What’s your favorite Italian dish? Eggplant parmesan is one of my favorites, especially with a flavorful tomato sauce. It’s funny though that we think of Italian cuisine with tomatoes when they are thought to originate in the Americas. Settlers, not sure who brought this flavorful plant back to Europe in the 16th century. There are some plants still in the wild of Peru and Ecuador. Thomas Jefferson grew them but it took till the 1800s for tomatoes to find a place back here in the Americas. Today we grow hundreds of thousands of acres of tomatoes. Most of our tomatoes are cultivated and often have trouble resisting pests and diseases.

Tomato is a member of the nightshade family, which may be why early conquerors in central and south America thought it was poisonous as many nightshade plants are poisonous. My podcast guest this week, Craig Floyd, manager at Coogan Farm in Mystic Ct., devoted his interview to growing healthy, vibrant tomato plants with high yield. How? Here’s a recap of his fabulous tips.

    1. Soil: A soil test is a must: tomatoes need four minerals in particular: Magnesium, Iron, Manganese, and Nitrogen. We recommend Logan Labs in Ohio who offer a more comprehensive analysis.
    2. Seed: Choose heirloom or organic seeds. Add an innoculant to your seed bag which can help germination time.
    3. When planting choose the biggest, fattest seed from the lot.
    4. Don’t plant too early. Do transplant when seedlings are 4″ high. Any taller they may not fulfill their potential.
    5. Plant 60″ apart. Place four basil plants around them or another companion plant like carrots.
    6. Drench seedlings with compost tea before transplanting. Then, water every day.
    7. Microbiology is so important. Add mulch material around plants every week. They need a good dose of worm castings, seaweed. Seaweed unlocks nutrients and keeps some bugs away.
    8. Craig keeps three main leaders and removes suckers.

What is the tomato’s potential: try 22′ long yielding 300 lbs of fruit. That’s a wow in my book. When I visited Craig in his Giving Garden recently, he showed us his hoop house with poles high up to capture the growing vines. Can’t wait to visit in the spring and summer and watch their progress from seedling to fruit producing. The best part is that the food banks in New London reap the benefits. Healthy sustainable food is given to feed the food insecure: inspiring and motivating, I highly recommend you make the Coogan Farm and nearby nature trails a place to visit this summer.

If you go, share a pic, tell us about your experience. We’d love to hear from you.

Please share. Thanks. Enjoy. Judith

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