10 Tips for Great Tomatoes

heritage tomatoesIt’s May – the weather is warming up and it will soon be time to plant out the tomatoes.

Let’s assume you’ve either started some tomatoes from seed or have picked up some organic heirloom tomato seedlings from Dig This.  Here are some tricks we’ve learned over the years to grow amazing tomatoes:

 

 

 

  1. Warm up the soil before you plant them. Tomatoes love heat. Cover the planting area with black or red plastic a couple of weeks before you intend to plant. Those extra degrees of soil warmth will translate into earlier tomatoes.
  2. Plant your tomato plants deeper than they come in the pot, all the way up to the top few leaves. Tomatoes will develop roots all along their stems and more roots will make for a stronger plant. You can either dig a deep hole or simply dig a shallow trench and lay the plant sideways. The plant will quickly straighten itself up and grow toward the sun. Just be careful not to drive your stake or cage into the buried stem!
  3. Put a banana peel in the planting hole. Banana peels provide much needed potassium.
  4. Mulch – but not until after the ground has had a chance to warm up. Mulching conserves water and prevents soil born diseases from splashing up on the plants.
  5. Remove the bottom one foot of leaves once your tomato plants reach about 3 feet tall. These are the oldest leaves and they are usually the first leaves to develop fungus problems.
  6. Prune judiciously. Remove suckers that develop in the crotch joint of two branches to maintain one strong central stem, but go easy on pruning the rest of the plant. You can thin out a few leaves to allow the sun to reach the ripening fruit, but it’s the leaves that are photosynthesizing and creating the sugars that give flavor to your tomatoes.
  7. Water deeply and regularly while the plants are developing. Irregular watering leads to blossom end rot and cracking. Once the fruit begins to ripen, you can ease up on watering. Lessening the water will coax the plant into concentrating its sugars, for better flavor.
  8. Feed your tomatoes! Tomatoes are heavy feeders, whether you’re using compost, organic fertilizer or synthetic water-soluble nutrients. Choose a fertilizer that is higher in phosphorus (the second number on a fertilizer label) because too much nitrogen will encourage leaf growth at the expense of big fruit. Whatever you use, it’s better to give your plants a steady stream of weak fertilizer than big doses every other week or once a month. Consider cutting the fertilizer dose in half or quarters (depending on the manufacturer’s recommendations) and feeding every week.
  9. Plan for success! Make sure you have a staking system in place before the plants start to bear fruit, and provide a sturdy enough staking system to hold up heavy plants.
  10. Watch the temperature if you are growing your tomatoes in a greenhouse.  Tomatoes won’t produce flowers – and that means no fruit – if the temperature is over 90º F or 32º C.  That’s usually not a problem here on Vancouver Island for tomatoes grown in the garden, but if you have them in a greenhouse, provide more ventilation and shade during the hottest parts of the day.