Nathan Hanath and his parents own and operate one of the nicest family farms that I have ever visited. Magnolia Hill Farm is located just west of Brenham off Highway 290. They have been filling the stomachs and freezers of Washington County residents with fresh, local, organic produce for the past 32 years. While Magnolia grows all types of produce, their absolute best selling crop is tomatoes. Last year, the farm sold 2300 pounds in the spring season and almost that many in the fall.
Nathan and I are both members of our local volunteer fire department. Several of our members are gardeners and the talk at our meetings often turns to vegetable production. Our little fire department has lots of hobby gardeners who grow tomatoes; and they grow them well. However, Nathan is the only one of our group that actually makes a considerable part of his living growing them. Since Nathan depends on his tomatoes to help pay his bills I asked him if he would share some of the things he does to consistently produce almost two tons of tomatoes each and every year.
Grow in Good Soil – Nathan has a 20,000 sq ft bed that has been producing vegetables 12 months a year for the past 32 years. That is incredible. He has been able to keep his bed healthy by constantly replenishing it with compost.
Grow Healthy Transplants – Nathan grows over 300 tomato plants each year. He grows between 10 and 12 nematode resistant determinate or semi-determinate varieties. He starts his seeds in a commercial mix in January and then again in June. He starts his seeds in little foam cups and then bumps them up to bigger containers after about 21 days. He keeps his starts in shallow trays and waters them from the bottom with a solution of “Fish and Poop”. Some of his favorite varieties include Amelia, BHN1021, Celebrity, Celebration, Carnival, Santa Belle, Top Gun, Phoenix, Tasty Lee and Tycoon. While these are his favorites he encourages you to try his methods on whatever varieties work best for you.
Plant Late – Resist the urge to plant early. Tomatoes grow best in warm soils. Grow big healthy transplants and do not put them in the ground until the third week of March. Plant them deep to encourage a large root ball
Fertilize – Each year Nathan has a soil sample done on his beds and each year he gets the same results. The rich organic soil he has built is perfect to slightly high in all nutrients except nitrogen. Nathan believes that many gardens are nitrogen deficient because growing plants use so much and rain, heat and tilling all allow it to leach from the soil. To make up for low nitrogen Nathan works “Sweet Green” into his tomato beds before planting. Sweet Green (11-0-4) is an organic fertilizer that contains dried cane molasses and beet molasses. Because of its high nitrogen content Sweet Green is marketed as a lawn fertilizer. However, the high nitrogen levels of the fertilizer make it an excellent supplement for the organic garden.
Mulch – Keep your beds as weed free as possible. They rob your plants of nutrients and they attract pests. Nathan uses landscape fabric to suppress weeds. While the fabric alone is great to help warm the soil in March and early April, you will need to cover it with a thick layer of mulch once the temperatures start climbing.
Calcium – Blossom End Rot is caused by a calcium deficiency. Prevent it by spraying them weekly with Nutri-Cal. Nutri-Cal is a calcium supplement that contains nitrogen. The supplemental calcium will prevent blossom end rot and the nitrogen will give your plants a little boost to keep them healthy and productive up until July.
If you are going to be passing through Brenham on 290, be sure and stop in at Magnolia Hill Farm. They have outstanding produce available every month of the year and they stock a huge selection of his mother’s famous preserves and pickles. In addition to produce, Nathan collects and breeds daylilies. He has over 900 varieties for sale from March through June. The farm is truly a sight to see when all of those daylilies are in bloom and Nathan loves to visit with you about them.
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