Nothing says summer like the taste of big, juicy homegrown tomatoes. For more than 20 years, I have been growing my favorites like the mildly tart green zebra, the richly flavorful Cherokee purple and the surprisingly perfect cherry tomato, sweet 100. With each passing season, I learn a new trick to a more robust harvest. Here are my top-five tips.
- Start them off right. Look for young, healthy plants with sturdy stalks and vivid green leaves. A good growing environment is important, too. Tomatoes love the heat, for instance, so pick a spot in your garden that gets at least six to eight hours of sunlight a day, preferably near a wall to help concentrate the heat and protect them from the wind. Once you’ve prepared your soil properly with lots of organic matter, dig a hole about 12-inches deep for each tomato plant. Now here comes the trick: Pinch off the lower leaves and stems and plant the tomato deep so only the top six inches are showing. This simple technique helps to establish a healthy root system.
- Keep a regular watering schedule. Once established, water your plants deeply and regularly at the root base. But keep a consistent schedule, watering your plants every four to five days depending on your local weather conditions (more often for container gardening). Inconsistent watering-a day here, a day there-will lead to plant stress preventing your tomatoes from reaching their maximum development, or worse, blossom end rot, a dreaded malady that attacks the bottom of your tomatoes with a blackened leathery lesion.
- Pinch off suckers. When you see little shoots that grows between the stems and main branches of your tomato plants, pinch them off to avoid the plants from becoming too bushy and out of control. Some gardeners leave these suckers untouched for a higher crop yield but I believe that the quality of the tomatoes suffers. Smaller plants with lower yield lead to tomatoes with more concentrated flavor.
- Fertilize. Tomatoes are heavy feeders and need a little nourishment throughout the growing season. Mix some organic fertilizer in each hole when you first plant your tomatoes at the beginning of the season, and then again once the fruit begins to set. After that, fertilize every two to three weeks. And don’t forget to water well after each application.
- Keep on top of pest control. If aphids attack new leaves, simply remove with a blast of water from your garden hose. Look for hornworms, too, those sneaky and very destructive pests. Although they can reach up to four inches long, their pale green coloring blends right in with your plants making them difficult to see. Carefully examine the bottom of stems where they hide or follow their poop! When you see small black dropping on the leaves, follow the path up a few inches and you should find the culprit. Simply pick the hornworms off and destroy them by dropping them in a bucket of soapy water. I have also had some luck with companion planting-a few marigolds and dill plants near my tomatoes usually do the trick.
Other articles by Christina Baglivi Tinglof:
5 Great Summer Jobs for Teens
Make Some Serious Cash Selling Your Kids’ Old LEGOs
The Best Hikes in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains