Finally, Growing Tomatoes Advice For the Florida Climate

As I was searching for some other gardening advice altogether, I came across a Florida gardening blogger who seems to have very useful information to share. Unfortunately it looks as if his blogging stopped a few years ago in 2015. Maybe he moved away to a better place.

I found a post with growing tomatoes advice which would explain why I have such a difficult time with tomatoes.

First of all he starts with seeds (Plant Your Tomato Seeds). I’ve been wondering if the fact that I buy seedlings from Home Depot (there is nowhere else I’ve found) is my biggest problem. He says store bought plants “are never very good”. I already suspected this.

Start planting seeds early enough to have seedlings ready for the garden by March first. He says to buy a combination of sizes, but tomatoes won’t grow very large in this climate. I’ve found that to be true as well. I don’t have the space for a lot of plants, but I can use my fabric bags.

Which Tomato Seeds to Buy?

The blogger I am referencing plants Hybrid Tomatoes only.  I am not sure why, except that they are probably tougher than heirlooms.  A hybrid is a cross-pollinated plant.  The characteristics are better yield and disease resistance, among others.

Roma tomato seed packet
Roma tomato seed packet

In case you are interested in buying tomato seeds online:  Organic Heirloom tomato seeds can be purchased at the Tomato Fest site. These are NOT hybrids. Heirloom tomatoes give the grower the option to save seeds to plant the following year. You can’t do that with hybrids.

Buy the most disease and pest resistant varieties. Look at package labeling for letters that follow the name of the tomato. See the key list of what that lettering means on this page at Gurneys.  My packet above contains the letters VF which protects from wilt disease.

Indeterminates only – this means the tomatoes will continue to grow shooting out stems and growing tall all during the growing season. Indeterminates continue to set fruit while you pick ripe tomatoes. In other words, they just keep growing until something stops them. They need staking, whereas determinate varieties are more compact and can grow in pots.
**Note here: Indeterminates can grow to be 12 feet tall! I will need to re-think my staking. I suspect that in Florida they could easily grow to astounding heights.  I can see the raccoons climbing my stakes and destroying my crops.

Pick Tomatoes Early

Letting tomatoes ripen on the vine is my preference, but the raccoons tend to pick them before I get to.  My reference blogger picks his early and says they taste better when he lets them ripen indoors.  His blog is helpful, but not easy to navigate, so use the “search” area.

He mentions planting some tomatoes later in the season, in the shade, in a new area, and they did well.  Read about that at the bottom of this page where he “answers a question“.

I’m grateful for this info.

Troubles With Worms in the May Vegetable Garden

I would ordinarily consider May to be the beginning of vegetable growing season, but already I am giving up on one of my tomato plants and the summer squash.  Worms are doing a number on everything else, and I am not sure it’s worth having a garden at this point.

Almost as soon as I planted the squash I had trouble with blossom end rot. I began watering less, and added a fertilizer with calcium.

I managed to pick two very small squash, but that is it. Other than those two, every squash that has grown, on both plants, has wizzled up and rotted. One squash plant has no flowers and no squash. The other has flowers and little squash, but all the squash are doing the same thing.

summer squash plant with yellow flowers
The summer squash began fine, then went downhill

I will be pulling up the plants and putting something else in the fabric bags. I do have zucchini seeds which I may try. Summer means fresh squash to me, and I hate that I can’t seem to grow it here.

Tomatoes should be easy to grow here in Florida. Tomatoes like sun and lots of water. Of the two plants I bought, one is a “celebrity” which is still doing okay. Currently it has around 8 tomatoes growing.

The other plant didn’t even have a name, and that one has bit the dust. The leaves began to turn brown and then the green tomatoes are rotting and falling off the vine.

I’ve grown tomatoes for many years, and very successfully, in New Hampshire. Just one year I had a problem with late blight. I don’t have blight this time, but I don’t know what the issue is. Honestly, I think the plant may have simply been bad stock. I hate having to buy my vegetables from a big box store.

green tomatoes
This tomato plant turned brown and the tomatoes are rotting off the vine.

Also I have been overrun with cutworms. They are eating the leaves of nearly every plant I have in the garden. I started picking them off by hand, but many of the leaves are already chewed. Being more vigilant will help, I hope. It’s been very rainy, which keeps me inside. Garden pests can get out of control if they are not caught quickly.

These worms are eating everything from the cucumber leaves to the tomatoes, basil and pepper plants.  Cutworms can also cut off the new stems of seedlings.  I don’t have that problem.

cut worm
Cut worm that fell into the birdbath

The squash and cucumbers have another kind of worm which bores into the vegetable and makes it mushy.  They also eat through the stems which makes the rest of the vine droop and die, like in my photo.  For more info on growing cucumbers and dealing with the pickleworm, read the post at the Central Florida Garden blog.  It seems there haven’t been too many newer posts, but I intend to search it for useful information.

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All in all, I am disappointed in my May garden.  The orange ruffle hibiscus still has fuzzy mites on the leaves even though I have sprayed and trimmed it way back.  I’ve seen this same circular white ring on the backs of some of my pepper plants.  That is all I need!  I didn’t have half these problems in the North.  No wonder I don’t see farms around here!

Hot pepper plant with chewed leaves
Hot pepper plant with chewed leaves

Why I Remove the Peat Pot When Planting Seedlings

From the time I first began buying plants from Pell’s Nursery in Osteen, Florida I was told to “rough up” the roots when the plant was removed from the pot.

I’m talking plastic pots here, which are the way big plants usually come. Often the plant is a bit root bound from growing in a container. In order for the plant to do well when it’s in the ground, the roots need to know they can now grow outwards.

Some plants with thick roots can actually be sliced, or cut to train them to spread. You do this at a few intervals around the root and dirt ball before it’s set into the ground.  The Pell family gave me good advice and I always had excellent luck when adding their trees and bushes to my Florida landscape.  Their planting suggestion was a good one.

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Hot pepper plant from store

These days little seedlings are often sold in biodegradable, plantable pots, which will disintegrate in the dirt. We are told to plop the whole thing (minus the bottom, says the label) into the ground. Easy-peasy, no muss, no fuss.

I don’t like it. Why would I want a pot in my garden? And what is it really made of? I also believe it inhibits plant growth.  “Peel off bottom of pot for optimum root growth” – it says this on the plastic.  So imagine if you let the roots around the sides have that optimum growth chance as well!

In short, it’s not necessary. Treat it like a regular pot and remove it.

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Everything removed and ready to plant

I always remove the peat pot when I plant something purchased at the store (in my case the Home Depot). I do this because it releases the roots so they can instantly grow into the garden dirt in a natural way. I see no reason to add a pot to the garden soil. It’s just as easy to remove the plastic wrap and the pot.

This type of pot is often used for starting seeds. When I tried this when growing things for my northern garden, the pots began to turn moldy! So they aren’t necessarily a good choice for that either.

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New little pepper plant

By the way, I’ve found that hot pepper plants are one of the easiest types of vegetable to grow.

Potato Comparison – Why We Love to Eat Home Grown Vegetables.

Short and sweet, this photo compares a fresh dug red potato to one from the grocery store.

garden potato
Which red potato is fresh from the garden?

For some reason I am having a lot of trouble growing summer (yellow) squash here in Florida. Maybe it’s too hot, too humid, or something else. But I have had 2 small squash, and they were the sweetest, most delicious squash I ever ate.

Everything fresh from the backyard garden tastes a hundred times better than the bland, old stuff from the grocery store. I just had to take that potato photo when I saw the beautiful bright red color of my fresh-dug potatoes. Unfortunately most of them were really small because worms ate the potato leaves, so I dug them up early.

Potatoes are easy to grow if you have the space to grow them.  Unfortunately I do not.