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Answers to your tomato-growing questions

Q: How soon should I start my tomato seeds indoors before planting outside?
A: Six weeks. Most gardeners start their tomatoes too early and have thin, leggy plants that take longer getting established in the garden.

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Q: What's the best way to germinate the seeds?
A: Any soil medium works fine. Plant the seeds about 1/4 inch deep. The important thing is to give them bottom heat (on fridge, in oven with oven light on, next to radiator, etc.). With extra heat they should germinate in about a week. Move them to the brightest light possible as soon as you see a seedling emerging.

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Q: How can I ensure stocky, healthy seedlings?
A: When the seedling has produced its second set of leaves (the "true" leaves), transplant into a larger pot and bury the tomato up to the leaves. It will form roots along the stem. At night, take the tomato plants to a cool part of your house (where the temperature dips to 50 F. or 10 C.) if possible. Water with half-strength 20-20-20 fertilizer and seaweed solution. Grow in the brightest light possible--close to lights on lightstand or in sunniest window with aluminum foil taped to cardboard to reflect even more light on to plant.

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Q: What tomato varieties would you recommend?
A: This is a very individual matter. There are about 400 different varieties, reflecting the fact that gardeners have very different tastes. My preferences include First Lady, Better Boy, Early Girl, Glacier (the earliest) and a sweet cherry tomato such as Sweet Million, Sweet 100, etc. Brandywine is an excellent "heritage" tomato. Better Boy was named America's most popular tomato in a poll a number of years ago. My absolute favorite is First Lady. It has luscious, full-bodied taste and a perfect balance of sweet over tart.

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Q: What about an unusually early tomato with good flavor?
A: Glacier, hands down. It has many advantages: it is both cold and heat tolerant, which means it will set fruit when most other tomatoes just sit and sulk. Tomatoes prefer temperatures between 50 and 85 degrees F. (10 to 28 degrees C.) to set fruit. Glacier tolerates extremes on both ends and will even set fruit at close to freezing! Glacier also sets fruit quickly on trusses close to the ground. Fruits are plum size and have a full-bodied tomato taste, unlike most other early types. The is one of the five varieties in our $10 tomato seed variety pack.

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Q: When should I plant my tomatoes in the garden?
A: Unless you use some kind of protective covering, you shouldn't plant tomatoes outside until the danger of frost has passed. Keep this in mind when you are starting your seeds. Always start seeds SIX WEEKS before planting out. No earlier.

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Q: What kinds of protective coverings can I use?
A: Some gardeners make tunnels out of plastic or put plastic "hats" over their tomatoes. They will add extra warmth during the day and keep some frost away from the tomatoes. But the best covering is what we call a KOZY-COAT® which has plastic tubes you fill with water. Unlike mere plastic coverings, the water (three gallons of it!) HOLDS HEAT and slowly transfers it to the plant even when outside temperatures plummet well below zero. It also allows for much earlier planting, because the KOZY-COAT® will heat up cold soil so you can plant your seedlings 4 to 6 weeks earlier! It is the fail-safe method to produce your earliest tomatoes and something every serious tomato grower should use. KOZY-COATS® plus Glacier tomato seedlings adds about six weeks to your tomato-picking season.

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Q: What kind of soil best suits tomatoes?
A: Deeply-prepared well-drained soil filled with organic matter. The better-drained your soil is, the quicker the soil will warm up for planting in the spring.

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Q: What about sunlight?
A: Minimum six hours; preferably more. Sun helps bring out the full flavors in your tomatoes.

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Q: What about fertilizing?
A: One of the best things you can do for your tomato plants is to spray them every two weeks with a seaweed solution. It has many trace elements and helps immunize plants against disease. Be sure to mix compost and manures into the soil. Also, you can water in other soluble fertilizers if you wish. Remember that the third number in a fertilizer formula is the number that's most important for good tomato growth. Look for fertilizers with a higher third number (potassium).

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Q: Do I need lots of bees around to pollinate the flowers?
A: No. Wind will spread pollen around, too. If you're growing your tomatoes inside a KOZY-COAT, blow on the flowers to pollinate them so they will produce fruit.

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Q: What's the most common tomato problem and what's the solution?
A: Blossom end rot. You may notice a blackening on the bottom of ripening tomatoes. It's caused by irregular watering. As tomatoes ripen, they need a continuous supply of calcium from the soil. If the supply is interrupted for 30 minutes because of insufficient water to carry the calcium up the stem, then blossom end rot could result. Tomatoes should receive MODERATE amounts of water twice a week. Don't flood. Also, crush egg shells and mix into the soil to supply calcium as the shells disintegrate. Also, you may add powdered milk--which contains calcium--to your watering can and water around the tomatoes.

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Q: What are other diseases and how they be prevented?
A: Tomato leaves may wilt, turn brown, get crispy or whither as a result of various funguses and blights. Take preventive action. Spray tomato plants every two weeks with seaweed solution. Don't smoke around tomato plants or handle plants after smoking. (Tobacco carries a virus that tomatoes are susceptible to.) Mulch around plants to prevent soil-borne spores from splashing onto lower leaves. Plant disease-resistant tomato varieties. If buying plants from a nursery, ask for blight-resistant varieties. If the nursery staff doesn't know about such resistance, find a nursery where the staff is more informed. If growing your own seeds, look for varieties with one or more of these disease-resistance letters after the name: V, F, N, T. What do they mean? V stands for resistance to Verticillium blight; F means resistance to Fusarium wilt; N means resistance to Nematodes (root-chewing organisms) and T means resistance to Tobacco Mosaic.

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Q: What about insect damage?
A: Aphids may occasionally be a proble. Spray with organic Safer's Soap. Tomato hornworms are sometimes a problem in warm climates. Pick them off. Slugs may leave unsightly holes in ripe tomatoes. Spread wood ashes around the plants or spread slug bait around the plants or sink a small margarine tub into the ground and fill with beer. (Slugs will seek it out and drown.)

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Q: Are there really low-acid tomatoes?
A: No. Some tomatoes may be slightly lower than others, but tests have shown there really is very little difference in acidity. The only difference is in the TASTE of acidity. Just like sweet and sour sauce, which is a combination of acidic vinegar and sugar, tomatoes may have more sugars that simply cover up the acidity.

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Q: Is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable?
A: Both. Botanically, it's a fruit but legally, it's a vegetable. Legally? Yes, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1893 ruled that because a tomato is eaten during the course of a meal--and not for dessert--it could be classified as a vegetable and therefore could be subjected to import tariffs like other vegetables. (Fruit was exempt from tariffs.)

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Q: Are all tomatoes equally nutritious?
A: No. If you grow your tomatoes in nutrient-depleted soil, so will your tomatoes--even if they look the same! In fact, you may be missing important nutrients in your diet if your soil doesn't have a complete balance of nutrients. That's why it's important to add compost and manure to your soil and to spray the plants with seaweed solution. These are ORGANIC compounds that will improve your soil and provide all the trace elements your tomatoes--and you!--require. You may supplement this with INORGANIC fertilizers (crystals and powders) if you wish, but they often don't have all the nutrient elements.

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Enjoy!

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