Whether your veggie garden consists of a single pot or vast acreage…or whether you’re a veggie garden beginner or a seasoned veggie veteran, odds are that tomatoes are a part of this summer’s harvest. Like my other posts on gardening how-to’s, there’s so much more to know…but understanding the following tips for growing tomatoes really helped my tomato-growing efforts be both more fruitful and less frustrating.
1. Don’t Freak…It’s Really Pretty Basic
If you’ve never grown tomatoes before and are the “planner” type, don’t get overwhelmed by all the information out there instructing you how to grow the perfect tomato – soil-testing, pH levels, mulching, fertilizing, spraying…ugh! All these things are important, but trust me…if you dig a hole in a fairly sunny spot (the more the better), add a bit of compost, throw in a tomato plant and water it well and often…odds are that you’ll be enjoying some of the best tasting tomatoes you’ve ever put in your mouth. Sure, over time you can learn more about how you can grow a bigger and better tomato…and more of them, but as I have suggested in other posts, don’t let your not knowing everything about something paralyze you from doing anything.
2. Be Supportive
Make sure you go ahead and establish whatever you’re going to use to support your maters when you plant them…stakes or cages…whatever. Given that your tomato plants are probably dinky when you plant them, putting a 4 foot cage around them may feel like overkill…but you’ll want to go ahead and do it right away – otherwise there’s a good chance the next time you think about it they’ll be sprawling about and you’ll risk breaking stem upon stem…believe me, I speak from experience. Once the branches get big enough, tie them to the support structure with twine…or better yet, strips of old t-shirts or socks (these softer materials tend to work better with the tomato plant’s tender branches). To learn more about how to tie up your tomato plants, go to this great site that I’ve found about all things tomatoes – Tomato Dirt (www.tomatodirt.com)…and once you’re there I’m sure you’ll find some other great info.
3. Water Deeply
As with most veggies…tomato plants need water to grow nice juicy fruit (yes fruit)…and it’s better to water for longer and fewer times during the week than short frequent waterings. Taking what Mother Nature gives your plants into consideration, you’ll want to give your maters a good 2” of water per week…more during hotter periods of time and if your plants are in containers. Oh, and make sure you water the soil at the base of the plant vs. at its leaves. Watering the leaves is not only a waste (most of the water will evaporate), but wet leaves also encourages disease.
4. A Little Pinch Will Go a Long Way
Pinching off the non-fruiting “suckers” that form in the “crotch” between the main stem and a branch will not only encourage bigger fruit, it will create a stronger plant structure as well. Note…this practice of pinching is best applied to indeterminate varieties of tomato plants (vining…i.e., they will grow an indeterminate amount). However, when pinching determinate varieties (tomato plants that grow a specific amount) you’re risking pinching off buds…which will reduce overall fruit production – so pinch with caution.
5. Pick’em When They’re Ripe
The best place for your tomatoes to ripen is on the vine. But don’t let them go too long…otherwise, they’re bound to get a bit mealy. If you have tomatoes that fall off or if you’ve picked them before they are prime for picking…don’t place them on a sunny window sill to finish up. Although this is a common practice, odds are they will likely rot before they ripen. A better practice is putting them in a paper bag or some other container. Like other fruits, tomatoes naturally give off ethylene gas…which stimulates the ripening process. So when you put a tomato in an enclosed container it is trapped with this ethylene gas and will therefore ripen quicker. Some argue, however, that all that’s happening to a tomato that’s off the vine and in a paper bag is the ripening of the color…and not the inside flavor. So again, the best place for tomatoes to ripen is on the vine.
Alright, that’s it for now…I need to sign-off now and check on my tomatoes. Seriously. We’ve had quite a few maters this year…but it seems that we’ve had more squirrels enjoying the crunchy green variety!