By By Paul Huffer - February 2002
First off I feel the best seed to use for growing the big ones is the Big Zac variety. They can be obtained on line from Totally Tomato.
I always start mine in a mini propagator with a heating mat under it. These kits can be easily found at most garden shops for about $20 and come in handy for your pumpkins also. I use them to help germinate my pumpkin seeds. After I file my seeds I lay them on a wet paper towel, place them in a glad baggie & set them in the propagator & in about 30 hours they germinate.
Back to tomatoes. About March 15th I use 1/2" fertile cubes to start my seed in. After the cubes have been soaked in warm water I place 1 seed in each cube. Always plant 3x as many seed as you want to plant as the variety does not always throw "pure" Big Zacs. Don't worry you will be able to tell which ones are the "hot" ones as they grow. As the seedlings grow you will want to replant them 3x ,each time you replant try to bury them as deep as possible to prevent them from getting "leggy" & to get a strong base. By May 15th (when I place mine out) you will be able to tell which are the true Big Zac's , they will grow like no other you've seen.
Now you have probably prepared your patch in the fall like your pumpkins (compost and manure). But I'm going to give you tip for watering that I'm also doing on 1 of my patches this year.
While you are hardening off your seedlings you need to lay out your watering system. What you will do is dig a trench under where you will plant your tomatoes about 12" making sure the trench is completely level (this is very important). Now in this trench you will lay drainage tubing (4" diameter) and on both ends of the tube it will stick up out of the ground making sure most of the holes point down (see diagram).
The point of this is to draw the roots deep & they will actually wrap around the pipe. This way on hot days your plant will not be as stressed as a plant with shallow roots from above ground watering. Also when you fertilize you can do so by just pouring in the tube. This will help keep your plant dry, which is important during fruit set.
I'm also using this same idea on one of my pumpkin patches this year on a larger scale. First by wrapping a pipe around the stump itself (all 12" deep) & then stretching the pipes straight across the patch. All watering can be done through pipes keeping the leaves dry & hopefully disease free. And hopefully all the taproots off the leaves will draw deeper & become larger thus producing a larger fruit. Now it's time to plant our tomatoes. I'll stake the tomatoes before I plant for 2 reasons:
- To avoid hitting pipe
- So not to disturb the roots.
After the plants are in the ground I will set up a black fabric wind break around all the plants for about 3 weeks to help the young seedlings from wind & all day direct sun. Before I talk about my fertilizer schedule let me say that the only pruning I do is allowing no growth but the main the first 3' . And after that I allow about 5 main stalks & prune everything else off. You can allow just one if you like , but I like to allow a few more. After you get fruit set ( usually in clusters of 3) pick all off but one in each cluster. Just to let you know how powerful the Big Zacs are I allowed one cluster of 3 to mature & all 3 on that cluster went 3 lbs or larger, over 10 lbs of fruit on 1 cluster of tomatoes.
Now on to my fertilizer schedule. I will use a basic 20-20-20 once a week "through the pipe" until I see blooms starting to form, at that point I'll switch to a 5-10-40 mixture. I will use the 5-10-40 one week & use a 20-20-20 & 5-10-40 mixture the following week, then on week 3 I go back to 5-10-40 & keep following that schedule. Once I have fruit set & they are growing well I'll add a foliar spray of fish/seaweed mixed with 15-0-15 with calcium. I used this last year & had no tomatoes with blossom end rot. That pretty much covers all the bases, but if anyone has more questions feel free to e-mail me.