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Keys to growing tomatoes, vegetable garden seminar

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Tomatoes are heat-loving plants that need a long warm growing period to grow from seed to fruit. Optimum fruit set occurs within a narrow night temperature range.

One reason home gardeners have a difficult time growing tomatoes in Florida is because of incorrect variety selection. Most popular (indeterminate) tomato varieties lack resistance to Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus (TSWV) and bacterial wilt. These two diseases wreak havoc in home as well as commercial plantings.

Amelia, a determinate variety that has TSWV resistance, has started showing up in some retail outlets. For a list of other varieties to look for, contact the Okaloosa County Extension Office.

Plant tomato plants reasonably early – usually after April 1. Tomatoes are heat-loving plants that need a long warm growing period to grow from seed to fruit. Optimum fruit set occurs within a narrow night temperature range. Tomatoes produce the largest yields of highest quality fruits when day temperatures are in the range of 80 to 85ºF and when night temperatures remain above 62 but below 72ºF.

Fertilize to produce a healthy, sturdy tomato plant when the plant is young. With the first open flowers, reduce fertilization (particularly the nitrogen) to about half the original rate. When the first fruits are about two inches in diameter, reduce fertilization a little more. Once the first tomatoes are harvested, further reduce fertilizer to about ¼ the original rate or completely quit fertilizing.

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Many home growers fertilize tomatoes too much. This results in a big green plant with few tomatoes. This reduction in fertilization is mainly important with the amount of nitrogen being applied. The plant still benefits from adequate potassium. Just remember that as plants mature and fruit, the demand for nitrogen decreases.

As heat, humidity, rains, diseases and insects increase during summer months, tomato production naturally declines. Entire plants may begin to die. When this happens, do away with the plants and find something else to do other than grow tomatoes.

For more info on growing tomatoes and vegetable gardening, you may be interested in attending a Vegetable Gardening seminar being taught by Okaloosa County Master Gardener Linda Timothy. This seminar will be held at the Okaloosa County Extension Annex 10-11 a.m. on Wednesday, April 18. The Extension Annex is located at 127 NW Hollywood Boulevard in Fort Walton Beach.

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Timothy is a local expert at growing tomatoes. She will cover raised bed gardening, techniques for combating insects, what fertilizers she prefers to use with vegetables and soil types.

Tomato and pepper plants will be available for purchase following the meeting for attendees.

There is no cost to attend but space is limited so registration is required. Please call the UF/IFAS Okaloosa County Extension Office at (850) 689-5850 to register.

Larry Williams is the Extension horticulture agent with the Okaloosa County Cooperative Extension Service, University of Florida. Contact Larry at 689-5850 or email lwilliams@myokaloosa.com

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