With tomatoes being the most popular vegetable in the home garden, you’d think we’d know all there is to know. But how can we ever know everything about growing tomatoes? Whether you’re just starting out or have been growing them for decades, perhaps a few of these tips from my own gardening experiences might assist you in a great tomato harvest this year!
1. Choose the Right Kind
I have to bite my tongue when I see people canning slicing tomatoes, especially for sauce. Don’t they know how much extra work that is?
Tomatoes suited for slicing (like Beefsteak and Brandywine) have heavy amounts of juice and little flesh. Therefore, when canning sauces, paste, salsa, and stewed tomatoes, it takes more pounds for less final product. Plus, reducing the tomato juice into a usable sauce takes longer.
If you want tomatoes for sandwiches, wraps, burgers, and fresh eating, plant a couple of slicing varieties. But if you plan to can your tomatoes, choose a paste variety. The classic Roma tomatoes have always worked well for me, and I’ve also had good success with the indeterminate Amish Paste variety.
2. Mulch, mulch, mulch
When your tomatoes are about 8″ high, mulch the bed well. A four-inch coat of mulch will give your tomatoes several benefits. First, it acts as a barrier between the diseases in the soil and the leaves, helping to deter issues such as early blight.
Second, mulch will keep moisture levels more consistent. This is especially important during the heat of the summer, when dry periods followed by a heavy rain can cause fruit to crack. My favorite mulch is wood chips, but you can read my full review of four different types of mulch I’ve used here.
3. Bury Deep, at an Angle
Most vegetables and fruit you plant at the same level as its original planting container. With tomatoes, however, the deeper the better. It’s even okay to trim off a few lower leaves to bury the stems deeper.
What happens is those stems will produce more roots. This allows more nutrients and water to be accessible to the plant.
Another method I’ve used is to bury the plant at a 45 degree angle. It looks funny, but within a few days, the plant uprights itself toward the sun. Common thought is planting at an angle allows those new roots to access more nutrients and water in the more fertile topsoil.
Burying deep also, I’ve noticed, gives the plant a more solid foundation, which is helpful when those heavy tomatoes begin fruiting. This is especially beneficial if you’re planting transplants that have outgrown their container.
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4. Plant Basil Next to Your Tomatoes
Basil is thought to repel pests that might find tomatoes tasty. Perhaps it even attracts beneficial insects who munch on any bad ones. Though I can’t say for sure if this is true, I can tell you that I’ve never had major problems with pests on my tomatoes, and I’ve always planted a few basil plants around them. Plus, when it comes to the kitchen, basil and tomatoes go together in so many dishes!
5. Plan the Perfect Raised Bed Soil Mix
My most productive tomatoes always grow in my 4’x8′ raised beds. Again, this is an unscientific suggestion, but I add 1 bag of compost and 1 bag of manure to the soil in the bed. Plus, I add a handful of organic Tomato Tone (affiliate link) and a few tablespoons of crushed egg shells to each planting hole.
My best tomato harvest came after I shoveled my chickens’ manure with pine bedding into the raised bed three months prior to planting tomatoes. The three months allowed the manure to break down into the soil and form a basis of good fertility when planting time came. Then I added a layer of homemade compost after the plants went in.
6. Don’t Transplant Too Early
I know, when spring is knocking, you’re just itching to get those tomatoes in the ground. But unless your transplants are starting to get leggy and outgrow their container, it’s best to wait. Adjusting to new soil is a shock enough for the young plant, but those cool overnight temperatures (less than the 50s) can cause growth to lag. Plus, a late spring frost can kill the plant if it isn’t covered.
If your soil is not well-draining (like mine), planting a little later will also allow the soil to dry out a bit. Planting in soggy soil is horrible for tomatoes, and sometimes they don’t recover completely.
Now, being the analytical person that I am, I’d prefer scientific evidence to back up some of these claims, but for now, I’m simply sharing my experience with you. I’d love to hear your tips as well! Please share them with me in the comments! We could all use more tips for more and better tomatoes!
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