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A Reno tomato grower must be wily.

Short growing seasons and unpredictable frosts can make growing tomatoes diffcult for mountain gardeners. But Felix Stumpf grows more than a hundred varieties in his Reno garden (zone 3 in the Sunset Western Garden Book).

Three 8-foot-long redwood planter boxes hold small patio tomatoes; other tomatoes grow in rows. Each year, Mr. Stumpf tries new varieties--as well as old favorities--from mail-order catalogs; this year he'll plant seeds from other foreign sources.

What are the tomato success secrets?

Start plants indoors from seed, making sure young plants are tough before planting them outdoors. Plant in closely spaced rows so that the resulting dense foliage protects fruit from forst.

In mid- to late April, Mr. Stumpf sows seeds in growing trays filled with vermiculite, barely covers seeds, and waters them. He keeps trays in a shed under fluorescent lights (operating 12 hours per day); temperature is kept between 65[deg.] and 70[deg.].

When first true leaves appear, usually 4 weeks after sowing, he transplants seedlings into 4-inch pots. Plants are gradually acclimated to cooler temperature outdoors; Mr. Stumpf moves them out each day for two weeks or more (depending on the weather), then back into the greenhouse each night. "I want stocky plants," he says, "ready to put in the garden and grow like champions."

About June 1 (or when last traces of snow are gone), he prepares the soil by spading in composted chicken and horse manure. Then he transplants seedlings having three or more pairs of leaves, setting plants in holes 18 inches apart, in rows 2 feet apart. As each tomato is planted, he adds a cup of liquid fertilizer diluted with water according to package directions.

Plants are drip-watered as needed until intense summer heat sets in, then every morning for 15 to 20 minutes. Tomatoes are fed with a water-soluble plant food twice during the summer.

Mr. Stumpf uses no pesticides; he picks hornworms--"More than 400 in a season," he says--by hand and feeds them to his chickens.

Tomatoes are supported by wire or wooden cages, and sturdy trellises of scrap wood and metal.

The ample crop is used to make tomato sauce (50 to 60 quarts each season) for later use in spaghetti and casseroles. The rest of the harvest is given away of friends and fellow workers.
COPYRIGHT 1985 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunset
Date:May 1, 1985
Words:384
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