We have been growing tomatoes for a number of years and have a few Tomato Growing Secrets for your Garden.
Tomatoes are the most widely-grown garden vegetable in Illinois, and for that matter, for much of the United States. This is no accident because a garden-fresh tomato tastes just fabulous. Technically, a tomato is a fruit because of the way it developes. Although they do not contain the natural sugars we are accustomed to associating with fruit, whatever their definition, they can’t be beat. Since we have been growing tomatoes for decades, and my parents were big gardeners, I wanted to share some Tomato Growing Secrets for your Garden.
I like to start my tomatoes with transplants purchased at a reputable garden center. This generally insures that you will not bring home a diseased plant which you might not see in its outward appearance. There are many varieties available, including hybrids (this is a plant that has been produced to combine two different varieties into a single plant with desirable characteristics.) Just look for plants that are green and healthy.
We grow our garden in a plot that has been tilled with a garden tiller. It is a good idea to incorporate some improved soil and fertilizer that can also be purchased at your garden center. Be sure to set out your transplants after all killing frosts have passed. In my Zone 6, that is after April 15th or later. Be sure to space them close to the recommendations on the identification tag. I plant them a little closer just because I have a small plot and want to plant other things as well. It is a good idea to plant on a cloudy day or after the sun has gone down.
As your plants start to grow, you will probably want to use a fertilizer to boost their growth and production. I like to use Miracle Grow for tomatoes. Do not use this product for at least a couple of weeks after transplanting in order for the plant to get established. Just mix as directed on the package and pour it into the soil, but avoid pouring directly on the plant. I fertilize once per month after that.
Unless you have a steady supply of rain (we do not here in Illinois), you will need to water frequently. Generally, if you get a good rain and you see the soil looks moist and your foot slightly gives when you walk in the garden, you do not need additional water. If you have not had rain in a while, if the temperatures get really high or if you notice the soil looking dry and hard, it is time to water. In the really hot part of summer, this might be every day.
I like to use straw as a mulch for my garden. I buy a bail of straw in the fall and use it for decorating. Then I save this over the winter, and in the spring use this straw as mulch for the garden. This really cuts down on weeds and retains moisture in the garden.
Tomato Growing Secrets for your Garden:
A “Sucker” is in the “V” of the Plant Which Should be Removed
As your tomatoes start to grow, you might want to consider removing the “suckers” from the plants. This is a branch that forms in the crook of another branch right at the “V” from the main stalk. This will probably not produce tomatoes and only takes energy away from the rest of the plant. You can place the bigger ones in a container filled with water, place in your kitchen window to root, and later plant these in a pot before planting them in the garden for a later crop.
Tomato Growing Secrets for your Garden:
As you can see from the photo, I use various cages to keep the plants off of the ground. It is important to check your plants regularly in order to get the branches through the right hoop in the cage. I also like to use old knee-hi hose to tie the cages together. The hose material is stretchy, but this gives the cages more stability during stormy weather.
One of the most common problems with growing tomatoes is called blossom-end rot. This looks like the tomato is rotting from the bottom by a visible dark patch. This is generally caused by calcium deficiency and inconsistent moisture. We have experienced this problem in the past, but the newer varieties seem to be less prone to this condition.
If you love a good home-grown tomato, take my Tomato Growing Secrets for your Garden to heart. You will soon find that growing winning tomatoes is your forte. Want more on gardening, see my post of Herbs 101.