Tomatoes 101

by Pam Roy, edited by Bruce Gaudette
May 1, 2010

Ahh, tomatoes.   During last summer’s unusually dry, hot weather, everyone had an abundance of ripe, juicy tomatoes in their garden.  Will it happen again this year?

Tomatoes like heat and sun, two things that may be missing on a typical summer day in our area.  Despite our weather, there are several  things one can do to improve the chances of enjoying plenty of sweet, tasty tomatoes   Locate your tomatoes in the hottest, sunniest part of the garden. They prefer at least 8 hours of sun everyday.  Even better is to plant them against a wall that will absorb and reflect heat.

Tomatoes can be planted in the ground in the Pacific Northwest, but they will most likely produce a heavier crop, sooner if planted in raised beds or in containers.

The soil above ground, is warmed up by the sun.  When planted in containers or raised beds, the tomatoes also benefit from better drainage.  They may also be up, out of the way of some of our common garden pests.  The slugs have yet to discover the tomatoes I plant every year on the back deck.  Containers can also be put on rollers to move as the sun moves during the day.

Give your tomatoes rich, loose soil.  For pots, fill with a 50/50 mix of organic compost and sterile potting soil.  Using sterile potting soil minimizes some fungal problems that can occur.  Some experts recommend that each year, the soil in the container gets dumped into the garden and replaced with a new mix since tomatoes use so many nutrients while growing and the soil in containers tend to by compacted by watering over the course of a growing season.   In the ground, incorporate 2-3 inches of compost into the soil. Space plants 2-3’ apart. Put a tomato cage around the seedling.  Rotate crops yearly.

Fertilize the tomatoes with a granular organic fertilizer such as Dr. Earth’s Tomato and Vegetable fertilizer.  This product has some of the trace minerals and calcium which helps prevent Blossom End Rot, an all too common tomato disease.  Apply fertilizer again in about 30 days.

What are the 2 most important things you can do for a successful harvest?

1)  Pick a variety with as short of a time period from seed to fruit as you can find.  Look for a time of 65-70 days, with less being even better.  Talk to the staff at your favorite nurseries to find out which varieties they have had good success with.  Emery’s Garden has some great varieties ready to go in containers to give you a running start against the summer clock.

2).  Wait to plant until soil temperatures have warmed up and night temperatures remain consistently above 50 degrees.  This usually means late May or early June.  If you plant earlier, protect plants with a cloche or tomato cage plastic “greenhouse.”  When you plant tomato starts, plant deeply, as this vining wonder of nature will grow roots along the stem you bury and establish a deeper root system sooner. (PLEASE NOTE…DON’T DO THIS WITH ANY OTHER PLANTS!)

Tomatoes need about one inch of water per week, and benefit from infrequent, deep, consistent watering, rather than light daily watering.   Early on, trim plant to  or 4 main branches.  As it grows, remove foliage up to 12 inches from ground.

Try planting several different varieties to maximize your chances of success.  There’s nothing tastier than a tomato from your own garden!!!

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