It is with tomatoes first most folks will test their skills, when gardening fever strikes.
It is estimated, by the Garden Writers Association Foundation, that in 2009, over 41 million U.S. households raised a vegetable garden.
That is 38 of the total U.S. households. And in 85 of those gardens, they estimate, tomatoes are grown.
Tomatoes are the hands down favorite with home gardeners, also known as hobby gardeners, followed closely by peppers and cucumbers.
A tomato plant in a peat pot is purchased by the nave, uninitiated gardener at the local retail nursery or big box store, and they then dig a hole, place potting soil in the hole, add water and fertilizer, then sit and wait for tomato bumper crop to rise and grace their kitchen.
Over fertilizing, and over watering of their plants, is a common mistake of novice gardeners.
They often think that a lot of water must be great, if a little water is good!
And according to the big store not so experienced sales person, their plants will grow fast with high nitrogen fertilizer!
So the sales person’s instructions are followed by the new gardener, and the tomato plants are daily watered, and each week or so, a high nitrogen fertilizer is added.
The results are incredible at first.
The plants put forth deep green leaves as they quickly shoot up.
Pleased with the results, the excited novitiate gardener believes that “growing vegetables ain’t so hard”!
Next year he will plant even more, he promises himself…and perhaps so he can have fall tomatoes, maybe even later this summer will he plant more.
Then, he goes one morning to pay his tomato plants a visit, and discovers that a number of the tender, new leaves starting at the leaf stem are a pale yellow, and up into the new leaves veins rapidly moving.
He was told that the nitrogen fertilizer would “green up” the leaves, by the sales store person.
The hobby gardener obviously assumes that they must not be getting enough fertilizer since they are yellow.
He quickly brews up a batch of Miracle Gro, adding to the tomatoes more than the amount fertilizer recommended, and then proceeds to water the tomatoes until the rivulets created by the water-fertilizer mixture, runs off the soil surrounding the plants.
He checks his tomatoes again, two days later.
He is shocked to discover more yellow leaves on tomato plant, and not even looking like leaves is any of the new growth.
It is spindly little shoots that the new growth looks like, and they are not al all forming leaves.
And whenever any new growth does resemble a leaf, it is gnarly and curled, reminiscent to what is done to unwanted weeds by herbicides.
So he decides to add even more water to correct the situation!
Is there a pattern forming here that you notice?
I truly hope that you do, because for the new tomato grower, this is one of the most common experiences over fertilizing and over watering.
The plants will be stunted, should this practice continue, and few if any tomatoes will be produced, and they will expire early.
The novice gardener will never attempt to garden again, believing they sport a “brown” thumb.
The early demise of the precious vegetable plants, and the gardener’s anguish as well, could have been avoided very easily by a soil moisture meter being used.
Prices for these devices can range from as little as five dollars, to as much as a few hundred dollars.
For the hobby gardener, entirely adequate are digital versions in the 12 to 25 range.
These moisture meters are available online, and of course, at the big box stores as well.
The less expensive ones will give a reading from 0.0-10, and are entirely satisfactory.
Very dry soil will be indicated by a low reading(0.0-1.5), and it should immediately be watered.
A very wet soil will be indicated by a reading near the scale’s top(9.0-10), and before anymore water is added, the soil should be allowed to dry significantly.
For optimum growth and production, most vegetable plants should be maintained in the range of 2.5 to 5.5.
Take the proper steps, and soon you can enjoy one of Mother Nature’s best homegrown fruits.