Spring finally kicked in a few weeks ago, throwing many gardeners for a loop. But don't worry: If you haven't gotten your tomatoes in the ground yet, there's still time. Don't know how? Here's a simple guide to follow if you're a first time planter.
1. If you were planning to grow from seed, you're out of luck for this year. The Old Farmer's Almanac gives the indoor seed start date for tomatoes in Omaha as Feb. 27 through March 14. But don't sweat it if you didn't get around to that: Local nurseries and hardware stores have plenty that are ready for the planting. You may also be able to find them at a nearby farmer's market.
2. Whether you buy a new tomato plant or have had seedlings growing already, you will need to take them outside to a semi-sheltered location for about a week to harden them off before planting. This allows the baby plants to get used to wind, sunlight and other elements before they are put in the ground.
3. Prepare the ground for your new plant. If you haven't already, mix compost or an organic fertilizer into your pot or garden bed to ensure that your new veggies have plenty of nutrients.
4. Finally, it's time to plant. Be sure you water the tomato substantially before you uproot it. When you remove the plant from its original container, gently squeeze the root system from both sides to break it up.
5. Dig a small, deep hole; plant the tomato so that most of the stem is below ground. The stem will turn into roots, helping your tiny plant grow big and strong.
6. Water the plant again after you finish transplanting it. Continue watering your tomato plant a little extra for the next few days to help ease it into its new home.
7. Two weeks after transplanting, be sure to feed the tomatoes. Nitrogen will make the plant grow taller; phosphorous and potassium will help it to grow fruit.
8. Consider staking or caging your tomatoes. These support structures keep fruit off the ground and make harvesting easier. If you stake, use fabric ties or pieces of nylon to tie the limbs of the plant to the stake. If you use a cage, make sure it's big enough for your variety of tomato.
9. Continue to water (about 1 to 2 inches per week) and wait. Once tomatoes appear firm and red, pluck them and eat. We recommend throwing them into a nice caprese salad or making your own salsa or tomato sauce and then canning the leftovers.
10. If you're not a tomato fan, there are plenty of other vegetables that will do well this time of year. Eggplant, zucchini, summer squash and peppers are all wonderful summer crops that can be planted over the next few weeks.
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