When it comes to growing tomatoes in the garden, a few simple secrets can make all the difference to grow a bumper crop!
We absolutely love our home-grown tomatoes.
In fact, every year, they dominate nearly a quarter of our entire planting space.
For us, a big crop of home-grown tomatoes means delicious eats for the whole year.
As in salsa, pasta sauce, tomato soup, tomato juice, sun-dried tomatoes and more. And that is above and beyond all that we eat fresh.
So that means growing a big healthy crop is critical!
Here is a look at 5 simple secrets we employ to always ensure a banner crop!
#1 Always Plant In A New Space
Growing tomatoes in the same space year after year is a recipe for disaster.
Tomatoes are extremely susceptible to disease. Especially ones found in the soil.
For instance, tomato blight and blossom rot are both caused from issues in the soil.
But by rotating the crop to a new space each season, you highly reduce the risk of both.
Tomatoes are also heavy feeders from the soil. So moving plants to a new location also assures them of fresh nutrients.
As a good rule of thumb, tomato plants should never be planted in the same location for at least 3 years.
If you grow in pots or containers, the soil should be changed out every season.
#2 Plant Deep
Tomatoes need to be planted deep. We plant ours at a depth of about 6 to 8 inches.
This accomplishes two key things for the plants.
For starters, it helps protect them from the perils of Mother Nature. A deep root structure dries out less quickly. It also provides more support for plants to handle wind and storms.
But even more, planting deep also allows for additional roots to grow. And those roots are key to helping find nutrients and water for the plant.
And here is a bonus tip we’ve learned over the years. To make the perfect planting hole, use a post hole digger. See : How Planting With A Post Hole Digger Makes Gardening Easy
It makes beautiful, wide, deep holes. And it does so quickly! Product Link : Post Hole Digger
#3 Feed Tomatoes When You Plant
This is a huge secret to success! In fact, I would say it has been our biggest secret to success over the years.
As we plant each tomato, we put a huge energy boost into each hole.
We start by digging our holes with the post hole digger to about 10″ in depth.
And then we fill them back in as we plant with a mix of soil, compost, a few crushed egg shells, a couple teaspoons of coffee grounds, and a quarter cup of worm castings.
The compost, coffee grounds and worm castings provide amazing nutrients. And best of all, they release them back slowly as the plants grow.
The crushed eggs shells give a boost of calcium as they break down. This helps to prevent black rot and blossom-end rot.
More than anything else – use those worm castings! They simply work magic.
They are the most amazing natural fertilizer we have ever used. Product link : Worm Castings
#4 Provide Support – Early!
Supporting your tomatoes is a big key to keeping them healthy.
Unsupported vines can easily be damaged. They also are more susceptible to disease and pests when they are allowed to sprawl on the ground.
And all of that tangled mess also keeps air circulation and available sunlight to a minimum. Both big factors in helping to ripen tomatoes.
Whether you use cages, stakes, or a home-made contraption like our stake-a-cage, plants need support!
And be sure to put your support in before you plant.
Not only is it easier for the gardener, it keeps you from trampling around the roots. Or even worse, damaging them by driving stakes in the ground.
One final hint – as the plants begin to grow during the first month, be sure to prune out the bottom 3 to 4″ of stems and shoots. See : Why and How To Prune Tomatoes
Why? It allows that all-important air and light to circulate through the plants and rows.
It also makes it a little more difficult for garden bugs and pests to find their way onto your plants.
And it even makes it easier to water too!
When growing tomatoes – don’t forget the mulch!
Mulch plays a huge role in the health and production level of tomato plants.
Mulching helps to regulate soil temperature. It also helps keep soil and nutrients from eroding during strong rains.
But most importantly, it keeps competing weeds out of the picture. Weeds that rob plants of the vital nutrients they need to grow strong.
We actually double-mulch our plants.
First, we place a 1 to 2″ thick layer of compost around each plant. Within that mulch, we mix in another quarter-cup of worm castings.
We finish by adding a 4 to 6″ thick layer of straw around each plant.
Together, they create a 6 to 8″ wide compost / fertilizing circle around each stalk.
Of more importance, it acts as a slow-release fertilizer as nutrients strain through it during watering or rainfalls.
And remember, as you work in your garden, stay off the ground directly around your tomato plants.
Stepping on and around a plant’s root zone compacts the soil. And this can plant a huge role in keeping roots from developing to maximum capacity.
One last note on mulching : If the season and soil are still a little cool, hold off.
Tomatoes love warm soil. And mulching while it’s cool can actually keep the soil from heating up.
There you have it. Our 5 simple secrets to growing tomatoes.
Happy Gardening! Jim and Mary.
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