To grow tomatoes requires no especial skill. In fact, there is no plant in field or garden except the weed that will submit to gross neglect and still flourish as will the tomato, and if we were content to grow a supply for home or market during the months of August and September no especial instruction or costly manipulation would be required.
On this subject W. J. Ritterskamp of Indiana writes as follows : I find that to grow tomatoes very early, say, to have them commence to ripen during the first half of June while prices are high, three things are absolutely necessary. First, an early variety, then an early start, and lastly an early situation.
“There is not much to say or write about early varieties, as we are still looking for the ideal one. Those we have are either too small or the shape is not desirable. When people are asked to pay from 35 to 50 cents a dozen for tomatoes they demand fruit that has the color and shape to please the eye, and quality is of secondary importance. I have found but one variety, Chalk’s Early Jewel, that combines size, shape, color, and firmness in a high degree, but unfortunately it is not one of the very first early.
Of the first earlies Maule’s Earliest is my choice. It is a very prolific large red tomato, and, if one is willing to throw out half for culls, the others will make a very salable grade of firsts. The quality is of the best, and as this variety is so very prolific, I believe that the one-half retained as firsts will measure up equally with the entire crop of Acme, Dwarf Champion, or Dwarf Stone.
“I sow seed of Chalk’s Early jewel in green-house by February 1. When plants show the true leaf I transplant the seedlings 2 X 2 inches on the benches. As soon as they crowd each other I transplant again, using 4-inch flower pots for 1,000 or more. The others are set 3 x 4 inches, either on the benches or in a hotbed. I keep the temperature rather low, 45 degrees at night, lettuce temperature, This makes nice plants by May to, that have fruit set the size of persimmons.
” Those set in flower pots are moved into glass-covered frames the last week of April. The glass is taken off in mild weather and left off at night when I am sure that frost will not get them. This hardens the plants and it would take quite a little frost after they have been set in the field seriously to injure them. Muslin-covered frames will often answer for this hardening off.
“I want to caution against over-watering while the plants are under glass. It is much safer to keep the plants rather too dry than too wet. When the plants grow thrifty, with a purple hue at the lower part of stem, one may feel safe that they have light and water according to their needs. If over-crowded and over-watered the plants will grow up spindling and with bleached stems. Such plants will never do well if they do live.
” I prefer high land sloping either to east or south for early tomatoes. Sandy soil would be best, but I have none but clay loam. This I make rather rich by plowing under stable manure, 20 loads an acre being ample if the soil is fairly rich naturally. Plow the ground and prepare as for corn, then set plants 4 x 4. Those grown in pots will scarcely wilt after setting.
“I am not prepared to say whether or not it pays to stake and prune our early tomatoes. In a wet season I lose considerable fruit by rot when not staked. On the other hand, I get more fruit and less of it sunscalded where I let the vines fall and grow as they will. Staking will give ripe fruit earlier. The large growers near Jacksonville, Kraft, Lyndale, and Morrill in Texas stake thousands of acres and prune to a single stem. This stem they clip just above the third flower stem soon after the fruit has set.
“When I market my early tomatoes I use full-size one-gallon baskets, four to the crate, grade the fruit closely and wipe every specimen with a moist rag. One active girl will wipe 12 to 15 bushels or enough to fill 25 to 30 crates in a day. This past season I marketed. Jewels in the Indianapolis market at 71 to 75 cents a crate, when Tennessee stock was freely offered at 30 to 40 cents a crate.
“I pick when the fruit begins to color, say, three days before it is ripe, and, if for shipment, pack and ship at this stage. If for home market I wipe and pack, then hold them until fully ripe.
“There are several advantages in picking tomatoes at this stage. I have no cracked fruit, or, as they are called, leaky packages. The energy of the plant can go toward ripening the next largest specimens, and last, but not least, I always have a goodly supply on hand and need not to go in bad, rainy weather to pick for next day’s sales. I consider an early start with an early variety on early land, with proper grading and packing, the key to success with early tomatoes.”
Mrs. C. Browning of Rhode Island gives the following successful plan for raising early tomatoes in southern Rhode Island, where fruit ripens the middle of July, fully a month earlier than formerly: ” First, get the best seed; Maule’s Earliest we like best. As early as March I have ready a shallow box of sifted loose soil, chip dirt, or leaf mold and sand, with a little fertilizer mixed in. Press hard and wet thoroughly. Scatter the seed on and cover about twice the depth of the seed; cover with a pane of glass and set behind a stovepipe, if possible, where the soil will not get cool, and keep sprinkled with warm water.
” The plants should be well started in three or four days, and ready to set in the sunny window. When four leaves are well grown, transplant to larger, shallow boxes or 4-inch paper pots, that can be bought for to cents or less a dozen. We used them last year and found them very satisfactory. By the middle of April we set the potted plants in a cold frame, letting them get used to the air gradually, closing and covering at night. We cannot safely set in the ground before May 2o. It is better to wait if the winds are cold.
“Ground that has been spread with stable manure and plowed and harrowed is best for the early fruit. Dig the holes deep ; stir in a handful of potato phosphate. Soak the plants well with water, loosen from the pots and drop them carefully into the hills ; cover to first leaves. Keep well billed up for the first few weeks. For later picking plant Chalk’s Early Jewel or Acme.”
” Last season,” writes John E. Vail of Decatur county, Iowa, ” I grew some beautiful tomatoes under a cheesecloth frame covering about 3 feet square by 4 feet high, the sticks projecting so as to permit driving a short distance into the earth. The size of the fruit was very uniform, and when specimen baskets were packed they would rival those of the seed catalogs. The best and most uniform variety was Chalk’s Early Jewel. Maule’s Magnificent was the largest and showiest, but varied more in size.”