Before I was growing lavender, I was growing tomatoes with a passion. It’s a skill I learned back in California when I was working on organic farms.
Through the years, I’ve learned a few tricks that make a big difference.
Planting, pruning, trellising and other techniques go a long way when it comes to growing tomatoes. Not only can you prevent problems like bottom rot and sunburn with various techniques, you can also encourage your plants to produce bigger, more delicious fruits!
Before we dive into those tips, here’s a bit of useful vocabulary and facts about tomatoes.
These terms refer to the growing habits of tomato plant varieties.
Indeterminate vs. Determinate:
Indeterminate varieties of tomato plants produce fruits continually throughout the growing season. Indeterminate tomatoes won’t ripen all at once; you’ll be harvesting them as they ripen throughout the season.
Determinate varieties produce all at once. Once buds set fruit, the growth of the plant stops. All fruits ripen at the same time, and you harvest all the fruit at once.
Cultivar vs. Variety:
These terms are often used interchangeably. They refer to the category of plants in a subspecies; i.e. there are many cultivars/varieties of tomato plants.
A cultivar is a product of intentional breeding, and a variety is the product of accidental crossing.
An heirloom variety is generally considered to be a variety that’s been passed down through generations because of its valued characteristics. All heirloom varieties are open-pollinated but not all open-pollinated varieties are heirlooms.
There’s some debate as to what officially qualifies a variety as an heirloom. The term heirloom has been used loosely since the rise in popularity of heirlooms in recent years. Craig LeHoullier and Carolyn Male, Ph.D. have classified heirlooms into four categories:
- Commercial Heirlooms: Open-pollinated varieties introduced before 1940.
- Family Heirlooms: Seeds that have been passed down within a family for several generations.
- Created Heirlooms: Crossing two known parents (either two heirlooms or an heirloom and a hybrid) and de-hybridizing the resulting seeds (to eliminate the undesirable characteristics and stabilize desired characteristics).
- Mystery Heirlooms: Varieties that are products of natural cross-pollination of other heirloom varieties.
Open-pollinated (non-hybrid) varieties produce fruits that are identical to their parent.
The number of days from transplanting seedling to the first mature fruit.
Early-season varieties generally mature after 55 to 68 days; Mid-season varieties take 69 to 79 days to mature; late-season varieties will generally mature in 80 days or longer.
Beefsteak tomatoes are usually large and irregularly shaped with solid flesh.
Globe tomatoes are round in shape.
Oblate tomatoes are slightly flattened round in shape.
7 Secrets to Growing Great Tomatoes
1. Plant Deep
Tomato plants sprout additional roots along buried stems. Buy seedling with sturdy stems and bright green leaves. Dig a hole about 15 inches deep in an area that gets at least 6 to 8 hours full sun. Fill with amended soil. I add Azomite for calcium and more micronutrients to help prevent blossom end-rot. Pruning also encourages larger fruit production at the top of the plant. Snip off the seedling’s lowest leaves, then set it in to the hole and fill, burying the leafless parts.
2. Prune Correctly
Heirloom tomatoes are vigorous growers, they do need to be pruned more often. Pruning (also called “suckering”) is important because removing suckers provides better air circulation, which helps prevent foliar diseases. To remove suckers, pinch off the stem that grows in between two other stems.
3. Spacing & Supporting
Indeterminate and semi determinate tomatoes stake or trellis. If you do not have a lot of space plant 1.5 feet part – more space plant 3 to 4 feet apart. Where space is vey limited plant in a pulp pot at least 15 inches wide and deep. Plant 1 plant per pot. One can also use a tomato cage for support. A trellis system or staking works best for support and will keep plants tidy in your garden; preventing fruit from touching the ground. As the plant grows tie tomato to stake, or if trellising, using string, string from one stack to the next and capturing plant in between strings. This method forces branches to grow upwards.
To retain moisture, cover soil around the plants with a layer of about two inches of seedless hay or straw, or add paper mulch, or plastic or a corn based mulch.
5. Water, but not too much.
Irrigate deeply 3 to 4 days for the first few weeks. Once plant has started growing, water deeply, but less often. Over watering can cause cracking and less flavor. To prevent cracking, water after harvesting tomatoes. Drip irrigation works best. Tomatoes do not like to have overhead watering.
6. Don’t Overfeed
If plants over feed they produce lush leaves but produce few fruit. Apply balanced organic fertilizer at planting and again when flowers appear.
7. Time your harvest
Tomatoes taste better after they turn color, but just as they turn soft. Never refrigerate a tomato – it will lose flavors. Store on your counter top or a dry dark cool place.