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Raise, Grow, Harvest, Eat, Repeat

A blog for growers, consumers, and backyard gardeners to grow, eat, and connect in the local food system.

Tomatoes: Get Growing


Probably like me, you've been waiting for the end of May to get here. As we've patiently moved past Mother's Day and into mid-May, I've been looking at the 10 day forecast just hoping that we are finally past the last frost in the area so I can plant my tomato plants. With nightly temperatures in the 40s, it has not been ideal for tomatoes. Now though it looks like we are in the clear for planting tomatoes.

Tomatoes are one of the quintessential summer crops. We expect to see these at farmers markets with different shapes, sizes, colors, and texture. For the last couple of years, I've grown three: Cherokee Purple, Valencia, and Sun Gold. Below is a photo of Cherokee Purple.The reason I chose these is that I like the lower acidity levels for the orange tomatoes and they are fresh eating tomatoes. When thinking about what tomato plants you want to plant, consider how they are going to be used. Sauce, canning, eating raw, and other features will ultimately decide which tomatoes to plant.

Source: Grant McCarty

At the same time, tomatoes are either determinate or indeterminate. Determinates are those plants that will reach a certain height and from there no longer grow further. Many of these determinate ones also have good disease resistance, very productive, good flavor, and across the board are very good tomatoes. They tend to also not get as "bushy" or big as the indeterminates. The indeterminate tomatoes are those that will continually grow in height if their water, nutrient, and environmental needs are addressed. They can get very large (6-7 ft) if support is given to them. They can also take up a much larger footprint in your garden. Indeterminates are typically thought of as heirloom or open pollinated tomatoes. The three that I grow are all indeterminates so I know that I need to set up good proper spacing.

Because I grow indeterminates, I'll also need to prune them by removing the sucker. The suckers take up energy from the plant and keep it from being sent to the rest of the plant. In the photo below, you can see where this sucker is. Before I remove them, I need to know where my first flower cluster is. Once this is determined, I can then safely remove the sucker either by pruners or cutting off. You shouldn't remove any suckers above the first flower cluster. Most determinate tomatoes do not need to have their sucker removed.

Tomatoes need to be trellised and trellising systems vary greatly. Some people will grow tomatoes with a tomato cage. Others insist on staking tomatoes each season and using string/wire. Some growers will set up their own permanent trellis system. Whichever you decide, think about what is going to work best for you. If you are planting a determinate tomato plant, a tomato cage may be your best solution. If you are planting numerous heirloom tomatoes in a row, you might consider staking and trellising them. It all depends on what type and how many you are planting. I tend to like metal stakes with string as the tomato plants I grow need more support than can be provided by wooden stakes or a tomato cage. You can see in this photo below I have a mix of both wood and metal stakes.

Source: Grant McCarty

Next week we'll continue talking about growing tomatoes with a focus on additional management techniques.



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