As we all start planting our gardens, most of us will plant tomatoes. Here are are some common growing mistakes and how to correct them so you can have an abundant crop this summer and well into fall.
Not knowing what type of tomato you are growing
There seem to be so many types to grow that it is easy to get caught up in trying to pick the perfect ones to grow. However, more important than which plant, is what type of tomato plant it is. Tomatoes are either determinant or indeterminate. It may seem like a plant is a plant and will grow and keep growing. This is not the case with determinant tomatoes. These plant varieties grow to a fixed size and usually ripen all their fruit in a short period of time. Once the first round of fruit has ripened, the plant will begin to lose it’s vigor and bear little to no new fruit. They are generally smaller and grow to about 4-5 feet. Pruning an removing suckers are generally not needed because they stop growing on their own. Now, indeterminate tomatoes, often called vining tomatoes, will continue to grow until the first frost hits. They spend the early part of their growth period getting tall and then provide a slow steady supply until the first frost, rather than one large harvest. So, if you want a big harvest to can for sauce grow a determinant, however if you are looking for a long summer with tomato salads, and sandwiches then indeterminate are the plants for you.
Planting in too much shade
Tomatoes grow best in sunny weather and don’t like too much shade. The only tomato plant that can handle some shade are cherry tomatoes. In our sunny garden for most of us this is not a problem, but something to think about if you are planting a trellis of beans that might shade your heirlooms! You want at least 6 hours of sun, if you can give them more they will be sweeter.
Tomatoes need to be planted deep. This will allow their roots to produce more stems and hardy leaves. If you have already planted and they are not deep you can simply add a mound of soil around the base and keep it moist. This will encourage the plant to make more roots.
Tomatoes love to be feed. Phosphorus is needed to fruit and flower. Phosphorus is the middle number in fertilizer. Ideally mix some fertilizer in the hole before you plant. If you have already planted, it’s not too late. You can add some to a mound around the base to help it feed it. Nitrogen is the first number on a fertilizer. Too much nitrogen will help the leaves grow big, but who likes tomato leaves to eat? You want a lower nitrogen and higher phosphorus, like a 2-4.
Not enough spacing
Tomatoes need air to circulate through them and sun to reach the fruit and flowers. If they are too close together, they are not getting enough air or sunlight. If you are pruning you can plant them 12″-15″ apart, but if you are growing determinant or not pruning 2ft is better.
Not providing adequate support
The most popular method is the tomato cage we have all seen. If you do go this route, make sure you get ones that are strong, sturdy and thick. With a dwarf or determinant variety these work well. But, if you are going to grow indeterminate you should consider a method of staking and using string support so your tomatoes don’t fall over.
Tomatoes by nature start to grow another tomato plant in the middle of the “Y” as they grow. That new growth arm that is growing out of the middle of the armpit or elbow of your plant is taking away growing power from the main plant. The main stem is where most of the power growing will happen and you will get the most production. Also, as mentioned above they need circulation and sunlight. If plants are too close, they will not got the air and sunlight needed. Pruning also helps you look for insects and disease. It’s also important to remove yellow dead leaves and branches. Old leaves are the first ones that will attacked by disease.
You do not want to water your tomato leaves. This creates a wet environment on the leaves that is a breeding ground for bacteria. You should always water from below. If you use a hose, be careful to not get splash back, as this will introduce pathogens from the soil onto the leaves. Mulch is good if you hand house water to help with splash back. Mulch also helps with evaporation to keep moisture in. How can you tell if you are under or over watering? Simply stick your fingers into the soil 2-3 nches, if it is moist your plants are ok. Even if the top layer is dry, this may just be the sun doing it’s job. If you overwater a tomato, the blossoms will fall off. Fruit cracking occurs when you under water and then drench them the fruit will literally suck up all that water and bust at the seams.
Not hand pollinating
With the decimation of the bee colonies, natural pollination has slowed down. Being organic gardeners we have committed to not using pesticides that are detrimential to the bee’s existence, so we need to do all we can to help pollinate. We can become a bee. Tomatoes are simple plants and have a male and female part in the same flower that are very close together. The simplest way is to give them a gentle shake to stimulate the pollen to move. You can use a small paint brush, but a gentle shake is the best.
Not giving your plants attention
One of the the biggest mistakes we make is not visiting your plants often enough to see what is happening with disease, pests, water, etc. The more we are on top of things that may be out of balance the quicker it is to take care of.
These are just opinions, please follow what method works well for you.