Summer Gardening, Vegetable Gardening

Growing Tomatoes

Tomato.  Ta-MAY-toe.  Ta-MAH-toe. Ta-may-ta.  Mater. Doesn’t matter to me (Amanda) how you say it.  In my humble opinion, tomatoes are one of God’s greatest gifts to mankind.  Whether they are on a salad, sandwiched between two pieces of squishy white bread and a generous slather of mayo, sliced and served solo with salt and pepper, or cooked into the perfect marinara or sauce (I think some people call it gravy), they are an excellent add-on to your meal or the star of the show.  And all tomato lovers know that home-grown, fresh picked tomatoes are WAYYY better than any tomato you will find in the produce section of your local grocery store. (You can usually find bangin’ tomatoes at your local farmer’s market, too). However, growing tomatoes is not an easy task, so I thought that I would share some tomato tips. I am no tomato-growing officianado by any means, but there is one guy I know who hands-down grows the most delicious tomatoes I have ever eaten, and that is my organic-gardening-expert-father-in-law, Terry Henry.  So instead of just browsing the internet for great sites about tomatoes (although I will share some links to those at the end of my post), I decided to call up my resident-expert and get his take on growing tomatoes.

Terry’s Planting Tips

Many of you will have already planted your tomatoes, so at this point, you may think planting tips are moot.  Nope. Bookmark this page and then come back to it as a reference point when you plant your tomatoes next year.   One common mistake that most people make is planting their tomato plants much too shallow. Did you know that roots can grow out of the tomato stem?  Let’s say you have a plant that is about a foot tall. (Use that as a reference point and then scale this guide to your plant size.)

  • Prep your soil by mixing soil with compost. Compost will help feed the plant and give it more flavor come harvest time.
    • Mix in about 2 tablespoons of calcium or gypsum (a cost-effective alternative to calcium) to the soil around each plant. This is a really important step. Gypsum or calcium does not change the pH of the soil, and it will stave off blossom end rot (more on calcium to come.)
  • Dig a hole about 1.5 ft deep.  (Terry actually uses a post-hole digger.)
  • Fill your hole halfway with your soil/compost/calcium mix, then place your plant in the hole and surround it with the same soil mixture.  

Terry’s Tomato Care Tips

Watering

  • We touched on this in last week’s post, but make sure you are watering at the base of the plant and not on the leaves of the plant.  
  • Keep your tomato plants watered consistently.  Allowing your plants to dry out, then watering (and keeping that routine) will cause your tomatoes to split.  
  • You want to keep as much moisture off the plant itself that you can.  (Terry has a greenhouse where he grows his tomatoes–which is part of why he is such a tomato-growing-guru).  
  • You may be thinking, “Well, what do I do when it rains?”  After a heavy rain, you will want to spray your plant with calcium and a liquid fungicide.  Terry likes to use Rot Stop.  Serenade is a popular choice with many gardeners.

Preventing bacterial and fungal infections

  • Spray your tomato plants with liquid copper.  This may sound bizarre to you, but the metallic nature of the liquid copper will keep mold from growing on your plants.
  • Alternate between the liquid copper and the fungicide to keep your plants as healthy as possible.  

Fertilizing

  • Here at FGS, we sell a great fertilizing choice: Tomato-Tone (pictured above).  You will want to follow the instructions on the bag for best results.
  • Terry likes to use Fish Emulsion which he mixes with water.  (I can testify that this does NOT give the tomatoes a fishy-taste.)  
  • You want to fertilize twice a month and water thoroughly after feeding.  

Sucker Pruning and Staking

  • There are two types of tomatoes: determinate and indeterminate.
  • Determinate tomatoes are bush-like tomato plants.  
    • You do NOT want to sucker determinate tomatoes.  
    • Determinate tomatoes all ripen at the same time so they do not require much staking.
  • Indeterminate tomatoes usually grow much taller, sometimes up to 8-10 ft. tall!
    • To keep your indeterminate tomato plants from growing too much foliage, you DO want to sucker them.
      • Suckering a tomato is pretty simple.  Terry explained it this way.  Imagine the tomato branch is your arm.  When a branch starts growing out of the opposite side of your elbow, you want to cut that branch off.  For more info on suckering, check out this site.
    • You definitely want to stake indeterminate tomatoes because they need the support or the stems will break.

Heirlooms or Hybrids?

Heirlooms

Terry is an heirloom tomato fan (me, too).  If you want really delicious tomatoes, you will most likely want to go with Heirloom tomatoes.  Usually, heirlooms aren’t very pretty, but their flavor is superior to a hybrid tomato (IMHO). In addition to having better flavor, you can save the seeds of heirloom tomatoes and plant them year after year.  Bonus!  They are also more resistant to disease.

Hybrids

Hybrid tomatoes have their purpose, and you may love your hybrid varieties.  They are definitely still great to eat. However, you won’t be able to save their seeds.  If you do, you will not get the same type of tomato you planted.

Tomatoes not fruiting?

While tomatoes like it hot, they are a bit prima-donna-ish.  If it gets over 92 degrees, tomato pollen will die. Tomatoes love 80-90 degree temps.  But don’t give up hope in these HOT temps we are experiencing lately. When it cools off again (which it will, right?!), your tomatoes should get back to work.  

There really is so much that you can share about growing tomatoes, but I think that this is enough for today.  In the words of Terry, “Growing tomatoes is a big pain in the butt, but they’re worth it.” Thanks, Terry, for taking the time to share your tomato wisdom with me (and all of you)!  Happy growing to all you mater-lovin’ gardeners out there!

Here are a couple other useful sites:

https://www.tomatofest.com/tomato-questions.html

https://www.thespruce.com/top-tomato-growing-tips-1402587

 

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