Jesse Fulbright, Liberty County Extension
It’s not easy to grow tomatoes in Montana, or many garden vegetables for that matter. It requires some extra caring, and in many cases a great deal of extra work. This week, let’s cover tomatoes and what to do to get them going with enough time to see the fruits of our labors.
Our season here is too short in the Golden Triangle to direct-seed tomatoes into the garden. Here in Chester we see our last average freeze in late May or early June. You might want to check with your local county Extension office to see when your last frost date is, if you are unsure. If you grow tomatoes yourself, allow about eight weeks to produce a good transplant, and be sure you have enough light. Even windows that face south don’t have sufficient light in early spring for good plant growth.
Regarding soils, garden soil is seldom satisfactory for starting tomato plants. Instead, use a sterilized or pasteurized commercial soil or soilless mixture.
Sow seeds into flats or individual containers. If you sow them into flats, transplant them once or twice as they grow. This can be time consuming, but it will force the plant to develop a more fibrous root system that will tolerate transplant shock somewhat better. Limited research suggests that light-colored containers produce stockier plants than dark-colored containers. This is probably due to greater light reflecting off the container.
Keep the containers well-watered and the air temperature at about 65-70°F until the seedlings are up. Then, let the surface of the media dry slightly to help control disease. Never let the media dry to the point that the seedlings wilt. Fertilize the plants once a week with a commercial starter solution, following directions on the package.