Fall Tomatoes and Table MatesPosted on : August 15, 2014
Fall tomato transplants are in the nursery now. It’s time to get them off and running, and to think about their companions in the garden and for the table.
Tomatoes love warm fall days and moderate evening temperatures. The fall tomato season reaches its limit at the first hard frost. Sometimes we get lucky and our first frost comes late. I have had years when I have harvested tomatoes all the way to Christmas.
Start off with the right selection. We can afford to play with this in the spring, but since we are trying to beat the clock, we have to choose the variety that meets our growing conditions in the fall.
If you are planning to grow your tomatoes out in the garden or landscape, you should stick with determinate varieties. Determinate tomatoes are often labeled “bush” or “compact”. There are dwarf container varieties, but most will grow to an average of 3’ – 4’ tall. Growth stops when they set their top (terminal) bud after which the plant will turn its energy to the developing fruits. All of the fruit will ripen over a two or three week period of time after which the vines will decline –
perfect fall scenario.
If you have a greenhouse, and plan to grow your tomatoes “under glass” throughout the winter, you could select a semi-determinate or indeterminate type. These are vining tomatoes that will grow until they freeze. If you have heated greenhouse space, they will produce all winter. Indeterminates produce fruit clusters from the bottom of the vine up as long as the vine grows. They may reach 6’ – 10’ tall, so your greenhouse space will need to accommodate their height. Don’t worry; you can prune them if they get out of bounds.
Fall tomatoes need to get off to a quick and solid start. We want them to grow vigorously and get ready to set fruit. Giving them a loamy, fertile soil is the key. Work a gallon of compost, a small handful of dried molasses, and the recommended amount of balanced, slow release, organic fertilizer into each planting space. Arbor Gate Blend is a good choice.
Water the seedlings well the day before planting, making sure that the root ball is thoroughly moist. It is always good to use Superthrive or your favorite root stimulator when you water. After planting, you can water them in with the same solution and mulch with an inch of compost. Provide a sturdy cage and your tomatoes will have all they need to produce a dependable fall crop.
Plan to foliar feed your tomatoes throughout the growing season. Foliar feeding provides trace minerals and keeps plants in top condition. I use 1 or 2T Garrett Juice, 1T seaweed extract, and 1 or 2T Epsom salts in a gallon sprayer applied every 10 days to 2 weeks.
You are going to want other delicious veggies to serve with your tomatoes. A crop of cucumbers, bush snap beans and summer squash can be direct seeded in August. Most cool season veggie transplants can start going in now – broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale. Follow these with lettuce and mustard in early September and spinach in late September into October.
The best way to manage a family garden is to plan for succession plantings. Succession planting allows for an extended harvest for fresh use. Plant 2 – 4 of each selection every week or ten days rather than a large amount at any one time. Mustard and lettuces can be direct seeded, so pick up several packages of varieties that look interesting and just plant a few feet of row at a time.
Don’t forget the herbs! You will want dill to use with your fall tomatoes and cucumbers for certain. So many herbs can be planted in the fall; too many to list. There are planting calendars for Zones 8 & 9 on our website or you can download our App to access them from your cell phone or tablet.
What’s happening in my garden?
We had a great spring and early summer garden this year. We use a square foot system since it is just the two of us, and it works perfectly for us. For the last two months we have been barely keeping up with the garden. Our granddaughter and her husband are expecting their second child shortly, and we are getting a house ready for them. That’s a pretty firm deadline to deal with!
So the peppers, beans, eggplants, and tomatoes get a quick once over every couple of days, but nowhere near the attention they are used to. I did get honey harvested and bottled, but the chickens got all the extra cucumbers that would have normally found their way to a pickle jar.
We grow mostly indeterminate tomatoes and they produced like crazy in the mild weather we had for so long. I did manage to get lots of jars of tomatoes put up thanks to some shortcut methods I have found over the years. The vines are still beautiful, and we get more than we can eat from them even though they have scaled back in the heat. They will kick back into production shortly and be enough for us this fall.
I like to seed many of my own veggie transplants, but no time for that right now. We will bring home a couple of flats of seedlings from the nursery to make sure we don’t miss our planting dates.
Weeding will have to wait. Thank goodness for thick mulch and low volume irrigation systems. There are just a few areas that still give me a bit of trouble. I will work on those later this fall. Generally my answer is more plants. Where there is a plant, there is no room for a weed!
It’s time to get the late summer pruning done on our High Density fruits, so time will have to be made between the sanding, painting and tiling soon. Very soon. It’s a wonderful life!
Written by Angela Chandler
Angela Chandler is a lifelong gardener with a passion for learning and teaching. She tends a ½ acre garden in Highlands, Texas that includes ornamentals, fruits, a small experimental nursery, a flock of Buff Orpington chickens, and a Lab mix named Harley. Her gardening adventures would not be possible without her husband, Fred – always willing to help unload leaves, compost and help build beds. Angela is a member of the Harris County Master Gardener Association – Retired, and a member of the Garden Writer’s Association.