Want a grow great tomatoes? Whether you have grown a garden for years, or will be planting your first this season – chances are tomatoes are in the plan! Tomatoes are one of the most widely home-grown vegetable each year – and with good reason – they can be used in hundreds of ways and thousands of dishes!
Beyond eating fresh off the vine or making great salads – they are the perfect base for salsa, pasta sauce, ketchup, salsa, pizza sauce, salsa, marinara sauce and more!
Not to mention, of course, top a thick slice of an heirloom Brandywine tomato with cheese and put between a couple of slices of bread – and you may have found the perfect “fast-food” sandwich!
We have written many articles on our favorite vegetable (although, it’s technically a fruit), and here are some of the keys we have found to growing a bumper crop each season!
The Keys To Growing Great Tomatoes
Getting Them Off To A Great Start:
Tomatoes like warm weather – so be sure that the soil has warmed up before putting them into the ground. Tomatoes are one of our last crops to go in each year – we usually wait til at least the 15th of May here in Ohio. If you are in a colder climate – you can try warming up your rows with a sheet of black plastic in the weeks preceding planting. The black plastic draws in the sun and warms up the soil much more quickly.
Plant Them Deep – And Give Them Coffee And Eggs!
We like to plant our tomatoes deep in the soil – usually planting down below the first two leaves on the stem. This allows for additional roots to grow that will help to feed nutrients and gather water for the plant.
To make planting easy – we use a post hole digger to make nice wide, deep holes – filling them back in with a mix of soil, compost, a few crushed egg shells and a couple teaspoons of coffee grounds for each planting hole. The coffee grounds provide a little nitrogen – and the eggs shells give a boost of calcium as they break down – helping to prevent black rot. Just like us – tomatoes benefit from a good breakfast to start their day. 🙂
We also sprinkle a few teaspoons of coffee grounds and crushed shells around the plants on top and mix in with the mulch for the same purpose.
Tomatoes can easily become weak and prone to disease when allowed to just sprawl around the ground. It’s also an open invitation to pests and bugs to climb aboard – so be sure to give them support – whether it be a stake, cage, panel or fencing wire. We make our own inexpensive and very sturdy tomato stake-a-cages with a combination of fencing wire and wood stakes. (See: How we make our stake-a cages) . Be sure to keep them tied up as the season goes along for maximum support.
The proper amount of water is the key to a crop of great tomatoes! Water too little- and they shrivel up and can die – water too much – and they can become weak and lifeless.
So what are some good basic practices? Water at least every other day when plants are young – especially during hot days when they are young. Also make sure to water early in the day or in the evening, and try to water the roots – not the foliage – so the water on the leaves will not burn the plants from the sun. If your leaves are starting to turn yellow – that is a sure sign they are getting too much water – so back off for a few days and let them dry out.
We use a 2 gallon sprayer – remove the spraying attachment – and water directly to the plant’s base to conserve water and not touch the leaves.
As a general rule of thumb – tomatoes need at least 1″ of water a week – whether by rain or you. When you do water – water deep enough that the roots are thoroughly soaked – allowing them to grow deeper in the soil and not stay near the surface where they will dry out quicker.
As the plant begins to grow – we will prune off the bottom 6 to 8″ of stems from the main stock for several reasons.
It allows for good air flow and easy watering of the plant – both of which help the plant to grow stronger and speed along the ripening process later. By clearing out the area around the bottom of each plant – you are reducing the ability for plant feeding insects to find their way up onto the plants, and the improved circulation helps cut down on the chance for fungus to develop on the plants. As the season progress – we will also remove some of the middle stems from the plant to allow for circulation and light to help the ripening process.
Be sure to mulch around your plants to help keep the soil temperature regulated and moisture in the soil. A simple one to two-inch layer about 8 inches around each plant goes a long way! You can use grass clippings, straw, shredded leaves or compost. We like to use compost – as the nutrients leach through to the plant each and every time we water.
We make a slight well out of the compost mulch around each plant to help funnel the water directly to the plant – this way the water has a chance to soak down through and not run off. (See: The basics of mulch in the landscape)
We like to give our plants a little boost during the first 6 weeks of growth with a little compost tea – an all-natural fertilizer made from soaking compost in water. (See: How to make your own compost tea) Tomatoes can really benefit from a boost or two of fertilizer early on in their growth. Not too much though – over fertilization can result in a whole lot of leaf growth – and very few tomatoes.
Try An Heirloom Variety or Two!
Last – expand your tomato planting into the area of Heirloom tomatoes! (See: Growing Heirloom Tomatoes – Experience Real Flavor!)
Whether it be a Brandywine, Purple Cherokee, Black Krim or any of the hundreds of other old-time varieties – you might be surprised to find out how much taste you have been missing over those bland super market varieties that we have all become accustomed to. Sadly – those are bred for shelf life and not flavor!
Happy Tomato Growing and Gardening! – Jim and Mary
Happy Gardening! Jim and Mary