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You say tomato; I say grow them this way

And now, a few words about tomatoes.

Are you going to grow any this year? It's time to put them in. And, despite what you may imagine, it doesn't take much space to grow a tomato transplant. Even Eloise Ñ the children's book character who was as spoiled as a rotten tomato Ñ could have grown one on her top-floor patio terrace at the Plaza Hotel.

What I'm saying here is, you can and 'must, must, must' grow at least one tomato plant this year. (Unless, of course, you are Dan Quayle; then you would be growing a 'tomatoe.')

Anyway, let's not get into that old, tired controversy about how it's pronounced or spelled. We're only concerned with growing the best fruit. So here's the real juice on tomatoes:

First, you need to start with good soil. No matter what variety of tomato you're growing, they can be temperamental, so Ñ even if you've only got a clay pot no bigger than a bread box Ñ you 'must, must, must' use my surefire Tomato Soil Recipe.

OK, it's not really mine Ñ it comes to us direct from David Garrett, Silverton's Tomato Man (I call him that because of his knowledge of many varieties of tomatoes) Ñ but I swear by it every year.

The recipe is a tad more work than just plunking the plant down in whatever soil you have available, but souped-up soil means you won't need to spray and fertilize to avoid problems later. In fact, the only work you'll be doing this summer is watering.

Here it is: Into each tomato hole, mix in two shovelfuls of sterilized steer manure, 1/4 cup fast-acting dolomite lime and 2 tablespoons bone meal. (If you are planting in a small container, cut the recipe in half.)

This recipe prevents a whole host of evils. Using it, I've never had a tomato come down with the dreaded 'blossom end rot.'

You may not recognize the name, but you've probably seen this plant disease in action. And if you know anything about blossom end rot, you wouldn't wish it on your worst neighbors. Just as you are getting tomatoes big enough to brag about, you discover a dark-brown leathery spot on the blossom end of the fruit. It may even mold there.

Now, smart as we are É we've nipped that blossom end rot in the bud by adding lime and bone meal at planting time.

You see, this rot problem is a calcium deficiency. Sure, you can give your plants a calcium 'foliar' (fancy word for leaves) spray later in the season, but if you're anything like me, your tomatoes' bottoms already are rotten by the time you discover the problem.

The next step is putting your tomato plant to bed. I know this sounds crazy, but you won't believe the results you get.

Remove all of the lower leaves from the stem. Lay the plant on its side, with only the top cluster of leaves showing above the soil.

It's surprising what will happen if you do this: You will get roots all the way along that stem to the top set of leaves! More roots give bigger, better tomatoes. And don't worry about the tomato vine lying down on the job. The darn thing straightens up on its own within a couple of days.

Finally, water deeply once a week.

Here's the rest of your gardening to-do list for the week:

• It's also time to plant pepper transplants.

• Save money on products for killing aphids by flushing the critters off with a hard (jet) spray of water.

• Pinch off rhododendron blooms as they fade.

• Visit Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden to catch it in full bloom and shop its great plant sale. It's from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, May 11 and 12. The garden is at Southeast 28th Avenue and Woodstock Boulevard, between Reed College and the Eastmoreland Golf Course.

Anne Jaeger's gardening program airs from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturdays on KPAM (860 AM). Her 'Dig It' gardening segment is broadcast three times a week on KOIN (6).