Underground Dallas Tomato Gardening Video

Husky Red Cherry Tomato, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

About a year ago I was shopping at a local plant nursery when I heard about an underground video. The topic — how to grow the most tomatoes in Dallas, Texas. The expert on the video, the source told me, was a man who was a member of the First Men’s Garden Club. This master tomato-grower had passed away a few years ago, but his technique was legendary, and this video documented his secrets.

Earlier this week I had the good fortune to finally see the program. It was played at a meeting of the First Men’s Garden Club. The film had a Dharma Intiative quality to it. I felt I was seeing something important, historic and also secretive, just like the Oceanic Six lost on that crazy island.

The video details how John Walls produced over 1,300 pounds of tomatoes per season in three 24-foot double rows of tomato plants. Amazing, right?

There was no smoking gun or magic potion. Just a carefully engineered and highly disciplined approach that created perfect growing conditions for an extended period of time.

Many people mistakenly think the growing season here in Dallas for tomatoes is quite long. Not true! Tomatoes need temperatures to be around 65F at night and 85F during the day to set fruit. Once we get into June and July when nighttime temperatures rarely dip below 80F, most plants shut down the production lines. The time window for the ideal temperature range is quite short here.

To extend that range, Mr. Walls got started early. He prepped the raised rows with compost, and he covered them with black plastic. For each plant he would cut a hole out of the plastic just over a foot in diameter. It’s my understanding this plastic kept the soil temperature higher than normal. This reminds me of the Earth Box, which you may have encountered.

He built a long, makeshift wood frame along the rows and covered its pitched roof with 3 mil plastic sheeting. Along the midline of each row he ran one PVC tube that looked to be about an inch in diameter. For each plant he drilled a hole about 45 degrees down from the top of the pipe, such that when a hose supplying the tube was turned on, it would create an arc of water right that hit right at the base of the plant. Each plant had a cage built from concrete reinforcing mesh.

He planted transplants level with the ground, not super deep as so many people around here suggest. In the hole he added a spoonful of cheap tomato food. Near the base of the transplant he added a cupful of granulated sugar and about the same amount of Epsom salt. Where the water flowed near each plant he inserted a single multivitamin. He watered thoroughly at the beginning and end of each day only when the ground two inches down felt dry.

He was meticulous about keeping the rows clean, and the pathways between the rows he kept neat by covering them with roofing paper.

I am sure there were a few more details there but that’s the heart of it. I put some tomatoes out this week and will share what tips from the other portion of the lecture in a future post.


17 responses to “Underground Dallas Tomato Gardening Video

  1. Have you ever heard of the Mittlieder Method?

    I saw it mentioned on Twitter, and I joined the Yahoo Group and bought an ebook about it.

    It’s sort of like the Square Foot Gardening method, where you grow things intensively in small spaces. This guy has his own soil recipe (with lots of different variations), and he also likes the PVC direct irrigation thing that you described. One of his major ingredients is Epsom Salts, and another is borax. They claim it’s organic, but I haven’t gotten around to looking up each ingredient yet to confirm it.


    What I am noticing about all of these methods is that the people who develop them and their followers are typically hard core about why ONLY their method should be used, and how anything else is no good.

    I’m not so good at just following instructions, so I’m sort of making my own way. I’m thinking about next season trying a few different methods exactly as described and see what turns out best.

    I just installed my raised bed in a different spot for this season. I’m using the “Mel’s Mix” Square Foot Gardening soil recipe.

    Now I’m thinking about experimenting with the epsom salts and sugar this year to see what happens.

    Someone should put that video up on YouTube and share it with the world! Or at least build a site and sell the DVD.

    Heck, I’d be thrilled to sell it on my site, if they are interested in turning it into an income stream for their gardening club. I’ll buy at wholesale from them and sell it at retail.

  2. The Tomato Stake

    The best way to support your tomato plants is with a traditional stake. Easier to use than metal cages, The Tomato Stake (www.thetomatostake.com) is the best and most cost effective solution on the market.

  3. Yes there are quite a few tomato prophets aren’t there?!?! I will inquire with the club about the video.

  4. Pingback: Epsom Salt for growing big tomatoes? - Garden Forum of the Gardening Channel

  5. Hi there! I found this site after doing a bit of googling about my grandfather (John D Walls). I think it’s great that people can still learn from his amazing gardening talent! Some of my fondest memories are of being in that garden as a kid – eating tomatoes straight off of the vine ( he also grew okra, blackberries, cantaloupe, watermelon, cucumbers, onions, plums, apples, peaches, figs, and pears). He always grew WAY more than the family could use, but he refused to sell a single vegetable or fruit – he would give it out to the neighbors, the church, friends, and pretty much anyone else. His favorite song was “in the garden”. You get the picture! Anyway – thanks for sharing some of my Paw Paw’s wisdom. I have the video on VHS somewhere. I will dig it up and place it on youtube, as I doubt he would want anyone to have to pay for it.

  6. That was my paw-paw! I miss him so much and reading this made me smile. You forgot to mention the real secret- he prayed over each and every tomato. Happy bday paw-paw!

  7. Good find, Chad. I’ve already converted the video to avi. I’ll see if I can find it and YouTube it. Happy belated birthday paw-paw. We miss you.

  8. I was fortunate enough to see Mr Walls’ garden! He was a wonderful man that taught me quite a bit about gardening. Thanks for the memory!

  9. I attended a presentation of Mr. Walls a good number of years ago, when I first moved to Dallas. I would love to see the video again, has it ever been posted online?

  10. Not, yet Susan. I’ve been lazy, but was actually thinking about this yesterday. I will try to post it this week.

  11. That would be great, thanks!

  12. praying does wonders!!!

  13. would love to see the film!

  14. Wow, that took a long time to upload. It’s about 27-minutes long, and broken into two parts. I’ll start working on part two.

    Part 1 of 2:

  15. Thanks so much for your hard work. It is greatly appreciated!

  16. No problem at all. It’s nice to know he is still giving.

    Part 2 of 2:

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