Planting tomatoes requires six teams and eight steps
- Plant the tomato seedlings
- Sprinkle diatomaceous earth around each plant to reduce cutworm damage. Also sprinkle corn gluten around the base of each plant to suppress weed growth. See the Resources section of this website for an article about the use of corn gluten.
- Install the tomato cages
- Tie the ends of the tomato cages together with nylon zip ties
- Cover sharp edges on the tomato cages with duct tape on the first and last tomato cage in each row
- Cover the tomato cages with row cover being careful to center it on top of the tomato cages. The word “Agribon” is printed on the fabric and can be used to help center the fabric.
- Shovel dirt along the bottom of the tomato cages to tighten the row cover
- Repair any holes in the row cover with duct tape.
This is the most important step. Remember that each plant can provide 20-25 pounds of fresh produce to needy families. When it comes to the planting, quality is more important than speed.
Anyone who helps with the planting step is asked to wear nitrate cloves and to wash their hands before eating snacks in case it was necessary to spray the tomatoes with fungicide while the plants were in the greenhouse. We don’t want anyone to get sick. Nitrate gloves will be provided in both adult and children’s sizes.
Planting Tomatoes Steps
- The end of each row will be labeled with the tomato variety to be planted in that row. The trays of tomatoes will also be labeled with the variety. Please avoid mixing the varieties of tomatoes in each row. We try to keep the tomato varieties separate so we can monitor productivity and heat tolerance.
- Remove the tomatoes from the six pack by pushing the seedling from the bottom of the cell and gently pulling the stem.
- The planting holes may not be the right depth. Tomatoes like to be planted deep so dig dirt out of the hole if it is too shallow or add fine, moist soil to the hole if the hole is too deep. Press the soil firmly around the root ball of the plant being careful not to leave any air pockets. Do not use the dry clumps of dirt between the rows. Dry clumps of dirt leave air pockets that can dry out the roots and kill the plant.
Sprinkle a small amount of diatomaceous earth around the base of each plant. Diatomaceous earth is ground seashells and the shards will cut and kill harmful soft-bodied insects and cutworms. Wear a mask so you do not breath the fine dust and do not rub your eyes. The diatomaceous earth will be in peanut butter jars with ¼” holes drilled in the top.
Tomato Cage Team (large team)
Give the planting and diatomaceous earth/corn gluten team a head start so they are at least 6-8 rows ahead of you before you get started.
Tomato cages will be stacked in piles on the east and west sides of the garden. There are sharp prongs along the bottom edge and some sharp edges along the sides so wear heavy gloves and be careful. The cages are 9.5’ long so we recommend that two people carry each cage. Do not set a tomato cage on the plastic mulch until you are ready to install it because the bottom prongs on the cage can pierce the drip tape that is under the plastic mulch.
If any of the bottom prongs are bent, straighten them so the cage is easier to set. If the tomato cages is in bad shape, set it aside and use another one.
There should be spacers in the garden shed that can be used to hold the tomato cage legs 24” apart. Use them. A minimum of four people is required to set each tomato cage – one on each corner. Six people (2 additional people in the middle) is even better. Center the tomato cage over the tomato plants and set the tomato cages so the legs are approximately 24” apart and the ends are approx. 1” from the previous tomato cage. Step on the bottom wire to push the prongs through the plastic mulch and into the soil.
Nylon zip ties will be used to connect the tomato cages in a straight line down each row. This helps prevent the tomato cages from moving and tearing the row cover. It also makes them more stable in the wind.
Zip tie the top corners of the tomato cages together. Insert zip ties on the diagonal so the cages are less likely to move up and down as well as from side to side. Make sure the ends of the zip ties point down and towards the inside of the cage. Ties that point up can rip the agribon.
Duct Tape Team (small team)
The purpose of the duct tape is to cover the sharp edges of the wire on the first and last tomato cage in each row so the edges don’t tear the row cover.
Cover the top wire on the 1st and last tomato cage in each row with duct tape. Also put a small piece of duct tape on any sharp edge on the outside legs.
There may be tomato cages from last year that already have duct tape over these sharp edges. If so, use these tomato cages on the ends to help shorten this step of the process. The length of the rows is our highest priority. There will always be small differences in the spacing between the tomato cages and close is good enough.
Row cover is installed over the tomato cages to protect the tomato plants from beet leafhoppers. Beet leafhoppers are small insects (1/4”) that can infect the tomato plants with curly top virus. Curly top virus can kill the plant. The row cover will be removed around the first week of July when the plants are mature, and the threat of beet leafhoppers has passed.
A large team is needed (particularly if there is wind) to prevent the row cover from rubbing against the tomato cages and getting torn while it is being installed. The row cover will be on a roller on top of a wagon. 1-2 pairs of scissors are needed at both ends of the row. Team members will pull a long strip of row cover off the roller and hold it over their heads as they walk down the row. There should be one person holding up the row cover every 8-10 feet, so the row cover doesn’t drag against the tomato cages.
The row cover will be cut when it is about six feet beyond the beginning and end of each row. Do not cut it too short. It is better to be too long than too short. It must be long enough to be at least 12-16” longer than needed to reach the ground at both ends. Dirt should be shoveled on this 12-16″ to prevent wind from blowing the row cover loose and allowing beet leafhoppers inside.
Positioning the Agribon
Unfold the row cover and align the word “Agribon” down the top/center of the cages. Again, make sure you have enough row cover at each end to touch the ground plus 18”. Shovel a small amount of dirt every 3-4 feet along the bottom edge of the row cover on both sides of the tomato cage. Gently tighten the row cover by rolling the dirt towards the tomato cage. Once the row cover is secure and snug against the cages, shovel more dirt along the ends and edges so the wind is unable to blow it loose.
Row Cover Repair Team (small team)
It is easy to pierce the row cover or to catch it on a sharp edge and tear it. A few volunteers are needed to walk the rows and repair any holes with duct tape.