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Last updated: Fri. Jul. 04, 2014 - 08:20 am EDT

WHAT'S BLOOMIN, A COLUMN BY JANE FORD

Gardening column: Strengthen your tomato plants with compost tea

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I wish you all a happy and healthy 4th of July. Be sure to add sliced tomatoes to your picnic fare - and especially add a big slice on that juicy grilled burger!

Did you know that eating tomatoes helps protect your skin from sun damage? The Farmer's Almanac asks the question, “Are you eating your sunscreen?” Then the article tells us that, “Eating a whole foods diet promotes skin health from the inside-out. Studies show that consuming tomatoes helps reduce susceptibility to sunburns. Research indicates that the powerful antioxidant lycopene, which is found in tomatoes, provides an extra level of protection against sun damage. When we eat tomato paste and similar tomato products, we are consuming the nutrients which naturally protect growing tomato plants from summer sun damage: lycopene, tocopherols (vitamin E), and beta-carotene. Thus, we benefit from its antioxidants in a similar manner.”

Right now we are all watching our tomato plants set fruit in anticipation of enjoying that fresh-from-the-garden tomato taste we all love. Now, we are discovering that our favorite garden vegetable has more benefits than we knew. In fact, another article I read said that results from research show that eating tomatoes helps keep our hearts healthy as well.

Reading things like this makes it all the more important to add tomatoes to our diet whether growing them ourselves or purchasing them from a farmer's market — or the produce counter.

At this time I am hovering over my bite-sized tomato plants. They are in containers and unless it rains, I water them daily. Also because they are in containers, they need to be fed more often so I've given them compost tea, and mixed in the soil a couple tablespoons of slow release tomato fertilizer I had on hand. If your plants are in the ground, they too need special attention, regular watering and fertilizer — but not quite as often unless we have dry weather.

I had a question this week about how to make compost tea — so thought you might like a reminder as well:

• If you have a compost pile, dig out a scoop or two of compost from the bottom of the pile. If you have added compost to your garden, use some of that to make this recipe.

• Collect two knee-highs or a couple of white cotton sports socks with tall tops (I didn't have knee-highs but I did have the white socks and they work very well).

• Fill the toes of two socks with compost.

• Fill a bucket with water.

• Put the teabags you've made in the water and drape the tops over the side, then cover the bucket to keep the water from evaporating — also to keep mosquitoes from becoming a problem due to standing water.

• Every day for 2 or 3 days, dunk the teabags up and down several times — then cover the bucket again.

• The water will look dark and dirty and there will be sediment in the bottom of the bucket.

• This is all good! When your tea has brewed for 2 or 3 days (the longer, the stronger the tea), it is time to use this potent mixture on your tomato plants — in fact on all your plants.

• Stir, then fill a spray bottle with the tea and spray the foliage on your plants.

• You can keep using the compost teabags for several bucket refills then refill the socks with fresh compost and keep this going all season long.


Jane Ford is an Advanced Master Gardener. Email questions to bloominthing@gmail.com. This column is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of The News-Sentinel.


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