Planting tomatoes — let another season of obsession begin! They are easily the gold of summer. From their scent to final harvest, home-grown tomatoes are hands-down amazing. Combine them with basil, throw in a few lemon cucumbers, sunflowers and a couple other favorites and you’ll be growing a fab kitchen garden.
Tomatoes are easy to love and easy to grow. Here are a few tips to get you started toward a bumper crop:
- Choose healthy starts. Grow your own from seed or pick them up at your neighborhood nursery. You may even find your nursery grows their own starts or at least buys locally. If so, this is a huge bonus. It means these particular plants are likely to be better adapted to your distinct climate.
- Know where you’re going to plant and prep the soil, area or container.
- Pinch off the lower branches and leaf points near the base of the plant as shown above. When buried, roots will grow from these points increasing overall root development. The healthier the root system the healthier and more robust the plant. Improving your chances for a long, bountiful harvest. *Note: this technique is unique to tomatoes.
- When using a container, I like to add drain rock to the bottom inch or so to improve drainage. Tomatoes don’t like what gardeners call “wet feet”. They need regular, consistent watering and soil that drains well.
- I use an organic soil, compost mixture that is light, crumbly and rich but not too rich. Soil too high in nitrogen will produce a plant with loads of leaves and fewer flowers and therefore less fruit. Also, if adding fertilizer this your chance to sprinkle some in near root zone. Choose an organic fertilizer designed for tomatoes and other veggies with an NPK ratio (the three numbers typically shown on fertilizer packaging) like a 5-7-4 or 5-10-10.
- Release your start from it’s container once your soil is ready and, if it’s a mature plant and leaning toward root bound, tease out the roots. This will tell it, “Hey, you’re free to grow.”
- Place so that the newly made stem and leaf scars are covered in soil, burying your plant by about 1/4 to 1/2 it’s original height (depending on how much of the bottom growth you removed).
- Tuck your plant in with soil, pressing gently around the base so it feels anchored and sturdy.
- Next, prune your tomato by pinching off the leaves growing from the axillary branching points as seen above. These leaves will eventually form into branches with more leaves, taking energy away from flowering and fruiting branches. Pruning also helps keep your plants open and airy, improving circulation and allowing sunlight to do it’s work. Continue to prune plants as they grow.
- Finally, water and stake. Cages are great for the traveling, lazy or school gardener but need room for storage when not in use. They’re also easily bent out of shape after a season or two. Consider staking your tomatoes using bamboo, cuttings or foraged material. Simply sink your stake next to your tomato and loosely tie it to the stake with a bit of twine. Move the twine up the stake as it grows.
That’s it for now. You’re ready to go! Water consistently until the dry farming stage, prune and feed your plant occasionally as it grows.
Pass the pistil. Grow what you love.