Spring has arrived with a bang. It’s 80° F today in Chicago! I know the cold weather here is not done, but it’s glorious now. The birds are back and singing. The snowdrops, crocuses, and anemones are blooming. For me it’s time to sow arugula, lettuce, and other field greens. But in the warmer parts of America, it’s tomato time!
Tomatoes are the most popular homegrown fruit in America. Their high yield and low maintenance have made them a favorite crop worldwide. Tomatoes are also one of the easiest crops to grow organically. They produce well in organic soils amended with compost. Only a few pests (typically aphids) and diseases (powdery mildew, blossom-end-rot) are likely to affect them. Last year aphids were brought into my garden on some annuals; and powdery mildew appeared after wet weather in late spring. Since both were on my tomatoes I used Safer 3-n-1 Garden Spray to tackle both problems at once. The tomatoes did not miss a beat.
Tomato Tip #1: To combat blossom-end-rot amend the soil with organic matter prior to planting and use organic fertilizers high in calcium during the season.
Tomato Tip #2: Plant ‘em deep.
Tomatoes have a special feature left over from their wild origins as a perennial South American vine. They can form adventitious roots along their stem. Unlike most other plants, it does not damage tomatoes to have their stems placed underground. In fact, it helps create more roots, which provide more nutrients and better support.
Many gardeners use this info when planting tomatoes in spring. Tomato plants grown in flats are typically long and leggy. Standard planting (only the rootball in the soil) leaves them floppy and scraggily looking. Instead pinch off any lower leaves and dig a much deeper hole. Put the rootball and stem down into the hole up until the point where there is bushy growth.
This anchors the plants in more firmly and looks better aesthetically. The deeper planted tomatoes have more roots and start the season stronger and bushier than their rootball-only-planted counterparts.
For really elongated plants, gardeners can dig a trench. Digging deep down can be difficult, so instead dig a 6” trench and lay the tomato on its side. Be sure to remove any leaves that are in the soil. Stem and roots are the only parts approved for underground growth. The trench method can turn some lanky, pitiful seedlings into bushy, verdant specimens.
Tomato Tip #3: Cage ‘em early.
Regardless of the planting method, indeterminate tomatoes will need staking/caging during the season. It is not necessary to stake the seedlings when you plant. However, you want to have support in place before the tomato needs it. That way you avoid damaging the plant as you struggle to put a cage around the rampant beast.
Tomatoes are easy, delicious, and nutritious. With a few simple steps gardeners will have plenty for cooking and sharing. Until then, please share your favorite tomato tips with me. Let me know your green, money-saving, or just fun secrets to growing great tomatoes.