Summer has arrived and the heat is on, and that means tomato season is here! We depend heavily on our tomato crop to stock our pantry to enjoy pasta sauce, salsa, tomato juice, ketchup, barbecue sauce and more for the entire year – so getting the most from every plant is a must. (See: Top OWG Tomato Canning Recipes)
For us, we have found that there are a few “key” garden chores during the hot summer months that can make all the difference in getting a larger harvest from our tomato crop.
Quick Tips To Keep Tomato Plants Healthy
Pick Often – It’s extremely important to harvest plants regularly. When too much produce is left on the vine of indeterminate varieties – plants will begin to slow or stop production of new blossoms. This tip applies to peppers and nearly all vegetables as well. Pick regularly, and you will have more to pick!
Pick a Bit Early – Although everyone dreams of plucking that perfectly ripe tomato right from the vine – don’t be afraid to pick your tomatoes before they are fully ripened. The longer a ripening fruit stays on the vine – the more it becomes attractive to pests and disease. There is nothing more depressing than having the perfect tomato forming – only to watch it go bad on the vine from pests, disease, or rot from staying on the vine too long.
We usually pick our tomatoes when they are a day or two from becoming fully ripened – and let them finish off on a drying rack on our back porch. We created the rack out of hardware cloth and a few untreated 2 x 4’s, and it allows the tomatoes to ripen under a bit more protection. The hardware cloth allows for good air flow good and lets them ripen fully on all sides. Whatever you do – do not put them in the fridge to ripen – they will stop ripening as soon as they hit those cool temps!
Keep Competing Weeds at Bay – Weeds are one of the biggest detriments to the overall health of tomato plants. Tomato plants need all of the nutrients and water they can get in the summer months to keep producing fruit. If your plants are smothered in weeds, they are losing those nutrients to the weeds. In addition, those weeds become a great place for pests to hang out and multiply. Last but not least, remember that if you let this year’s weeds take over and go to seed, they will only multiply next year’s problem. (see: How to Stop Weeds In The Garden)
Remove the Damage and Disease – Here is another big one in keeping your plants healthy! Take a few minutes a day as you walk through your garden to remove any branches that have broken off or begin to show signs of disease. In addition, be sure to prune out the bottom branches to allow light, water and circulation to your plants. Those three things are invaluable in keeping your crop healthy and producing. (See: How and Why To Prune Tomatoes)
Support those ‘Maters! – If your plants have not been staked or supported, now is the time to make sure they are. Plants left to sprawl around the ground are an easy target for all kinds of pests and animals – not to mention it is nearly impossible to remove any weeds without damaging the vines. Staking or caging also allows for good air flow and better ripening of your crop. (see : Building your own Tomato Supports)
Stop Fertilizing – This one surprises a few people, but is really important to stop any type of heavy fertilizing once summer sets in. Too much fertilizer can actually lower your harvest totals as the plants use the nutrients of the fertilizer to create more leaves and stems – and less fruit.
Here’s to a great tomato crop in 2016!
Happy Gardening! Jim and Mary
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