Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicon) can be very productive! Guinness World Records recognized a “tomato tree” in a Walt Disney World greenhouse that produced 32,000 tomatoes in one growing season! Maybe you don’t need that many tomatoes. But you probably have a favorite tomato sauce, a family recipe, a special pizza sauce that gets even better with tomatoes you grow yourself. My secret is to add fresh basil after cooking fresh tomatoes and freezing the sauce. There’s instant magic when thawed! One of summer’s favorite fruits (yes, fruit!), the tomato is the queen of the garden.
Remember that to successfully grow tomatoes, tomatoes need a lot of sun (8 hours a day) and warmth at all stages of their development. The name “tomato” comes from the Aztec word tomatl; The plants were domesticated in Mexico.
When growing tomatoes from seed, you have hundreds of varieties to choose from, from round to heart-shaped, red to white to yellow, orange, black or multicolored. Yellow pear tomatoes are undoubtedly my grandkids favorite snack! You can also choose whether you want determinate tomatoes, which will set all their fruit at once, or indeterminate ones, which won’t stop fruiting (and not growing any bigger) until cold weather sets in. There is tomato paste and ‘beefsteak’ (large tomatoes). ), which are perfect for sandwiches. You can pick old-fashioned heirloom tomatoes or hybrids that are resistant to some common diseases (such as Fusarium wilt, Verticillium wilt, mosaic virus).
If starting from seed, sow your chosen tomatoes indoors in sterile soilless mix about 6 weeks before your last frost date. Tomatoes take a long time to set fruit, around 100 days. Remember, they need warmth, at least 70 degrees, to germinate. Using heating mats will speed up germination. Grow lights will help keep plants from becoming spindly. Reduce watering to harden off before replanting outdoors.
If you want to skip the seeds, nurseries now have a wide variety of ready-to-plant seedlings. Wait for the soil and weather to warm to at least 60 degrees during the day and 50 degrees at night before transplanting outdoors. Colder temperatures stunt growth and can lead to cat facing (fruit malformations) and later promote blossom end rot.
To sustain their growth, tomatoes can root on all parts of the stem that come in contact with the soil. If you plant your seedlings sideways in a ditch with only the top leaves showing (remove the other leaves), your tomatoes will root more and be more productive. The roots will also appreciate being closer to the surface where it’s warmer.
Don’t plant tomatoes after potatoes, eggplant, or peppers — they’re all from the nightshade family and carry the same pests and diseases. Give your tomato plants plenty of air circulation, 3 to 4 feet in between.
A soil test will help determine if you need modifications. Tomatoes grow best in humus, rich soil. Soil test results include fertilizer recommendations. Instead of chemical fertilizers, you can consider the following natural options: compost, bone meal, and greensand. Consult your local master gardener for recommendations on how much of these additives should be used to suit your garden area. A mulch of (untreated) grass clippings or cut cover crop (hairy vetch or purple clover) helps smother weeds, retain soil moisture, and add nitrogen. If you don’t have space in the garden, tomatoes can be grown in pots if the pots are big enough.
Here we go! The tomato plant is a climber that can roam freely on the ground, however many fruits are lost to predators and rot. It is best to keep the plants off the ground. Some popular trellises include collapsible square metal cages, round towers made from roll fence, or even simple 5-foot stakes. A friend of mine grows hundreds of tomatoes this way. This requires a lot of pruning for them to grow from a single stem. Shoots or stolons constantly grow from leaf connections on the stem. For large cages or certain strains, pruning is not necessary just to keep growth under control. If using stakes, pinch the shoots to retain a few stems and prune regularly. After you identify the main stem, it’s good hygiene practice to remove all leaves six inches from the ground. Many diseases come from spores in the soil carried by splashing rain.
Biting into the first tomato of the season is one of the first joys of summer! Regular harvesting increases the yield.
Time to cook your pasta sauce! For picky eaters who only eat cooked, tomatoes don’t lose their vitamins when cooked, but vitamins K and A do. They provide plenty of vitamins C, B and lycopene (an antioxidant).
Tomatoes need regular watering in addition to plenty of sun to avoid blossom end rot caused by a lack of calcium in the part of the fruit furthest from the stem. Mulching the soil, not over-fertilizing, and planting resistant varieties can solve the problem.
Temperatures above 86 degrees lead to uneven coloring of the fruit and there is no fruit set above 92 degrees.
Tomato hawkmoth, a large green caterpillar, is found in the vines. Pick them up and kill them in soapy water. When covered in white cocoons, they die from a small parasitic braconid wasp (Cotesia). Leave them alone, more wasps infect more hornworms.
Throughout the season and fall, good hygiene practices go a long way in growing healthy plants, especially against early and late rots that originate from fungal spores in the soil and on diseased foliage. Immediately remove any diseased, yellowing leaves. Do not compost infected material. In the fall, remove any fruit or plant parts from the garden. Gently sterilize cages, stakes, and trellis with a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. Disinfect tools when working with tomatoes
At the end of the season, before the first frost, remove all fruit, including those that are still green. Extend the season, let green tomatoes slowly ripen in the cellar and check every other day. Light is not necessary for maturation. These tomatoes are great in comforting soups, especially with butternut squash or apples, and some of you will like green fried tomatoes. Enjoy!