Project Green Thumbs: Tips, tricks and warnings for growing tomatoes

Want glorious tomatoes like mine? Try these tips and tricks learned from
four years of failure.

“One tomato. I will now consider the entire garden a success.”

Those sentences captioned my friend Jon’s photo of his garden’s first itty bitty fruit. The sentiment captures my whole gardening ethos. The reason for being–at least when it comes to Summer gardening–is the veritable tomato.

Now, I’ve been after a bumper crop of beautiful red orbs for years. In my fifth season of gardening, as I confessed earlier this Spring in a post about front yard veggie gardening, I had to get creative, e.g., moving the important veggies out of the backyard garden and into full sun.

Well, a few months into that project I’m pleased to report STUNNING success, mild failure and a few dos and don’ts for growing tomatoes.

A tomato plant grown from a small cutting. The bad
news? That pot is way too small. The depth is fine
but the width is too narrow.

Do use a large size when growing tomatoes in pots. Go big or go home if you plan to grow tomatoes in pots. I’ve used a variety of pots this summer and the too-small sizes are producing tomatoes with blossom end rot due to inconsistent watering because the pots dry out so quickly (see below).

Don’t water inconsistently. Want wilty, sad plants? Or maybe fruit with big ugly dried up spots on the bottom (i.e, blossom end rot)? Then water inconsistently. Tomatoes like consistent, deep watering. If you’re growing in pots, like me, then that probably means watering twice a day when its really hot. Be warned.

Do use soil amendments and fertilizer. I’m convinced that tomatoes must be Italian… they are so hungry! After reading an enlightening post on how to plant a tomato by Love Apple Farms, I’ve adopted their amendment process. In rich compost-filled soil, I plant tomatoes with bone meal, crushed egg shells and fish emulsion (do note: they use fish heads, but I couldn’t find any locally). At the very least, get thee some Miracle Grow.

Don’t forget to support or stake when the plants are small. Tomatoes seem to shoot up overnight and what you may not realize when they’re dainty is that they will soon (hopefully) be laden with heavy fruit. Best to provide support from the beginning so you’re not trying to wrangle a tomato cage over a giant multi-stemmed plant like someone I know, ahem.

When I see this picture, I hear the Hallelujah Chorus in my head.

Do pick fruit at optimum ripeness. Otherwise, what is the point? Don’t even think about picking tomatoes when they aren’t red yet (disclaimer- Unless you’re expecting a freeze. Then pick them all and make fried green tomatoes). Tomatoes are a lesson in patience and the reward is worth the wait. If you’re impatient, plant several cherry tomatoes to tide you over.

Don’t let pests get out of control. This year, I’ve been battling white flies and slugs. And lest you be like my neighbor and say “slugs don’t like tomatoes,” well you could have fooled me by the way they were going to town last week. I use a couple different organic sprays to ward off the worst of the beasties, but I admit, I’m not very conscientious so I have several tomatoes with worm holes. Oops. (Oh, don’t think about throwing away slightly blemished fruit. Just cut around the bad part!)

Do take cuttings and grow more plants. A fabulous secret? Tomato plants are basically 10 for the price of one. When pruning, simply take a stalk and stick it in water. After a week or two, it’ll sprout roots. Then plant and voila. My cuttings grew so fast, I can hardly tell which ones I purchased as full plants and which were twigs to start.

Don’t even think of planting in shade. You’ll just be disappointed, take my word for it. I have four years of experience!

Gardener friends- Any other great tips?


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