates, and the closer you get to sea level, the earlier you can get away with planting, but I no longer advise people on an exact date. My rule of thumb is never before April 1 in milder sections of the Bay Area, such as coastal, April 15 in normal conditions, and not until May 1 if you are at a higher elevation or get frosts still into April. Use common sense. If the weather has been cold and rainy, wait until it gets warmer.
Yes, sometimes it works to plant early, and the downside (buying another plant to replace an ailing one) isn't too onerous, but why spend good money and your precious time tending a plant that is unhappy in cold, damp soil and pounding rain? Just because you see tomato plants in the local nursery or your gung-ho neighbor has his plants in the ground, doesn't mean you are procrastinating. More experienced gardeners (we've all learned this the hard way) wait to plant tomatoes until the soil has sufficiently warmed up. Many times you can put in a tomato plant a good month after your too-early one, and find the later-planted seedling quickly catching up and surpassing the other deprived, stunted one you nursed along during a too-cold spring.
You can speed up the season by using raised beds (which warm up faster than ground-level beds) or you can place clear (not black) plastic on top of your growing area for about three weeks before your wished-for planting date. Be sure to fasten down the plastic with soil around the edges, or landscape staples. Once the soil is sufficiently warmed up, you can cut a foot wide hole in the plastic, and plant your tomato (using my planting method outlined above). You can keep the plastic on top of the soil the entire season, however, at some point, when the weather turns hot (like in mid June), you MUST cover the plastic with a mulch, otherwise it will overheat your soil and your plants will suffer. I like to use a straw mulch on top of the plastic, because it's attractive, cheap, and effective. You can buy a bale of straw (make sure it's not hay, there is a difference) from a local feed store (look in the yellow pages under "Feed").
Another way to get a head start on the season is to pot up your seedling into a 1 gallon pot using good, new potting soil (we like Gardner & Bloome). Set the seedling at the bottom of the pot and backfill up to the top leaves. Move your gallon pots into sunlight in the morning and into a heated structure at night. By the time it is warm enough to plant, you will have a bigger, happier, plant to put in the ground.
If you just can't stop yourself from putting in your plants earlier than you should, I also recommend covering them up during the night with something like an inverted bucket, tub, or an extra-sturdy cardboard box (just make sure it can withstand the rain). Go out at dusk, cover the plant (try not to let the plant make contact with the inside of the container), and uncover it in the morning before the sunlight hits it. Do this until the low night-time temps are consistently above 50 degrees.
Most people water their tomatoes too much. It makes for watery tasting tomatoes, more diseases, and less fruit. The only time that a tomato needs to be watered every day, is if it's in a pot and the weather is consistently warm. One of the most frequently asked questions I get is how often to water. There is never a set schedule. It depends on whether you have sandy or clay soil (more water with sandy soil), what the weather is like (cloudy days and mild temperatures mean you should back off on watering, maybe altogether), and how old your plants are (just-planted seedlings need more often watering).
You should observe your plants every day and see how they are doing with moisture. If the ground is wet, they don't need watering again for a while. If the plant is wilting, it may not be water deprived, it just may be hot for a few hours in high heat and will perk back up in the cool of the evening. Also some diseases and pest infestations cause the plant to wilt, and no amount of watering will cure that. I hear tales of people watering everyday for four hours on a drip system at night. That makes me cringe.
Tomato plants prefer to be watered in the morning (but not every morning unless they are in pots), and watered for a good long slow time, like a hose placed on the ground (please no splashing or sprinklers!) on a slow trickle for half hour or an hour. If this isn't practical, create a large round wall of soil around your tomato plant, and fill that up with water several times each watering. It takes a lot of water to reach down three or four feet into the ground.
You can also use a drip irrigation system (although I don't recommend soaker hoses because they get clogged with soil too quickly). If you do you a drip system, put it down under your plastic sheeting (if you choose to use this method) and try to have several emitters per plant. Tomato plant roots spread out quite a ways from their stem, they don't have much of a tap root, and so using only one emitter at the base isn't a good idea.
3. Trying to grow in the shade.
You can refer to tip number three above for details, but yes, many people's biggest mistake is attempting to ripen a tomato with only a few hours of sun. It just doesn't work. If you are desperate, try cherry tomatoes. Love Apple Farms usually offers more than a dozen different kinds of cherry tomatoes, in every available color and shape: black, white, red, pink, yellow, orange, bi-color, green, round, grape, pear and plum. You can still have a wonderful rainbow-colored heirloom tomato garden with just cherry tomatoes. Three or less hours of sun is usually fruitless (no pun intended) however. Perhaps you can score a community garden plot, or ask a neighbor or family member to let you grow some tomato plants in their sunnier backyards.
4. Using too small containers.
Some people like to grow in containers, whether because of gopher problems, soil problems, or sun issues. I find too many people trying to grow tomatoes in 5 gallon containers or less. Tomatoes need a lot of root space. I recommend 15 gallon containers, which are the biggest you'll find at a good nursery. Growing in half wine barrels is nice too, and you can get away with putting two plants in one barrel. Limit yourself to just one plant in a 15 gallon pot, however.
The potting soil I recommend is made by Gardner & Bloome Premium Potting Soil. You'll need a 2 cubic foot bag for each 15 gallon container.
Plants in containers require more watering and more frequent fertilizing. Once a day watering when hot, once a week fertilizing with the worm casting tea is critical. You'll still need to stake a tomato plant in a pot. If you make your own cages per my instructions above in the staking section, the two-foot diameter cage fits nicely over the entire 15 gallon pot. Be sure to use a rebar or other stake alongside the cage to affix it to the ground, or else once your plant grows up and into the cage, a good wind will come along and push the whole mass over.
When I'm growing in containers, since the tomato plant starts out already 18 inches above the ground, I like to make my cages out of the seven foot tall concrete reinforcing wire (discussed in more detail above.
If the pots you get are black plastic, shield the pots (not the plants sticking out) from the sun with shade cloth, other smaller potted plants, or anything that will keep the sun from cooking the root ball inside the black pot. This is a VERY important tip.
5. Giving up.
If you are unhappy with your tomato crop your first or second time out, don't give up! Try to figure out where you went wrong. Find resources online to ask specific questions. Master gardener programs often have telephone help lines. Love Apple offers a Tomato Masters class several times throughout the growing season. The class covers staking, pest control, fertility, pruning, saving seed, planting, and more. Another wonderful online resource is www.GardenWeb.com. It's worth it to troubleshoot your gardening problems and try again next year.
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Remember, there are two things money can't buy: True Love and Homegrown Tomatoes.