Tomato Plants

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Old 03-23-16, 11:33 AM
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Tomato Plants

I live in the Midwest, Ill-ANNOY, and have a heavy clay soil. I've tried growing tomatoes and cucumbers and haven't really had any "good" harvests. I've been adding compost, sand and top soil every year but it still doesn't seem to break up this clay. I've only got two small spaces to grow vegetables, 4 X 6 and the other is maybe 4 X 4. This year I'm going to add in Gypsum to the areas to see if that will break up the clay a bit more. Because the areas are so small I just till them using a spading fork or a pick and try to get them down at least a foot.

My questions are what are some recommendations to improve the soil and instead of just tilling in top soil would it be better to replace that with potting soil? I've used Epsom Salts around the tomatoes along with commercially produced vegetable/tomato fertilizers. This year I'd also like to plant one or two more cucumber plants and two eggplants.
 
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Old 03-23-16, 12:03 PM
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I would raise the beds at least 8 inches and fill them with good loam and compost. I starte spraying my tomatos and peppers with epsom salts a few years ago and have had good results.
 
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Old 03-23-16, 02:20 PM
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Started spraying my tomatoes last year also. Got a better than normal amount of fruit but not what I used to get growing in pots on a balcony! Peppers I've given up on. The rabbits here love my and my neighbors peppers. Used spray, didn't stop em. Used chicken wire and they dug under it. Damned critters! Live trapped 4 last year and released them about 5 miles from here. Just made room for 4 "new" ones! LMAO! Couple years ago they "thinned" the coyote packs around here and since then the rabbits have taken over.
 
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Old 03-23-16, 02:56 PM
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A trick to getting healthier plants from the beginning is to take the plant, remove all the leaves except the top ones, dig a trench and lay the plant in the trench with a "pillow" of dirt to turn the leaves to the upright position. This lateral stalk will begin growing a ton of roots and add a large amount of support to the plant as well as nutrients.
 
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Old 03-27-16, 01:05 PM
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A friend of a friend, yeah you know how that usually turns out, says he puts gypsum in or around his tomato plant holes. What would that do or what is it for?
 
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Old 03-27-16, 02:11 PM
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You should ask him (or her); but I hear tell that gypsum can be used to prevent the particles of clay from adhering to one another . . . . but see what purpose your Friend says s/he is accomplishing. I hope you find a match !
 
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Old 03-27-16, 02:32 PM
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Gypsum is sometimes used with the idea that it will lighten heavy soil. The real benefit of it is the calcium in the gypsum. Some believe calcium may help reduce blight, although there is often no rhyme or reason behind what causes blight.

Best thing for tomatoes is to fertilize and water the right amount at the right time, and not too often. Keep a written schedule. Over fertilizing can burn and stunt the plant, so it's not a case of more fertilizer being better. I also subscribe to the method Larry mentioned... plucking off leaves and planting them horizontally. I keep a 5 gallon bucket around them for warmth, and leave it there all year, setting the hoop cage over them once they are big enough to need the support. They usually get 6ft tall on average. I try to keep up with lifting the branches through the cage as high as they can reach as the plant grows. And I will pinch off the suckers to encourage growth... and helps prevent cracking and splitting of the branches later.

I also rototill the ground deeply before planting... and continue to till around the plant and tomato cage all year, keeping weeds down, letting oxygen into the soil, and when it does rain, it soaks right in.
 
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Old 03-27-16, 05:04 PM
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I usually measure how tall the plant is then dig a hole deep enough for it to stand up and just keep the top most leaves above ground. I'll put a bit of fertilizer in the bottom of the hole along with a small amount of Epsom Salts. Both those get buried under a layer of dirt and the plant put in over that. I'll set my tomato cages and every couple of days make sure branches are growing out at the right places and snip off whatever suckers I find.

Before I actually plant I'll amend the existing soil with new top soil, compost, sand and again a small amount of fertilizer. All this gets tilled in, using my "manual tiller," my spading fork, trying for a depth of at least 8 to 12 inches. This year I'll try adding the gypsum and see if there's any difference.
 
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Old 03-27-16, 05:57 PM
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I would be *very* cautious about fertilizing the soil you put the new plants in. You might think you are helping but if you happen to stunt them right off the bat, that's not a good start. Fertilizers also don't wash out of clay soil as quickly as loamy or Sandy soils. Not trying to beat a dead horse, but it's possible that a bad crop could just as easily be the result of too much fertilizer as not enough.
 
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Old 03-28-16, 10:04 AM
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I suggest dissolving the Epsom salts in water and using it as a foliar spray. I use 1 tbs to a gallon of water. Gypsum is supposed to help prevent blossom end rot.

I also plant my tomatoes straight up. I think it depends on the size of the plant. If you are buying larger started plants from a nursery it might be better to trench them. I also add cutworm collars. I lost almost all my tomato plants to cutworms one spring and I've used collars since then.
 
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Old 03-28-16, 01:46 PM
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Good to know about the fertilizer. I just put a very small amount, about 1 teaspoon, in the hole, but this year I'll follow your advice XSleeper and not put any.

cwbuff, I started spraying my plants with Epsom salts last year. I got a better than previous years crop but still not anything to write home about. I like to get my tomato plants about 12 inches tall and usually manage to get them in about 7 - 8 inches deep, some deeper, depending on where the larger leaves begin.

While sitting on the patio one day 2 years ago I saw, what I thought, was a hummingbird. My friend said it's no humming bird, it's a hummingbird moth. It comes from the Hornworm and she says it likes tomato plants. I never found the stinkin thing until it came out as a moth but it munched on my plants while it grew! The next year while spade forking the ground I happened to "stab" this large "thing" about a foot or so down in the dirt. I'm assuming it was the larva of another Hornworm as that year I had nothing eating the plants.
 
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