Wanna get the biggest bang from your tomato-growing buck? You’ve come to the right place! Here is everything I’ve learned over the years about planting and growing Solanum lycopersicum:
First, select the right tomatoes for your needs. Tomatoes come in both determinate and indeterminate varieties. Determinate types produce all of their fruit around the same time, on mounded, 18 – 24-inch-tall plants. Indeterminate types are defined by exuberant vines that grow (and grow!) until frost. On these, blossoms and fruit emerge continuously throughout the warm weather season. If you want lots of tomatoes over a long period — I certainly do — then indeterminates are your friend.
For the strongest plants, winter-sow the seeds outdoors. (Click here for details.) Winter-sown seedlings are stronger and sturdier than those born indoors on a windowsill or under lights. The seedlings do not require hardening-off.
Confession: I don’t always grow my tomatoes from seeds. Some years I buy greenhouse-born seedlings from a local organic farm store.
Give them high ground and full sun. A raised bed that receives all-day sunshine is ideal. If soil is infertile (i.e., worms are not evident when you dig into the soil), be sure to amend the bed with organic compost. Also, loosen the soil to a depth of 6-8 inches, and then work in some organic fertilizer that is suitable for tomatoes. I’ll address fertilizer in just a moment.
(Related post: How I Designed My Kitchen Garden.)
Plant deeply. Bury the seedling right up to its first set of leaves (or even deeper). New roots will emerge all along the covered stem, giving the plant the strongest possible start.
Allow Elbow Room. Set plants about 18 inches apart. Tomatoes need room to grow, and space for air to freely circulate.
Provide reliable moisture. One-to-two inches of water per week is sufficient for tomatoes. A soaker hose on a timer (above) is ideal. Overhead sprinkling, unless it comes from Nature, is to be avoided. Wet foliage invites late blight, an insipid fungal disease. Uneven watering — such as thoroughly soaking the soil after it has dried out — will cause tomato skins to crack.
Feed for Flowers (not Foliage). Tomatoes enjoy food, but beware too much nitrogen. Nitrogen will only encourage lush foliage, not fruit-making flowers. I’ve tested lots of different fertilizers, and my current favorite is Espoma’s organic calcium-and microbe-rich “Tomato Tone” (click here for details). As mentioned earlier, you can — and should — work this granular food into the soil when you are preparing the bed.
Provide Support. This is especially important for indeterminate plants. Each spring, I give my tomatoes a wooden trellis that provides both height and stability. I use green velcro tape to tie vines loosely to the trellis.
Oh. Let me know if you’d like more information about the aforementioned wooden trellis. It is my pride and joy. Furthermore, the structure lends architectural drama to the garden.
Sever the Suckers! To encourage a higher yield from indeterminate plants, pinch or cut off suckers. Suckers are energy-robbing offshoots that emerge between a tomato plant’s main stem and its leaf axils. If you want more tomato plants, simply stick the severed stems in soil, where will quickly grow their own set of roots. Click here to watch me de-sucker my tomatoes.
Remove all Volunteer Potatoes and Tomatoes. Potatoes, if forgotten in the garden after last year’s harvest, can quickly spread diseases to this year’s tomato-crop. Ditto for volunteer tomato seedlings that sprout in the compost pile or garden. Be safe, and remove these potential threats the moment they appear.
Mulch the plants. Mulch (weed-free straw for me), helps the soil to retain moisture. Furthermore, during a heavy rain, the mulch keeps water — and potential fungal spores – from bouncing off the soil and splashing onto the lower leaves.
Alrighty then. I think you’ll find the above planting and growing program will make all the difference between a mediocre tomato harvest — and a mind-blowing one!
Got any tomato-growing advice you’d like to share? Speak your mind in the comments field below.
Grandma Grandpa Kevin