Get a jump start on planting tomatoes




K-State Extention agents

Gardeners often try to get a jump on the season by planting tomatoes. Though this can be successful, there are certain precautions that should be observed, especially this year with the abnormally cool spring.

First, let's look at the soil temperature. Tomato roots do not do well until soil temperatures reach a consistent 55 degrees F. Use a soil thermometer to check the temperature at two inches deep during the late morning to get a good average temperature for the day. The soil temperature is getting close to 55 in Garden City, but this week is not forecasted to be as warm as last week, so soil temperature is borderline. Plastic mulch can be used to warm soil more quickly than bare ground. Early planted tomatoes sometimes have purple leaves, which is a sign of phosphorus deficiency due to cool soils.

Another important step for tomatoes is to harden off plants: Plants moved directly from a warm, moist greenhouse to the more exposed and cooler conditions outside may undergo transplant shock. Transplant shock causes plants to stop growing for a time. Plants can be acclimated to outside conditions by placing them outdoors in a location protected from wind and full sunlight for a few days before transplanting. Another way to harden off plants is to transplant them and place a cardboard tent or wooden shingle to protect them from wind and sun for two to three days. The best conditions for transplanting is an overcast, still day.

The most important item to consider about planting tomatoes early is protection from frost. Tomatoes cannot tolerate frost. The 95 percent date for the last freezing date in Garden City is May 10. If you plant tomatoes, watch the weather forecast and cover the plants if frost threatens. A floating row cover or light sheets can be used for protection. Actually a floating row cover can be left on the plants for two to three weeks to increase the rate of growth and establishment.

Other tips for getting tomato plants off to a fast start include:

1) Use small, stocky, dark green plants rather than tall, spindly ones. Smaller plants form roots rapidly and become established more quickly than those that are overgrown.

2) Though tomatoes can be planted slightly deeper than the cell-pack, do not bury the plant deeply or lay the stem sideways unless the plant is very leggy. Though roots will form on the stems of tomatoes, this requires energy that would be better used for establishment and growth.

3) Use a transplant solution (starter solution) when transplanting to make sure roots are moist and nutrients are readily available.

4) Do not mulch with straw until the plant is growing well. Mulching too early prevents soil from warming up.

If you have any questions about tomatoes or any other concerns, call David Coltrain at 272-3670 or email

Grilling tips

The warmer temperatures and longer days allows more outdoor cooking and grilling. If you like grilling and hosting family and friends for a backyard barbecue or planning for an outdoor celebration, here are some tips for keeping foods safe while staying a big hit.

When it comes to grilling, a food thermometer is a must. Checking internal temperatures of all grilled meat is necessary to help keep you, your family and friends from eating foods that are unsafe to eat. A thermometer is an essential tool for grilling and preparing food. Using a food thermometer takes the guesswork out of determining when grilled meats are cooked properly and are safe to eat.

Here is what is important to know when grilling:

* Hamburgers and other ground beef, pork, veal and lamb should reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees F.

* Whole cuts of beef, pork, lamb and veal should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F.

* Cook all poultry to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.

* Cook pre-cooked and processed meats like hot dogs to 165 degrees F.

* Fish should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F.

Color is not a reliable measure of doneness. When checking the internal temperature of grilled meat always check in the thickest part of the product. Check for proper internal temperatures in at least two locations on the food to ensure even cooking occurred.

When removing cooked meat from the grill, make sure to place it on a clean plate, not the same one used for the raw food prior to cooking. The juices from the raw meat can spread bacteria to safely cooked food.

Practicing safe food handling helps ensure that you are doing what you can to keep yourself and others healthy while reducing the risks of food related illnesses.

For more information, call Léhisa de Fornoza at 272-3670.

4-H Shutterbugs

The 4-H Shutterbugs in Lee Richardson Zoo on Saturday were represented by 11 counties, 28 adult and 65 youth participants, and 14 presenters/instructors/helpers which included three teens and 11 adults. They received hundreds of compliments on the stations provided with portraits and costumes scoring high, and animal shots, bubbles and kaleidoscopes coming in with raves, too.

Thanks to committee members Eric and Nancy Otte, Judy and Josh Irsik, Janet and Cameo Colson and friends J.D. Irsik, Dudley Fryman, Maria Bennett, and several youth who tagged along and brought their friends to help, too. Shutterbugs in Southwest Kansas was definitely a success and queries were being made as to the date for next year as participants were departing.

Summer 4-H camps

Registrations are now being accepted for the individuals who are interested in participating in the 2014 Summer 4-H Camps with the Cooperative Extension Office in Finney County. The following are details and general information about the camps:

* Lakeside 4-H Camp, June 12 and 13

During the exciting two-day, one-night camp at the Lakeside Conference Center at Scott County Lake, campers age seven to nine will rotate through fun activity sessions. Each day the campers will experience swimming, crafts, archery, hiking, fishing, rafting and making decisions as a camp group with counselors.

Registration deadline is May 15. The 4-H counselors for Lakeside Camp need to apply by May 15.

* Heart of Kansas 4-H Camp, June 23 to 26

Campers will enjoy our traditional 4-H camp which highlights a variety of exciting activities, including environmental education, GPS, swimming, shooting sports, archery, crafts and stream life. Campers will experience fun days and evenings in this residential camp at the Kansas Rock Springs 4-H Center, south of Junction City. The week will include campfire circle, singing, games and a talent show.

Registration deadline is Thursday. The 4-H counselors for Heart of Kansas Camp need to apply by Thursday.

Registration forms for both camps are available at the Finney County Extension Office, or at

For more information about camp, call Barbara Addison at 272-3670 or email baddison@ksu.

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