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Mulching with Live Oak leaves

by John Atwood
(Lumberton, MS, USA)

I live in Zone 8 (South Mississippi) and usually try to get my first Early Girls (a 52-day indeterminate) planted by the second or third week in March. As luck would have it, I have a large live oak tree in my yard which sheds its leaves about this time. I use its leaves for mulch.


Here's how I do it. I cover my two 60-foot rows and middle with about 6 inches of leaves immediately after ground prep and before planting, to keep the soil from compacting from hard rains. To plant the Early Girls, I just pull back the leaves, dig the hole, plant and water thoroughly.

About 4 weeks after the Early Girls go in, I plant Better Boys in the second row.

I have an 8-foot T post at the end of both the 2 rows, with high tensile wire strung between the post. I use ground anchors and string clips to support the plants as they grow up the nylon string between the high wire and ground clip. I use soaker hoses for supplemental watering.

During the winter, I place several loads of leaves, pine straw and other yard debris down the rows and BURN. The ash contains all of the necessary trace minerals and other nutrients for tomatoes so no fertilizer is needed.

This past year, I gave away over 500 tomatoes to family and friends and had plenty for the table.

I have used this same system in the same location and never have end rot or disease. The leaf burning replenishes the soil.

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May 14, 2012
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burning early results
by: Anonymous

Well, I can tell you one thing. I have NEVER had a better looking garden nor better looking tomatoes! I think the burning of the tree limbs is the real deal. I did add some aluminum sulfate to the plant areas but EVERYTHING is growing beautifully. I'll be burning in the garden every winter now. Thanks again.


May 13, 2012
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More on burning leaves for soil prep
by: Anonymous

Setting aside the pH issue. The primary reasons for burning the leaves is to put trace minerals back into the soil. Think about it: trace metals migrate from the roots of trees, up through the woody structure and into the leaves. You are simply putting back the much-needed trace metals (Cu, Fe, Mn, Mg, Ca, K, Na, just to name a few) back into the soil. All are vital to good plant and fruit production. The leaves applied on top of the ground make mulch for next season, prevent soil compaction from heavy rains, and stop weed growth.

Apparently you have to fight alkaline soil where I have to fight acidic soil. I think we are in the same church but different pews!

Mar 24, 2012
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concerning wood ashes
by: Anonymous

Fellow TomatoDirters,
Since we were taking about wood ash on this post I thought I should toss this in. Over the past 2 winters we've been cutting branches of all sizes and freely tossing them into my barren winter garden area. Then, near spring, just having a big burn.
Well this is all OK until I checked my ph, and Pow, this acidic, red clay soil was at about 7.5 to 8. So a word to the wise, don't over do the wood ash thing.
I added aluminum sulfate to bring it back down, and not too much of it!

Mar 23, 2012
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reply to K-2
by: John (Bill) Atwood

To K-2. In response to your pH concern. In my area, we have acidic soil along with mild acid rain. After the growing season, I break my tomato rows deep with a middle buster. This allows winter rains to soak deep. It is in these rows where I heap the oak leaves end to end and burn.
In the nearly spring, I pulverize the soil with a rotary tiller which mixes the burned ash with the top soil. This gives me a pH of about 7. Then I prepare 2 elevated beds (one under each 'T' of the T-posts). I dig my planting holes about 6 inches deeper than the planting depth and add 1 handful of 8-8-8 fertilizer and cover with 2 handfuls of dirt for proper planting depth (well up the plant stem), lay out my soaker hose then add fresh live oak leaves for mulch and protection from soil compaction. This process is work-intensive in early spring but no weeding when it is hot.

Nov 27, 2011
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pH?
by: K2

The ashes are a good way to raise the pH if you have acidic soil since the ashes are very alkaline, but not a good tip for my garden as my constant struggle is to lower my soil's pH.

Nov 18, 2011
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EGG SHELLS
by: coachclement

A great tip I learned from a gardener friend. I save all my rinsed egg shells, grind them up using a coffee grinder until they are as fine as I can get them. Then I add them to my Tomato beds at the same time when other gardeners are adding Lime. This addtion also prevents end rot.

Thanks for the BURN tip.

Happy Tomato Growing!

Sep 26, 2010
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Shade covering works great
by: Kathy

A shade covering will work well with Early Girls to protect them from sunscald. One other tip: I grew Early Girl Hybrids in containers near my patio this year. They're in an area that gets part shade (4-6 hours of sun a day, somewhat protected). They started putting out fruit in July and are still going strong now in the last week of September. The slightly shaded area helped protect them, I believe, from burning out.

Sep 26, 2010
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OK, you got a deal
by: Anonymous

Hi again,
OK, I'll try the Early Girls. Even here in SC I don't get tomatoes until July, so May would be awesome. Thanks for the idea. Now, how do you get them so early?

Thanks,
Brett

Sep 26, 2010
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re to brett sc tomatoman
by: Anonymous

I have never started from seed because I usually have a good source of good, hardy plants to chose from. I do highly recommend Early Girls as one of my varieties because it is a 50 to 52 day indeterminate tomato. My goal is to have first tomatoes by 1st of 2nd week of May. I will take your lead and try the Brandywine as my third planting to try to extend season into and through the fall.

I prune (remove suckers) from all of my plants but this may cause sunburn during the late July-August heat. I have considered a shade cloth frame but dont know if this would help much. Anyone use shade cloth?

Aug 24, 2010
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thanks
by: brett sc tomatoman

Thanks for sharing your system. I have 3 75' rows but have struggled with diseases, weeds, and insects. I plan to burn in the garden this fall especially after reading your post.
Next year I'm going to space out my planting of tomatoes. At least 3 weeks apart. My plants get burned out by mid August.
You should try a row of Brandywine. I did this year and they were incredible. Early, big, delicious.

Do you start your plants from seed?

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