Succulent, aromatic and bursting with flavor: the glorious tomato in all its many wonderful guises is undoubtedly one of our favorite things to grow! Read on or watch our video for our tried-and-tested techniques that will help you to enjoy masses of beautiful, trouble-free tomatoes. Now we’ll see how a little medication may improve your plants’ health and output… Yeah, indeed!!
Choose Varieties Wisely
Getting the most out of your tomatoes starts with the type you choose to cultivate. Make an informed decision! It may seem obvious, but the varieties you grow need to be suited to your climate: cool-climate varieties for shorter growing seasons like mine, and hot-climate varieties for very warm regions to ensure they can still produce fruit in summer.
Certain tomatoes are more disease-prone than others, so seek for variety descriptions that claim strong resistance to illnesses like blight. You may also want to seek out varieties known to give an early harvest, heavy yields and, of course, superior flavor – or all of the above!
Perfect Tomato Growing Conditions
Tomatoes adore the sun. A position in full sun (that means an average of at least eight hours a day) gives the best results in most areas, though if you’re in a hot climate you can get away with dappled shade.
The soil should be healthy and well-drained, and it should not have produced a crop from the same plant family (for example, potatoes or peppers) in the previous two years. You may greatly benefit your soil by adding a lot of organic matter before planting. Quality garden compost or well-rotted manure, applied lavishly, can supply enough nutrients to last the entire season, and will help with retaining moisture – a lifesaver during the heat of summer!
Tomato plants need space – not only to reach their full potential, but to encourage a good flow of air between plants, which should help to reduce the threat of disease. Most of the time, this implies allowing at least two feet (60cm) between plants.
Plant Tomatoes Deeply
Most plants need to be planted at the same depth they were growing at as a seedling or young plant. But, not tomatoes!
Tomatoes may be planted much deeper due to their ability to generate new roots anywhere along their stems. Planting deeper results in stronger, more robust plants that are poised to flourish. Plant deep at every stage: when transferring seedlings into their own pots by sinking them right up to their lowest leaves, and again when planting them into their final growing positions. Don’t be afraid of dropping plants quite deeply into their planting hole – it feels counterintuitive, but you really will get superior plants because of it!
One of the reasons why growbags and other shallow containers aren’t appropriate is that they don’t provide adequate support. If you are using growbags be sure to buy bigger, well-filled bags; plant only two tomatoes per bag, not the often-recommended three; and add an extra depth of potting mix using a special planting ring or by pushing in a wide pot with the bottom cut off it.
Tomato plants spread spontaneously. It’s one of the reasons they produce roots from their stems – it enables them to draw up more moisture and nutrients wherever they touch the soil to fuel growth. But, fruits that come into touch with the ground quickly spoil, which is why we train them up off the ground.
For determinate or bush tomato varieties that don’t grow as tall, a robust stake may suffice. Nevertheless, indeterminate or vine tomatoes must be supported over their full length and frequently need constant tying in. To keep these plants firmly supported, use sturdy bamboo canes, tight thread, or tall tomato cages.
Feeding and Watering
Watering is one area where accuracy is critical! Aim for consistent moisture as plants are establishing and then, once they begin to set fruit, let the soil or potting mix just-about dry out between waterings. It’s OK if the foliage shows early indications of withering before watering, but don’t overdo it. Water rushes into the fruits when water is applied, causing them to split. Watering is most effective in the early, when plants are most sensitive to moisture.
The best tomatoes come from plants that have access to all of the nutrients they need. Provide a slow-release organic fertilizer to the soil at planting time, or administer frequent liquid feeds using a tomato-specific product. Feeding tomatoes should also help to prevent blossom end rot, which takes us to our next point.
Avoid Pests and Diseases
Blossom end rot is a common complaint typically caused by a lack of calcium. Eggshells are high in calcium, making them ideal for tomato plants.
To begin, sterilize the shells by placing them in a heated oven for 20 minutes or in a microwave on high for two minutes. Smash them up and sprinkle them into and around your planting holes. Shells take a while to break down, but you can speed this along by grinding them up to increase the surface area, or even dissolving the grounds in water to water on at planting time. Aim for around two eggshells per plant. But, the most common cause of blossom end rot is erratic watering, which makes it difficult for the plants to absorb all of the nutrients they need.
The danger of blight is significantly more severe. This pathogen may wipe out an entire crop in a matter of days. Watering at the base of plants to prevent soaking the foliage can also help minimize difficulties. Many gardeners may even pluck the lowest leaves to promote ventilation and reduce splashback while watering. Mulching with clean, dry organic materials, such as straw, may also help to decrease splashback. If blight is often an issue in your region, you may discover that you can only produce tomatoes effectively in a greenhouse or under other protection.
Mercifully we don’t suffer from tomato hornworms where I garden, but I sympathize with those of you who do, as hornworms can strip foliage with ruthless efficiency. They’re also quite adept at camouflage! Do what you can to pick them off as you come across them, or deal with them once and for all by heading out at night with a blacklight or UV light, which will show them up as clear as day – or rather, clearer than day!
If possible, pick your tomatoes in the afternoon. The warmth of the sun will have developed all those rich aromas, and if you’ve watered in the morning the fruits will have had time to really concentrate that flavor.
Don’t put them in the fridge since the taste will be destroyed. Keep them on the countertop and aim to eat, cook or process them within the next few days.
Using Aspirin on Tomatoes
And remember that tiny medication I mentioned earlier? It’s aspirin, which is made from salicylic acid, a plant hormone that boosts the immune system. Spray your plants with a solution of 600mg of aspirin per gallon of water. They’ll think they are under attack and will up their defences for the remainder of their lives, making them less susceptible to real attacks, including blight! Not only that, but spraying aspirin onto your tomatoes is said to improve their taste and even their vitamin C content. It will even make plants more drought and cold resilient. Is there anything that aspirin cannot cure?
And there you have it – a few tips of the tomato trade to give your crop a real boost this summer. Do you plan to produce tomatoes this season, and if so, what types have you chosen? Please let me know in the comments section.