We have limited space in the suburban garden that is the Squirrels’ Nest so tomatoes are awarded prime real estate. Most every other plant is incidental, and subservient to the placement of the tomato plants.
“Watermelon this year?” Ms. Professor may ask. “Sorry, Sweetie, we need the space for the Old German variety I want to try this year.”
“I’m sorry, my Darling, that takes up way too much space. My Granny told me you must plant at least four rows to get good pollination (Corn is a wind-pollianted plant) and we’re going to want that space for the Brandywines.”
So, in reality, our “garden” is really, more or less, (okay, more) a tomato patch.
And we are okay with that. Because we love tomatoes. And I mean LOVE! There’s a reason the French refer to a tomato as the Pomme D’amour, or “Love Apple.”
And so, here’s our humble offering of tips for growing tomatoes.
1-Find a good spot. We’re lucky. We have a geat spot: southern exposure, good drainage, and easily accessible from the kitchen. And at least 6 hours of sunlight is a good rule of thumb. Of course, the problem comes when we must rotate crop varieties, to cut down on the number of tomato-attacking pathogens in any given plot of soil. We do the best we can by alternating containers and shifting the beds a bit, but we have yet to fully overcome this particular hurdle.
2-Grow your own seedlings. Although many good garden centers have interesting varieties thse days, the best bet is to get seeds and start your own plants. (If your family can grant you the forbearance to occupy most of the sunny windowsills and horizonatal surfaces in your home for a few weeks in the spring.) Cherokee Purple was a big hit this year as was the delicious Mr. Stripey and Black Krim. Brandywine is always a classic and you can’t beat that flavor!
3-Don’t be afraid to bury the plant as deep as you can when transplanting. Any buried stem will form roots. Some like to bury the stem in a “trench” running horizontal under the ground to take advantage of the warmth of the spring sun to stimulate growth. We usually just dig a deep hole and plop ’em in. Oh, and get lots of good compost in there while digging that hole. And if your transplants have any blossoms, pinch them off in order to concentrate the plants energy on building a big, sturdy root system. As hard as it is to pinch away those future tomatoes, this will pay dividends when you have a big healthy plant covered in blossoms..and then tomatoes!
4-Make sure your soil is well-drained (and, again, augmented with plenty of compost.) We use several large containers and a raised bed for some of our plants, as well.
5-Mulching your tomatoes can help keep any soil-born disease or fungus from getting on the lower leaves of your plants. Plus it helps keep the soil from drying out too quickly.
6-If you see diseased leaves, remove them immediately (and don’t add to the compost pile). Be prepared to rip the poor little plant from the garden if it doesn’t show signs of recovering, Ruthless, I know, but better to remove one sick plant than infect the entire plot.
7-A temptation I struggle with every year is planting the tomatoes too close to each other. After a few months of tomato-less winter, I want as many tomato plants in our garden plot as possible. But be warned: Don’t crowd your plants. Good air circulation goes a long way to keeping disease down. Plus properly spaced plants are much easier to harvest.
Oh, and bonus tip: Fish fertilizer. Smells like the morning breath of the unholy undead, but the ‘mater’s love it! But use with caution. If you get it on you, you won’t be welcomed back into the house for many hours. Many, many hours.
Do you have any great tips for tomato growing? I’d love to hear ’em!
They look really good.
Ah, tomatoes! They are my favorite, too. All good tips. The only thing I would add is to support the plants. They’re so much healthier and easier to tend and harvest when they’re not sprawling around on the ground.
Thanks for taking the time to share all these great growing tips. Your tomatoes look amazing—I love all the varieties you’ve shown. You’ve inspired me to try growing a pot of them on our apartment balcony. My mother grew amazing tomatoes and they were the pride and joy of her huge veggie garden. She too started the plants from her own seeds and babied her tomatoes above all. She also used to tell me that they would grow better if you talked to them, which we would hear her do all the time! It must have worked, because her tomatoes were fabulous. I took it for granted as a kid and was horrified when I left my hometown to go to school in the city and tasted my first supermarket tomato! I had no idea how fortunate I was to grow up with those tomatoes. Thanks for a great post! ~ Jeannie :))
The most delicious tomatoes are the ones just out of the garden! Great tips, Ben! 🙂
Mmmmmm, that plateful looks delicious!
I have had the hardest time growing tomatoes and this year, I didn’t even try. Colorado is nothing like the Midwest with its moderate rainfall and fertile soil. After reading your article, I will try again in the spring!
Thanks for stopping and hopping! I hope you’re finding a few new bloggers to read!
I know what you mean about tomatoes taking up prime space (in your heart as well as the garden). I usually do the same but in my attempt at rotation, this year there wasn’t room for the usual number. Ah well, business as usual next year 🍅.
Visiting courtesy of Susie. I loved this post.My mom was an avid gardener–and scientist. She combined the two by hybridizing her own tomatoes. They were amazing. Big, meaty, tasty, but never mealy (the WORST tomato failing ever). Thanks for the tip about not planting too close. I always fall victim to that.
Thanks for visiting! Your mom’s tomato patch sounds amazing! If I we’re a bit more organized I might try hybridizing, but alas, I fear that’s a bridge to far 😉 Cheers, Ben
Wonderful images .. I love black krim and purple Cherokees. Great varieties. I had a disaster last year with toms .. Fingers crossed for success this season 😄
Thanks, Julie! This hasn’t been our best season. I don’t think we’ll be canning or freezing any overages 😉 We’ve been trying to fight back the blight to get as many toms as we can before frost, but, alas. we know in the end it’s a losing battle. 🙂 Crossing my fingers here for a successful tomato patch for you this year!
Thank you .. It was blight that zapped mine last season
Wonderful tips for a wonderful food! And you’re so right about the compost. I won’t grow food crops directly out of our soil here but I tossed some rejected tomatoes onto a plot I was planning to use for corn and, lo & behold, they took off like gangbusters! Corn is a heavy feeder so I had amended the soil well and those grape tomatoes got really happy. And so are the squirrels because, of course, I’m not going to eat ’em. PS, squirrels love corn, too, and the last thing you want to do is to attract more squirrels to your nest, I’m guessing! 🙂
They look fabulous, Benjamin.
Thanks so much! And they taster even better 🙂
Made my mouth water. Beautiful.
Thanks so much! I love winter, but boy, oh boy, do I miss the tomatoes during the non-growing season 😉
We are experimenting with using red and black plastic mulch as well as raised beds and planters. Not sure who the winner is yet, but the plants did not like small planters on the exposed deck at all…. They look gorgeously delicious!!! I love the comment on the fish emulsion, best description I have ever heard!!
I’ll be curious to hear how the plastic mulch experiment turns out…hopefully, you’ll be posting about it! 😉
Great piece. Your slicers look amazing. I am a bit envious of them, I must say! Still laughing about the fish oil plug; no problem for us as we are vegan and wouldn’t buy it anyway. But yeah…I’m guessing that stuff stinks to high heaven.
Down here on the Gulf Coast is PRIME tomato real estate: warm and wet. We (usually) have plenty of rainfall to keep from having to supplemental water once plants are established, but it gets really hot by mid-summer. Plant early is key here, but too early and seedlings get pummeled by the Winds of March (our last freeze date in Zone 9 is St. Patty’s Day). A tin can protector (tops and bottoms cut off) works to protect until stems are thick and strong.
I am a believer in healthy soil = healthy plants. Lots and LOTS of organic material in the off-growing season means no ‘feeding’ during growing save some mulch/compost layering. Mine is the zero micro-manage style. To reduce insect invasions, I like to plant a ‘trap’ variety (Roma is nice) to keep critters off the prize (for me, it’s cherries). Stagger plantings (or let volunteers pop up on their own) to extend the season. I’m still eating cherry tomatoes from the garden — that’s four months straight of fresh maters.Squirrels love the slicers green and juicy, so I don’t plant them at all. 😦
Cheers, Benjamin. Can’t wait to see what else you’ve been up to!
Here’s a link to my ‘style.’ I know, a little wacky, but it sure beats the prep and tilling of the olden days. For me, it’s a pitchfork, a knife, and screwdriver, and a cold beer at the end.
Thanks, Shannon! I love your idea of planting “trap” varieties…sneaky! I’ll be trying that myself next year, thanks for the tip! We don’t seem to have many problems with insects; I think our lady bug, spider and praying mantis population is doing a good job of keeping the bad guys numbers down. And I’ve yet to find a way to foil the squirrels, other than plant enough for all of us! 🙂 Cheers! Ben
How are your tomatoes doing? Still going strong? We have had continued summery weather and even the eggplant are trying (too late!) to set a few more fruit.
Not our best year for tomatoes due lots of rainy days, but respectable, nonetheless. I haven’t had my fill yet (although, that may not be possible.) Our plants are still setting fruit but the likelihood of making it to red, ripe-y goodness is doubtful. But still we hold out hope! 🙂 A couple of years ago I served homegrown tomatoes for thanksgiving dinner! Now THAT was a late season!
So what do you do with all those extra little green ones at the end of the season? I never had this problem before last year and this year I want to get some last minute greens in to those plots so bye-bye tomato plants. Any thoughts?
Well, as much as I hate it, I’ll pull up any end of season tomato plant if I need the space. Any green tomato that is glossy will ripen on your window sill (the matte ones won’t.) And there’s always fried green tomatoes! Sliced and dredged in a mix of flour, cornmeal and sugar, then fried…delish! 🙂
Awesome update Ben thank you for sharing and have a blessed day all my tomatoes were Alicante very slow to ripen this year kept all mind in the green house garden veg area still a work in progress