Tomato Bed Wisdom from a Master Gardener

Our volunteers are awesome. We recently sat down with 16-year volunteer (and 2008 Volunteer of the Year) Sam Darin, pictured above, is famous for both his tool-sharpening skills (stop by for summer tool talk in the Fruit & Vegetable Garden on Thursdays, May through October) and his tomato-growing expertise.

tomato cages009
Three heirloom tomato beds held 19 different varieties in the Fruit & Vegetable Garden this year. With harvest complete, the beds await their leaf mulch “blanket” for the winter.

We asked a timely question:  How does a Master Gardener (Sam was Illinois’ Master Gardener of the Year in 2010) put a vegetable garden to bed for the winter? His approach is so straightforward that even first-year gardeners can follow his lead:

1. After removing spent vegetables plants, pick up all leaves and fruit from the beds, clearing them of debris that might harbor diseases or pests.

2. AFTER the first hard frost, add a 4-6” layer of chopped leaf mulch to cover the beds for the winter. (Rake dry fall leaves and store them in a garbage can; use a mower or weed whacker to chop them.)

Mortgage Lifter
One of Sam Darin’s favorite tomato varieties, ‘Mortgage Lifter’ can weigh in at over a pound apiece.

3. Beyond the bed, continue to water shrubs and trees until frost. Late fall is usually quite dry, so it’s helpful to give larger plants a good drink before winter sets in.

As Sam says, “That’s about it.” Thanks, Sam, and see you at the Garden next spring!