Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Tricks for great tomatoes

Young tomato plant in "V" pruning

Tuesday, May 1, 2012
There are a few tricks to know about growing tomatoes. The first is knowing what type of tomato to purchase. 

There are two types of tomatoes-indeterminate and determinate.  Determinate grow to a set height and fruit sets all at once.  This can be a great candidate for canning if you would like to get your tomato canning done all at once.  Indeterminate continue to grow and yield fruits (yes, the tomato is actually a fruit) until frost.  These are the best for fresh tomatoes all season long.

I grow only indeterminates.  For what we don’t eat, I freeze whole in quart freezer bags for chili and salsa until fall.  Come fall, I start canning the surplus.  Right before the first frost, I pick all the tomatoes left on the vine and put in a dark place for them to ripen.  We have fresh tomatoes into December.  They are definitely not the same as summer tomatoes, but better than anything you can buy in the store!
With indeterminate tomatoes, they definitely need something to help them grow upwards (although not required, it does make harvesting much easier).  A very sturdy pole can be used and the plant tied onto it as it grows.  The more popular option is a “tomato cage” that the tomato grows up in to.  This is what we use.  It is important to get the cage on while the plants are small or severe damage may ensue when you try to force the gangly plant into it’s cage.
Tomatoes are susceptible to blossom-end rot and fungal diseases.  End rot is typically caused by not having enough calcium in the soil.  The best way to prevent fungal disease is to rotate the plants and not plant them in the same spot every year.  
So, when planting, it is important to provide the right fertilizer and nutrients.  In each planting hole, I added a handful of worm castings and dusted the roots with mycorrhizal life support.  It contains mycorrhizal, vitamins and minerals.  This blend improves soil fertility and the plants ability to take in the nutrition it needs.  It is not all about just the big 3-nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium.  They are important but vitamins, minerals, and particularly living soil makes a huge difference in how healthy and lush the plants become.  I also added fertilizer made specifically for tomatoes so that they get the calcium they need.
When you plant your tomato, make sure to plant it deeply.  I take off all the limbs except the top couple and bury the plant up to these stems.  Roots will grow from where the removed and buried limbs were.
Now that your plants have the right start, pruning is the next step.  To get the highest yields, it is important to prune your tomatoes.  You want no branches below 12” (some recommend 18”).  You also want to prune the plant to only 2 branches, the center stalk and one side stalk.  You want to keep the “suckers” cut or pinched off as well as the tomato grows.
Now, to on-going watering and fertilizing.  Many think more is better when it comes to watering and fertilizing.  Not so for tomatoes!  What you end up with are tons of greenery, mushy tomatoes, and very few of them.  Some tomato afficiados recommend a deep watering and fertilizer at planting, then again at flowering, and that is it.  I do water when there is a long dry spell.  Overwatering or erratic watering can also cause the fruits to crack.  
If your plant will not flower and fruit with lush green foilage, quit fertilizing and watering.  A little stress should jump start it.
Although tomatoes love hot weather (they will not flower until night time temps get above 55), they also don’t like it too hot.  If daytime temps get above 90 and nighttime temps above 76, the plant will drop its flowers.
If you want to grow tomatoes in a container, you need to either have a really big container for full size tomatoes (5 gallon) or plant varieties that are adapted for containers.  Tumbler, Tiny Tim and Gold Nugget are all good small fruit bearing plants for containers.  
If you grow in containers, you will need to water weekly or maybe even more depending on the container/plant size.

See my blog from January 6th on varieties of tomatoes to grow.

1 comment:

  1. This should be titled "Everything You Wanted to Know About Growing Tomatoes". I learned more in this article than all the years spent growing them in my back yard. Fun!