I run a junior gardening program for children between 6 and 9 years of age. This year I saw an ad on Kijiji for heirloom tomato plants. My worry is plant diseases. Should I go ahead and buy these plants or buy at a big name brand nursery that presumably are less likely to carry diseases? I cannot afford to have our plots contaminated and not be able to grow tomatoes for years afterwards.
The advantage of purchasing your tomato seedlings at your local farmers market or garden centre is that you can look at the seedlings available and pick the best ones. Most farmers markets and garden centres have a good selection of both heirloom and other tomato seedlings.
Here are some tips for selecting healthy seedlings.
- Stocky and sturdy rather than tall and spindly
- Good green colour – fresh foliage
- No roots growing out of the bottom – roots growing out of the bottom indicate that the plant has been in the pot too long
Once you have selected healthy seedlings, there are practices that you should follow to prevent your tomato seedlings from becoming diseased.
- Practice crop rotation – this means that you do not plant your tomatoes in the same place every year. Some diseases which can affect tomato plants reside in the soil.
- Plant the seedlings in warm soil (16C), warm temperatures (nighttime no lower than 7C), lots of sunshine and rich organic soil.
- Plant your seedling as deeply as possible – ideally to just below the leaves. Roots will develop along the buried stem. A strong root system will give you a healthier plant.
- Provide good air circulation.
- Water the tomato plants at the base to avoid wetting the leaves. Consistent moisture is important. Water deeply once or twice a week rather than just a little every day.
- Tomatoes are heavy feeders – feed when planted, when flowers begin to form and when fruit begins to form – don’t overfeed.
I hope that you and children have a successful tomato crop this year.