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Michael Wheeler: Enjoy a slice of homegrown foods
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Homegrown vegetables are a staple for many Southerners in the summertime.

The one vegetable — well technically a fruit — everyone savors with anticipation is the tomato. The folks I know always say the first tomato of the season is the best.

It is a fact that homegrown tomatoes are much better than anything you can buy from the grocery store. Nothing can beat it.

Whether you are trying to grow tomatoes for the first time, or growing them for the 30th season, here are some tips to follow to ensure your harvest is plentiful.

First, it is not too late to plant your tomatoes. By waiting until now, you missed a damaging frost and cool nights of April, which would have had you starting all over again.

Now that you have decided to plant tomatoes, incorporate 4 inches of new organic matter into the ground. This will encourage the plants to explore and get established quickly.

Next, remove the leaves from the bottom of the plant and bury the plant deep with about two-thirds of the stem in the ground. This deep planting causes the plant to grow roots up and down the stem. This extra root system will make the plant stronger and more stable as it matures.

If you read my column regularly, you know I always talk about using mulch when you plant anything. The same goes for veggies.

A good 2- to 3-inch layer of wheat straw will go a long way to hold back weeds, allow plants to remain clean from rainfall and keep the soil moist in the middle of summer.

Speaking of rain and moisture, what if we don’t get any during the summer?

This is where many problems of growing vegetables come from because of improper watering. Water your plants so the soil stays evenly moist, avoiding the extremes of it being parched or flooded.

When you do water, keep the water at the base of the plant. Wetting the leaves will only encourage diseases.

Finally, give your tomatoes fertilizer when they are first planted. After that, they do not need much fertilization until the first tomatoes are the size of a dime or so.

Pushing growth on your tomatoes will only encourage them to grow leaves and stems, but not many fruit.

If during the summer you have problems that come up, come by the office and see if we can give you a hand at identifying the pest or disease properly. 

Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293, His column appears weekly and on