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Tomatoes like it warm

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I have patiently waited for some summer-like heat to arrive before planting my pepper and tomato plants.  Now that the forecast calls for warm spring nights the coast is clear for summer vegetables!  
Tomatoes love two things:  good drainage and heat.  If you have struggled with tomatoes in the past, consider what makes them most content when preparing the garden and setting your plants out.  
First thing first:  always wait until our frost-free date (on average this is May 10, give or take a week depending on where you are located).  After the frost-free date the average air and soil temperature is usually warm enough for tomatoes to function efficiently.  
Soil temperatures should be at least 55 degrees and the ambient nighttime air temperature should be above 58 degrees otherwise the plant will be stunted and less vigorous.  The ideal growing conditions for growth, fruit set and ripening are daytime temperatures in the 80s, nighttime temperatures in the 60s.  This year, I actually planted on May 10.  
I had my plants and would move them in and out depending on the weather.  This also allowed me to acclimate them to the sun without getting burned their first day out in the garden.
I can almost guarantee a successful season if you prepare the soil with lots of compost.  This provides a slow release of nutrients throughout the entire season; it also dramatically improves drainage while retaining even moisture.  Overfertilization can stress the plant so compost is far superior to weekly conventional stimulants.
For example, too much nitrogen will encourage leafy growth at the expense of bloom.  Lack of magnesium, which aids in chlorophyll production and respiration of plants, can also delay fruit set.  Compost delivers a slow, healthy dose of both.     
When you plant pinch off the lower sets of leaves and sink the plant as deep as you can.  Additional roots will develop at the leaf nodes thus making a stronger plant in the long run.  Once the plant is set than mulch it well in order to control weeds, prevent soil from splashing on the plant (which is one of the primary ways that disease spreads to your plant), and to moderate soil moisture (important in controlling blossom end rot).  Use any natural mulching material; I typically use newspaper with grass clippings on top.  I have found that the newspaper-grass clipping combo works great as winter mulch for weed control, by next spring it has broken down enough that I simply turn it back into the soil.  
I cannot emphasize the use of mulch enough.  It means that during times of drought you will have to irrigate little and it moderates soil moisture and temperature, which keeps the plant producing.  
Tomatoes rather like being a bit on the dry side; rapid fluctuations in soil moisture cause one of the most common tomato conditions know as blossom end rot (as well as being a contributor to blossom drop, leaf curl, and splitting fruit).  When plants fluctuate between too wet and too dry a calcium deficiency develops in the plant, which then causes the blossom end of the fruit to rot.  You can avoid all of this with a good layer of mulch.   
Healthy plants that receive a slow, natural source of nutrients; have adequate moisture and excellent drainage will resist pest problems on their own.  
If you rotate your crop, keep the garden weed-free and mulch your plants you will further avoid many of the diseases that plague tomatoes.  Remove leaves as they appear infected and don’t inadvertently spread it by handling healthy plants afterwards.  
 (Jeneen Wiche is an avid gardener from Shelbyville. She can be reached at JHWiche@gmail.com or at www.SwallowRailFarm.com)