I am very happy that I declared this Tomato Week! If you missed my big announcement, check out my last Blog where I begin the celebration with a salute to all my favorite varieties of tomatoes!
Tomatoes are our largest single plant category. We sell more tomato varieties than we sell petunia varieties and if you’ve spent any time in our Annuals section you know for a fact that I love black petunias, yellow petunias, striped petunias and stars, so the fact that we have more tomato varieties is saying something! Part two of my Tomato Week blog is going to celebrate growing those tomatoes!
Let’s get the big stuff out of the way first. Many of you are worried about GMO (genetically modified organisms) varieties. It’s now one of the most common questions we get about our vegetables. It’s an easy answer for us because there are no GMO tomatoes. None, zero, zip. I’ll pause here so some of you can fact check me.
The answer is no. While there may be an ‘m’ and two ‘o’s, there are no ‘GMOs’ in ‘tomato’. Plant Geek humor abounds here at Lakeview! While we are on the topic, I’ll also add that there are no GMO peppers, eggplants or cucumbers either. You can rest assured, all of our vegetables and herbs are GMO free.
So now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, read on for my list of “All the things I know about tomatoes!”
Our tomato signs and labels are littered with an alphabet soup of abbreviations. It’s not just us, look through any seed or plant catalogs and you’ll find abbreviations and initials for a plethora of problems or characteristics. The sheer volume of letters after the tomato’s name can be daunting so I’ve broken it down a bit for you here.
D or I after the tomato is an indicator of the plant’s form. What is the difference between a determinate and an indeterminate tomato? The quick and easy answer is that determinate is usually bush types and indeterminate is a vine type, None of that information is super helpful if all you want is a big juicy tomato, but here’s why the details matter (sorta).
Some varieties of tomatoes only grow to about 3 feet and then stop, making them ideal for gardens with restricted space or containers. These are the determinates types. Indeterminates, which includes many of the heirloom types, grow like the vines they are, so they definitely need staking or a cage.
Another difference is that generally speaking, the relatively short branches of determinate plants end in a flower cluster, and most of these ripen at about the same time over a few weeks. It’s a really good trait if you want to have one giant harvest for quarts of sauce or canning. With indeterminates, more potential flower-cluster-bearing growth is produced as long as conditions allow, so there are multiple harvests over a longer season.
Good tomato hygiene is also a thing. All those other letters after your tomato’s name A, St, N, V F, TMV, TSWV aren’t typo’s, they are the list of diseases that your specific plant might be resistant to. Tomato diseases abound and are aplenty! Traditional gardening would have us rotate our tomato beds to different spots every year. The thinking is that you can avoid many disease problems by moving them around your yard every year. Here’s our problem, certain fungal pathogens, such as septoria and early blight, reside in the soils of our New England climes forevah. That means that no matter how much you move your tomatoes around year to year–how much you rotate your crop–you can’t completely avoid these troubles. The good news is almost all tomato diseases can be prevented with good hygiene. Good tomato hygiene starts with wide spacing, pruning and staking, all critical to good air circulation.
Here’s my quick reference AKA Cheat Sheet on Tomato Good Hygiene
Grow tomatoes on black landscape fabric! This one single tip was my grandfather’s secret sauce to amazing tomato plants. The fabric is porous so it lets rain, nutrients like fertilizers and water through. The black coloring warms in the sun and the increased soil heat speeds up root development (you’ll get earlier tomatoes!). It also provides excellent weed control and helps with soil-splash control–keeping some of the soil-borne diseases from getting up onto the plant. If you can’t use black landscape fabric (not plastic), use a weed free mulching straw instead. We sell a great weed free seeding and mulching straw at the garden center.
Strip the lower leaves from the plants to eliminate the “ladder” for spores splashing up from the soil as well.
Cage, trellis or stake your tomatoes. Prune to get rid of suckers.
Air circulation is critical: Plant tomatoes on the edge of a bed, not the middle. If you stake or cage your tomatoes keep 18 inches between the plants within the row and at least 3 feet between your rows. Most of us learn this lesson the hard way (and for some of us, myself included, we need to relearn it over and over again! Every year I try to “fit in” just one more new variety even though I know I’ll regret it in three to four weeks.
Full sun means at least 7 hours of direct sunlight, not a few passing rays. Tomatoes want full sun; don’t plan to plant them in a shady spot or they will languish and die a slow tortured death. If you don’t have an in-ground spot with that kind of sun, consider whiskey-barrel sized planters positioned in a sunny spot as an alternative. The bigger the pot the bigger the harvest – so think big!
Watering needs to come from you as Mother Nature never provides enough consistent moisture for tomato plants. Consistent the key. An inch of water throughout the entire growing area at least twice a week; and double as much in the heat of summer. Remember: an inch of rain (which is what you are simulating) is a lot of rain, and takes a long time to apply. Use soaker hoses or a drip system. Watering with a sprinkler keeps the foliage wet and promotes way more disease problems than you want to deal with. If you must use a sprinkler, use it in the morning, so that foliage can dry quickly. But really, don’t use one, overhead watering is almost always the answer to the problem you are going to have.
From the day I plant my seedlings to the last tomato stashed away in my freezer, homegrown tomatoes are a labor of love. As a child I remember working with my grandfather in his vegetable garden and I know I must have asked him a million times why it was taking so long for the green beefsteak tomatoes to turn red! By labor of love, I really mean labor because between planting and harvesting, there is a lot of work and a lot of waiting around for them to turn red! But who doesn’t absolutely love a fresh picked bright red sun warmed tomato?
Weather warm enough to plant tomatoes will be here soon and we have an amazing selection of tomato plant starts waiting for you!
All our best,
Michelle and The Plant Geeks At Lakeview!