Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The End of the Year

If you're growing tomatoes in South Florida, you know we're nearing the end of the season. The photo to the left shows Bella Rosa determinate tomatoes about to ripen. I started these seeds on Dec. 31, using expandable peat pellets. Then I moved them outside and potted into 15-gallon containers with Fafard 3B Professional Grow Mix juiced with a little dolomite lime. I've been feeding with a regular Miracle Grow tomato fertilizer, plus weekly shots of magnesium. They're doing well, and soon I expect a second-season harvest.

Before I officially go dark for the summer, I wanted to do a final post about the things I learned this winter. So here we are ... my last thoughts on the growing season for 2009-2010:

1. The weather will be what it will be. I still managed a decent harvest this year, despite the historic cold snap that basically killed my vines. By the time it got cold, the fruit was almost mature, and I ended up harvesting tomatoes from brown vines. I didn't get as many tomatoes as I had in the past, and they didn't have the same vibrant taste as previous years, but I consider myself lucky. Any harvest in a year like this one was an achievement.

2. I've said it before, I'll say it again: consistency and discipline are everything. If you can stick with a regular watering and feeding schedule, there's no reason you can't grow great tomatoes. This is far more important than your choice of growing methods, your fertilizer preference, or pretty much anything else. Love it and care for it, and it will grow.

3. What they said. Sun is key. If you can't get at least five hours, but six or more is better, you will not get much fruit.

4. I used a few fancy soil supplements this season in side-by-side tests. One was KeyPlex, a foliar micronutrient spray. The other is a soil probiotic known as Biotamax (actually, the tomatoes pictured above are growing in this pot). Both are designed to increase yields and plant health by supplying either nutrients or soil organisms. In the case of KeyPlex, I tested it in a side-by-side test in both peat-based mix and coconut coir grow bags. Ultimately, while I really liked the idea of it and I'm still going to keep testing it, I didn't see a difference this year. It's entirely possible I haven't yet figured out how to use it. The Biotamax is still going—I'm testing it in side-by-side containers of Bella Rosa tomatoes grown under the same exact conditions except for one pot having Biotamax. So far, the tomato plants are performing identically, so once again, it's possible that I simply don't know how to use it yet.

5. I ended up canning 12 pints of salsa, 4 quarts of spaghetti sauce, and 2 quarts of crushed tomatoes. Awesome! I wish you could try the salsa. And I gave away pounds of fresh tomatoes.

6. I ended up using five approaches this year: in the ground; Earthbox; 25-gallon containers with a peat-based custom mix; 15-gallon containers with Fafard Professional Mix; and 5-gallon coconut grow bags. They all did pretty well, actually, but the biggest tomatoes and the heaviest vines were definitely in the largest containers.

So that's it for this season. Ultimately, when I look back, this will be the year that was defined by a historic freeze, some excellent fruit, and I learned a lot. Please feel free to write me directly if you want, but until next season, this is Growing Tomatoes in South Florida signing off.