Tips for Growing Tomatoes
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!
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We’ve been discouraged with growing tomatoes .. and other edibles! Seems our squirrels watched our growing vines and budding tomatoes closer than we did, and had them for snacks while we dreamed of large, ripe, red things on our salads. Any suggestions, ‘Great Gardner’?
Susan: I’m with you…those fuzzy tailed rats (err…squirrels) are the bane of my gardening existence! I find half-eaten green tomatoes all over my yard. I’ve even had one squirrel sit on a limb about 10 feet above my head while sitting on a bench in my yard…look at me, take a single bit out of a green tomato and then just toss it at my feet…as if to say, “Hey you…that didn’t taste just right, go get me another!” We too live in a fairly wooded lot…so we have a ton of trees. We’ve tried everything really…marking my territory, spreading around hair from our brushes, coyote-urine spray. And we’ve just added a scare crow…and although they notice “her”, they seem to lurk about close to the ground until they get to the tomato bushes. In just a few minutes I’m going to grab my pellet gun and see what she can help me with. My girl aren’t thrilled about this, but they really have left me with no choice. I’ll let you know how it goes. Thanks for writing in and let me know if you come up with other options. Take care, D.
Our across the street neighbor.. called our Oakwood Drive squirrels, “Little devils”.
It seems you concur!
Rolly suggests, “live traps”!
Yep.. It’s a solution.. but for us, these days, the Winter Park farmers market .. is.. uh.. easier!
And, it’s fun on a Saturday morning..
.. we can readily add to our salads what other gardeners have successfully grown!
I know…some will probably think I’m cruel…but growing up in the woods shooting things for food – mostly, the pellet gun approach to handling my squirrel problem seem natural. We’ll see…if my shot isn’t good enough, perhaps I’ll have to try live traps. And we too LOVE trips to the Farmer’s Market…GREAT veggies and love supporting local farmers. So YUM is right! Cheers, D.