10 tips for growing Better Tomatoes in the U.P. this year

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Most yooper gardeners give growing tomatoes a try, even new gardeners. I appreciated Yahoo’s  10 tips for improving productivity and growing better tomatoes.

Tomato Tip #1: Give Tomatoes What They Like

Tomatoes do best when you give them what they like. They like warm, fertile, slightly moist soil that drains well, 6-8 hours of full sun per day, good air-circulation, proper support, and no chance of frost. If you handle these basics, you should get a nice crop of tomatoes to eat.

Tomato Tip #2: Don’t Over-water or Under-Water

Poke your finger into the soil around the tomato plant. The plant needs water when the top couple of inches of soil are dry. Tomato plants don’t like to be over-watered, because it invites disease or rot, but they also don’t like to be under-watered. If you see the leaves wilting, you best water. Water only the soil around the stem–not the leaves, as this invites disease. Give your tomato plant about an inch of water per week or about 10 minutes every other day–depending upon soil type and weather conditions. Your goal should be a slightly moist soil on a consistent basis.

Tomato Tip #3: Trim Tomato Leaves

Trimming any leaves that become yellow or brown or appear diseases is important. Get the leaves far away from the garden or container pot. You want only healthy leaves growing on the tomato branches. Some gardeners suggest removing much of the leaves of the tomato plant to put the focus on root development, but I tend to only remove suckers. Suckers are those branches that won’t bear fruit and sap the nutrients and strength. They grow between the branch and stem. I also remove most of the lower leaves at planting in order to encourage more root development.

Tomato Tip #4: Encourage Root Development

Commonly, gardeners plant tomato plants deeper than most other plants would be planted–sticking the stem about 6 inches down into the soil. Tomatoes will develop stronger root structure by doing this, and that means stronger, taller, and more productive tomato plants. Although I’ve not tried the trench method, some gardeners plant tomatoes in a trench–placing the plant in horizontally and leaving the upper leaves and stem above ground. They believe it really encourages a strong root system.

Some gardeners also remove non-fruiting branches and the first blossoms of the year in order to encourage more root development and ensure that more nutrients go to productive branches. They thin fruit to no more than 3 tomatoes per branch for larger fruit development and remove the fruit farthest from the stem, first. I tend to make certain that branches aren’t crowded and non-fruiting branches don’t sap the nutrients, but I have a little difficulty removing flowers and thinning tomatoes.

Tomato Tip #5: Rotate Crop and Repel Pests

Rotate where you grow your tomatoes each year, even if it’s only by several feet. I have a small garden, but I do pick new spots for tomatoes each year. This helps discourage disease. Tradition says to plant marigolds near tomatoes to repel white fly and to plant tomatoes near basil, chives, garlic, carrots, and parsley to discourage pests. But tomatoes shouldn’t be planted where potatoes and cabbage have grown or are growing. They share some of the same diseases. And, nothing much grows near a black walnut tree.

Tomato Tip #6: Try Tomato Tricks

This year, I plan to try a few new tricks to encourage greater tomato productivity. In the hole, I plan to place crumbled, baked eggshells and hairbrush-hair or dog hair. The eggshells provide needed calcium that discourages end rot, and the hair provides a slow release fertilizer. They both also discourage slugs.

I may try using Epson salt in the hole, covered by an inch or so of compost before I plant the tomato plant. Epson salt provides desirable nutrients. In addition, I may try using soap spray to stop aphids.

Tomato Tip #7: Stake Your Tomato Plants

The best way to discourage disease and pests is to stake tomato plants and get branches and fruit off the ground. Give tomato plants the support of a trellis or wire cage, and if a branch becomes heavy with fruit, you can always use a nylon stocking to help support that branch.

Tomato Tip #8: Mulch Properly

Mulching helps cut down on weeds and helps hold in soil moisture, but mulch should be used only after the ground is warm. I’ve tried black plastic to help warm soils, but there’s a new mulch out that I’ve not tried. It’s a red mulch with numerous benefits. The red mulch reflects sun up into the tomato plant. See resource link for more on red mulch.

Tomato Tip #9: Pick When Fully Ripe

Your best tasting tomatoes are picked when vine ripe, but not over-ripe. However, if you wait until tomatoes are vine ripe, you sometimes have competition. I usually pick tomatoes just under-ripe and let them ripen on my window sill. One trick I’ve heard about ripening tomatoes is to put the tomato stem into a small glass of water, put the tomato on top, and let it ripen there. It’s supposed to keep it from drying out. I’ve also learned that placing a paper towel below the tomato can keep it from rotting against the counter or sill.

Tomato Tip #10: Pick Before Frost

Sometimes you have no choice but to pick tomatoes while they are still green. When this happens, there are ripening options. Tomatoes can be put in a brown paper bag and the ripening gasses from the whole bunch can be of help to ripen each one.

Ripening can be spread over a few months with this trick. Ripen tomatoes in a cooler place, such as the garage. Wrap tomatoes individually in newspaper. The print is soy-based, so it’s safe. The reason for this is to keep the ripening gasses from affected all the fruit at once. What could be better than a fresh garden tomato in October?

Whatever tomato variety you plan to grow, you can achieve greater productivity by following these 10 gardening tips. Make this the year you grow a bumper crop of beautiful, luscious tomatoes.

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