Tomatoes can be a challenge, even for the greenest of thumbs. From disease to end-rot, each stage of tomato growth is rife with potential obstacles. That's why we have compiled all of our tomato wisdom into the following list of tips, tricks, and troubleshooting.
1. Choose a variety of tomatoes that are quick to mature from seed (55 days or less). Among these recommended varieties are heirloom beefsteak Moskvich tomatoes, Glacier plum tomatoes, and Sungold cherry tomatoes.
2. While it may seem backwards, it is very important to 'thin' your tomato seedlings when they are 2-3 weeks old, or reach 3-4 inches in height. This will allow sufficient spacing and nutrients for your individual plants.
3. Tomatoes have an especially deep root system, therefore be sure to use a container with sufficient volume and depth (around 18-36 inches deep). A five-gallon bucket does the trick too!
4. DON'T touch your tomato leaves when wet. Tomatoes are very susceptible to disease and pathogens can spread very quickly through water to infect your plant. This means it is best to prune, tie, and harvest plants later in the day after dew evaporates, or 2-3 hours after watering.
5. Don't be a sucker, remove your tomato suckers! As your plants enter early fruit stages, remove fruitless leaves and stems or 'suckers' from between the main stem and a horizontal leaf. This will direct more nutrients towards your existing fruits, improve airflow around your plant (important for reducing the potential for disease), and allow sufficient sun to reach all parts of your plant. Overall this should promote greater sugar production in your tomatoes for faster-ripening and larger, tastier fruits!
6. Fertilize your plants regularly, at every stage of growth, especially when growing in containers. For more suggestions on mid-season fertilizing with organic products, check out our blog post here.
7. To prevent plants from becoming stagnant, diseased, or overshadowed, it is essential to support tomato plants with trellises or stakes as they grow. Check out our post on trellising to learn more.
8. Blossom end rot, shown in the photo above, is caused by calcium deficiency in your plants, often times due to overly coarse or acidic soil. Fortunately, it's not a death sentence for your tomatoes this season! Calcium deficiency can be remedied with a bit of work in the soil surrounding your tomato plants. Using an agricultural lime (a.k.a. garden lime, aglime, or agricultural limestone and found in most home and gardening stores), amend the top 10-12 inches of soil of your tomato beds. If this is a recurring problem in your garden beds, try amending your soil with egg shell-heavy compost before your next growing season!
9. If the clock is ticking before your first frost, speed up the ripening of your fruits by removing the growing tips of each main stem. By doing this 3-4 weeks before your first frost, your plants will concentrate more nutrients and water on the ripening of existing fruits rather than producing new fruits too late in the growing season.
10. Don't worry if your tomatoes 'crack' or 'split'; this is not the sign of disease or pests. Oftentimes bouts of heavy rain after a long dry period can cause the insides of your tomatoes to collect extra water. The skin of nearly-ripe tomatoes is then unable to contain the fast-growing insides and a break in the skin occurs. DO harvest these tomatoes immediately to prevent pests and diseases from getting to your plants!
11. Tomatoes will continue to ripen once harvested, therefore you can harvest tomatoes when they are in a mature green state. Ideally, this means the tomatoes are mostly green, with many hints of red beginning to appear around the exterior of the fruit. Alternatively, if you plan to use your tomatoes immediately after harvesting, wait until fruits are completely red but still firm to the touch.
12. Tomatoes have a limited shelf life, but there are lots of yummy ways to keep your summer fruits all year round. Dehydrating, freezing, or canning tomatoes will help you make the most of your tomatoes!
Armed with this toolbox of tips and trick, and maybe a little bit of luck, you'll be harvesting armfuls of tomatoes in no time. Happy harvesting!