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Backyard Survival...

Grow Tomatoes in Your own Backyard

If you only have a 4 foot by 4 foot piece of ground, even if it's extremely rocky or totally clay, you can grow upside-down tomatoes on sturdy hanging plant poles or posts (See picture). To plant upside-down tomatoes, cut a hole smaller than the circumference of the potted tomato plant in the bottom of a 5-gallon plastic bucket. Put the tomato plant in the bucket, and remove the pot from the tomato with the stem pointing down at the ground.

Then while holding the tomato plant in place, use cypress mulch or something similar to help support the bottom of the plant and keep it in place. The mulch layer should come up 3 to 4 inches from the bottom of the bucket or 1 to 2 inches above the root system of the plant. Next, pour a mixture of compost, topsoil, cow manure, and Osmocote Time-Released fertilizer until you fill the bucket to within 2 inches from the top. Put in 2 inches of pine mulch to cover all the soil. The mulch will help prevent the bucket from losing water too quickly. Then thoroughly water the plant and keep it watered as needed.

Once a week, mix up 1 gallon of Tomato Miracle Gro Liquid Fertilizer that's been diluted in water, according to the directions on the Miracle Gro product. You'll see the tomatoes grow out of the bottom of the bucket and then turn up as the stem of the plant reaches for the sun. You won't have to tie the tomatoes, and they won't lie on the ground. This system is especially suited for small, cherry-sized tomatoes, as well as smaller varieties of tomatoes. If you keep your upside-down tomatoes watered, they should produce well throughout the summer. Now let's look at some conventional ways to raise tomatoes.

Why grow Tomatoes?

Are you looking for a new hobby? Tomato gardening will give you tasty fruits for your soul, stomach and pocket. You can sell a summer's share for $600 from an average-size garden of 500-square feet, although most gardeners aren't looking for profits. They garden to enjoy nature, relieve stress and to become creators.

What about Seeds?

To start on your new project, you'll need to buy tomato seeds 6 to 8 weeks before planting or buy small tomato plants if you want to plant now. Tomato seeds can be purchased in many places. Any nursery or gardening section of big discount stores should carry standard seeds. I recommend Tomato Growers (888) 478-7333 for quality goods.

The common debate for gardeners in choosing the type of tomato seeds to buy is between hybrid and open-pollinated varieties. The trade-off for the more expensive hybrid seeds is their offspring are more likely to be vivacious, quick-growing and more defensive against disease. An open-pollinated seed can produce an equal match to the hybrids with the right conditions. Both varieties now offer many seeds with disease-fighting agents. In selecting seeds, the most important factor is selecting a variety with multiple disease-resistance.

Growing Tomatoes

Tomatoes love to sunbathe and appreciate moist, well- drained soil. The end of March is a good time to start preparing the seedlings indoors. Tomatoes need almost nine weeks to flourish inside before they brave the outdoors.

Sow and germinate the seeds in soil around 70 degrees F. When the seedlings sprout in the second week, immediately place them under fluorescent bulbs. During week three, reduce the light to only 12 hours a day and decrease the soil temperature to 55 degrees F. In week five, stop the cold treatment and fertilize your seedlings.

Transplanting them to a separate container in the sixth week will prevent them from binding their roots. The young plants must harden off in the eighth week; they must be exposed to lower temperatures and placed outside for brief periods of time. Gradually, they'll accustom themselves to the outdoors and can be planted in the ninth week.


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