I know my friends up north are still getting freezing weather, but it’s tomato time here and it soon will be everywhere. Take heart!
Here’s some tomato talk to get you in the mood and ready to tom.
Twelve Tips For Terrific Tomatoes
1. The royal treatment.
Ever see a period piece where a chambermaid uses a warming pan to take the chill off the sheets before milady retires for the night? Metaphorically, that’s what you can do for your tomato plants to give them a jump start on the season. Preheat the soil in your garden with clear plastic a couple of weeks prior to planting. It can also help reduce weeding later on (causes weed seeds to germinate and then be killed by overheating).
2. Bring on the rays.
Choose a location that receives full sun.
3. Prime soil.
Plant in loamy, fertile soil with ample organic materials and good drainage.
4. Deep roots.
Bury your tomato plants deeper than they were grown in their pots. Leave about 3-6 in. of crown above the soil. They will form roots along the stem and develop a stronger, deeper root system.
5. Elbow room.
Don’t crowd your plants (24-30 in. between plants, 30-36 in. b/w rows). Give them enough space to allow for good air flow around each plant. It will help them stay disease-free.
6. Up and away.
To keep your toms growing up and away from potential pathogens and creepy crawlies in the soil, stake your plants when you plant them. If you stake once the plants are established, you may damage the root system.
7. Cover up.
Once the soil is warm, mulch around your plants. In addition to keeping weeds down, it helps reduce moisture evaporation and soil splash-up onto your plant leaves which will help prevent the spread of disease. I use straw. Black or red plastic is also a popular choice. The jury is still out on the benefits of red plastic, but some studies say it boosts growth.
Especially if your soil is lacking in organic matter, fertilize at planting and every month afterward with an organic tomato fertilizer such as Tomato-tone or Tomatoes Alive! or your own magic mixture. Pull back the mulch a few inches and sprinkle a small amount around the stem, but not touching the stem, gently work in with a fork, and replace the mulch. Fertilize every two to three weeks with a liquid fish emulsion, kelp, or compost tea. Allow the emulsion solution to soak into the soil to feed the root system as well as foliar feed. Slow down on the fertilizer at harvest time or whenever you detect foliar growth at the expense of fruit production.
9. Prune up.
Once the plants are a couple or three feet tall, remove the lower leaves several inches (up to a foot) from the bottom. Especially remove all leaves which contact the soil. These lower leaves are most likely to have disease problems.
10. Sucker pinch.
Pinch off the “suckers”, leaves which grow in the joint between the stem and the branches. It helps the plant concentrate its energy on larger fruits.
11. Drink deep.
Water regularly and deeply, especially in the early growth stages of the plant, while the leaves, blossoms, and fruit are first developing. Avoid light watering (teaches the plant to have shallow roots) and erratic watering (can lead to blossom drop, blossom end rot, and weaken the plant). In addition, overwatering can lead to cracking. Once the fruit has begun to mature, you can hold back a bit on the water to promote ripening and improve flavor. Plus, a little stress from less water helps the tomatoes to produce higher levels of antioxidants and better flavor.
12. Enough already.
If you are growing indeterminate tomato varieties, pinch off the growing tip of the main stem once the tomato has reached the height you want so the fruit will mature earlier.