Growing tomatoes can be tons of fun! Especially when you have healthy plants that pump out a bounty of fruit all summer long. While growing tomatoes can be easy, there are a few ways to boost your plant growth and possibly prevent pests, disease, and other unwanted gardening realities. Here are my 4 favorite tips to increase tomato production and enjoy farmer's market quality tomatoes all summer long.
FROM THE SEED. First things first, start your plants from seeds! While it is way too late for this today, next February or March get some seeds and start them indoors. Tomato starts can get pricey. Why pay more when they are easy to grow from seed? Growing plants from seed is empowering and a handy skill to have in your back pocket. Starting plants from seed not only makes the overall cost of your tomato production cheaper, but you can also choose several different varieties to start. When starting plants from seed it's imperative to use clean pots. I am all about recycling but make sure old pots are washed out with bleach and soap before planting. This is a great gardening thing to do in December or January. ;) Start seeds in a seedling mix, but make sure it doesn't have any fertilizer.
PREPARE YOUR BEDS. Before you transplant your babies, you must prepare the soil. Tomatoes need a lot of nutrients in order to produce dark, juicy fruits. One thing you will likely need to add to your soil is agricultural lime. Lime is something I started adding to my tomato beds over the last two years and it's made a huge difference in my fruit production. Before I started adding lime, all of my San Marzo's had end rot. It's not very fun to grow something to full maturity and then not be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Nutrients are crucial! If you have time for a soil test, I highly recommend Black Lake Organics. I also add an all purpose vegetable mix to my soil that is available at Black Lake Organics as well.
BURY HALF OF YOUR START. Dig deep holes! When I first learned how deep tomatoes needed to be planted I was shocked because you essentially bury half of the plant. Yes, leaves and all. While it does seems strange, I always bury my plants up to the lowest leaves. Once planted they look tiny, but they will quickly bounce back. All of the plant matter that is underground will grow into a sturdy powerful network of roots enabling the plants to be tall, strong, and full of life.
WATER. Watering needs to be a top priority for tomato plants, especially this time of year. Always water VERY GENTLY at the root base, never wet the entire plant or from top down. If possible, water with warm water too, tomatoes love that. While they do need water, you don't want to over water them. I generously water my plants until they start to fruit and then I slow way down and for some plants, I stop all together. When you stop watering tomato plants, it's called dry farming. This technique does slow down production but it greatly increases overall umami. Those of you who have gotten those beautiful dry farmed Early Girl tomatoes from the Monterey Market in Berkeley, Ca will know this flavor well. I usually only dry farm a few tomatoes however. This is so I still have a steady supply from my other plants while the summer is hot.
My favorite time tested varieties: Early Girl (always yes!), Sun Gold Yellow Cherry, Roma (the best for making sauce), Beefsteak (weird name, but lovely fruit), Brandy wine, and so many others :) Also, be cognizant of your agricultural zone when picking varieties. If you have a short grow season, you will want to pick varieties with medium to small fruits in order to optimize both flavor and production. If you haven't planted a tomato yet this year, go to your local farm store and get to planting. If you follow my 4 simple steps, you will be thinking about having a stand at the Farmer's Market next summer.
Are you growing tomatoes this year? What are you going to make with all of your farmers market worthy tomatoes?