to Tomato FEVER!
are the most popular garden
vegetable crop in North America. They grow well in most areas if planted
in a well-drained soil. Tomato plants need at least 6 hours of sunlight
each day - that means direct sun, not dappled shade!
Here are some tips
gleaned from all over the web and, um, your old Auntie's experiences.
There is absolutely no sense at all in YOU making the same mistakes I did!
So here goes....
Care of Tomatoes
Work the top 8-10 inches of
soil several weeks before planting. Break up the large clods. Remove rocks
and trash, weeds, etc.
Tomatoes grow best in soils
which have lots of organic matter. If possible, spread 2-3 inches of
organic material over the planting area. You can use materials such
as compost, leaves, peat moss or rotted hay. Work it into the top 4-6
inches of soil. Work the garden soil only when it is dry enough not to
stick to the garden tools. This is particularly important if you have clay
soil. Working too early will result in unbreakable.
Add 2-3 pounds of a balanced
fertilizer such as 10-10-10 for every 100 square feet of garden area.
Spread the fertilizer evenly over the area. Mix it with the top 3-4 inches
of soil when working the soil before planting.
If you plan to grow single
plants, dig a hole 2 feet wide and 10 inches deep (or plant in a pot that
size). Fill with
half soil and half organic matter. Mix 2 level tablespoons of fertilizer
into this planting area.
When the first fruits are
about 1 inch in size, scatter 1 level tablespoon of fertilizer around each
plant. Scatter it about 6 inches from the stalks. Work it lightly into the
soil. Water the plants after fertilizing. Fertilize them every 3-4 weeks.
Most families need only a
few plants. So it is best to buy plants, not grow them from seed if you
are a new gardener, or start your seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before the
date of your usual last frost. Plant healthy, green plants 6-8 inches
tall. Do not set out tomato plants until all danger of frost has passed.
Tomatoes usually need at least 70 days from sprouting to fruiting, so
transplant tomatoes into the garden about 100 days before the first
expected fall frost.
the transplant holes at least 3-4 inches deep, and 2-4 feet apart in the
row. Space rows at least 2 feet apart for staked and 3 feet apart for
caged plants. For unsupported plants, leave 4-5 feet between rows. If
possible, set out tomatoes on raised beds of soil about 6 inches high.
Transplant tomatoes in the
evening or on a cloudy day. This will keep the plants from wilting and
getting too dry. Before planting, fill the transplant holes with
water and let it soak in. Plant the transplant slightly deeper than it was
in the container, as they will root from the stem.
Adding 1-2 tablespoons of a
Mychorrizal fertilizer mixed into the soil in the planting hole
improves the ability of the plant to take in nutrients.
This beneficial fungus encourages root growth, helping the plant
to weather drought.
Pack the soil gently, and
firmly around the plant. Leave a slightly sunken area around each plant to
hold water. Adding a "collar" of anything from paper cups (with
the bottoms cut out) to circles of plastic garden edging (staple the cut
ends together to form a ring) around the base of your plant will help keep
cutworms away from your young, tender tomato stems, and also helps to
catch water. Put these on when you plant, carefully sliding them down over
the planted seedling and pushing gently about 2" into the
earth. Filling the collar with water immediately after planting with
drown any cutworms inside the area.
During the Season
Mulch the tomatoes for highest
yields. Place a 2-3 inch layer of organic material such as
compost, leaves or hay around the growing plants, but keep it a good 6-12
inches away from the base of the plants. Mulching helps stop weed growth
and water loss from the soil. If you have had previous fungus or
insect problems (see Staking
Tomatoes), skip the mulch. Keep a sharp eye out for
pests and diseases, and treat the problems immediately. Remember to
fertilize around your plants every 3-4 weeks to keep fruit and new
fruit-bearing growth coming.
the tomato plants slowly and deeply to help grow a strong root system. Do
not let tomatoes wilt, or yields and fruit quality will be low.
Keep the watering regular to
avoid alternating wet and drought. Fluctuating moisture levels will
cause wilt and fruit split. Splitting occurs when water has been applied
to too-dry tomatoes - the fruit soaks up the water and literally bursts
If you have sandy soil, water
for 30 minutes 2-3 times a week - more during heat waves and
droughts. If you have clay soil, water once a week for 1
hour. Don't apply so much that it stands on the surface.
That will lead to compacted soil with a cracked surface.
If you have a good loamy soil, split the difference!
staked tomatoes to produce a more orderly vine. Remove the small shoots
which grow out of the point where each leaf joins the main stem. Remove
the shoots by bending them sideways until they snap.
For two main vines,
remove all but the lowest shoot. It will develop into a second
branch. Tomatoes growing in cages do not need to be pruned.
To control weeds, cultivate
or hoe carefully around the plants. Work the soil only deep
enough to kill the weeds. Do not hurt the tomato plant roots.
As the tomato begins to ripen,
problems with diseases that effect tomato plants begin to surface. Some
problems with tomatoes can be prevented, but you need to know what you're
looking for. Here are some of the most common problems and suggested
If you see white rings and
spots about a centimeter in diameter on green fruit, this is probably
Botrytis in its dying stage. Sunlight and good air circulation usually
take care of Botrytis, but if we have a lot of cool moist days, you should
keep an eye open for this. Use a sulphur-based fungicide if this persists
and threatens your tomato plant.
End Rot: If
the blossom end of the tomato is brown or black with a sort of
"leathery' appearance, this is blossom-end rot, caused by a calcium
deficiency and fluctuations in moisture or temperature conditions.
over-do the nitrogen when fertilizing, add lime before planting and water
the plants deeply and regularly. A sprinkle of epsom salts applied under
each plant as the flowers emerge, also helps correct this condition.
If your tomato looks like tit
came from outerspace, this is "catface". This abiotic disease
causes fruit to become badly scarred and malformed.
A lot of cold
weather when the fruit is setting is the major cause of this. Pray for
different insects and diseases bother tomatoes. Control these problems by
using approved insecticides and fungicides. Common problems are on the
Or, ask your county Extension agent or reputable garden
center staff what to use to control tomato insects and diseases. Follow
the directions on the container. That's a Tomato Hornworm on the
White or yellow patches on
green fruit is sunscald. This happens with sudden exposure to hot, dry,
sunny days. Keep your tomato plants clean of debris and damaged fruit and
branches; keep them moist in dry weather; and prepare the soil properly.
Try to keep the tomatoes somewhat shaded by their own leaves. Tomatoes
ripen by the action of sun on the leaves, NOT on the fruit!
If you run into problems other than these, see our Plant
Problems series for more information.
the gory details on exotic tomato pests and problems, click
here or use these links:
Pick tomatoes at full color
for best quality. If you pick them when they are pink, let them ripen at
room temperature. Do not store them in the refrigerator, as they get mushy
inside and lose their quality. Keep them in on a cool window
sill until ready to use. If you have to rush out to pick green ones
on the eve of a frost warning, store them in layers between sheets of
newspaper in a good, sturdy brown paper bag. Close the top of the bag and
store in a slightly cool, but dark place to allow them to ripen properly.
Tomatoes are a good source of
Vitamin A and fair source of Vitamin C. Fresh tomatoes are popular in
salads, on sandwiches and sliced. Tomatoes can be cooked and used in many
different ways. Tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce and salsa recipes are widely
available - so get cooking! You have entered paradise!
ripe tomatoes can be stored in a cool dark location for several weeks, but
they will lose their peak flavor after a few days, so eat fresh tomatoes
or cook them up in various recipes within 3-5 days.
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