Saturday, June 29, 2013

Growing Tomatoes 101

One of my readers on My Cozy Little Farmhouse's Facebook Page  posed the question of could I provide any tips on getting a good tomato yield, which was in response to my post that after reviewing my canning notes from last year I had processed 157 POUNDS of tomatoes. That is what I canned or had frozen. Not including the tomatoes I used fresh, gave away or the small percentage I lost  due to rot/ insect/ animal damage.

Let that roll around your brain...157 POUNDS. That is the equivalent of a person (and  a weight I wouldn't mind seeing on my scale again...soon).

So I thought I would put together a Tomato 101. 

A few terms  you should know

Determinate tomatoes are usually a bush type and compact. They set fruit and ripen mostly at the same time (usually a 2 week span). Do NOT pinch off suckers for determinate varieties.

Indeterminate tomatoes are more of a "vining" type tomato and will produce until a killing frost. They can can grow up to 10 ft in height but mine usually hit 5-6 feet. They require strong support (cage or stake).

OP Open pollinated by wind or pollinating insect. A cultivar capable of producing seeds and plants like the parent. Not all OP are heirloom!

HEIRLOOM Usually 50 years or older.Heirlooms are about preserving natural history/ characteristics of a plant. Not all heirlooms are organic.  All heirlooms are OP. Some heirlooms actually started out as hybrids and eventually stabilized. Heirlooms can be generational, legacy, old market or modern depending on the lineage and how far back it can be traced.

HYBRID (aka cross pollinated) Hybrids can be man-made or cross pollinated in nature. Man-made hybrids originated in the 1920's. Hybrids will not always reproduce a plant with the identical characteristics of a parent plant. Some hybrids the seeds will be sterile.

GMO Genetically Modified Organism involves gene splicing. Taking DNA from completely different species and organisms to isolated desired characteristics (resistance to pesticides or acceptance of a fertilizer)

F-# Means x# of generation hybrid. This does NOT mean GMO. This is simply a  transfer of pollen from one cultivar to another of the same species.

OC Organic Certified. Certified crop grown to a set of strict and specific standards

V is the designation for verticillium wilt. You want the V resistant varieties. Verticillium wilt is caused by a fungus late in the season. Follow this link to read more about this disease and for a list of V resistant cultivars.

F/ FF is the designation for Fusarium Wilt/ Fusarium Races 1 and 2. This is another fungal disease that affect tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and potatoes. Follow this link to read more.

N is the designation for Nematodes. Follow this link for more information and list of VFN resistant varieties.

T is the designation for Tobacco Mosaic virus. TMV affects tomatoes, peppers and ornamentals worldwide. Follow this link for more information.

There are additional fungi which can affect tomatoes but I chose to list the universal troublesome varieties. For additional information check with your local agricultural extension.

I know I know, y'all are saying all I wanna do is dig a hole, drop in some seeds or a plant and get  some yummy nummies in  x number of days...

Here are some tips for maximum 'mater output

1. Always begin with well amended and aerated soil. The soil should be 6.0-6.8 pH.

2. Plant a good mix of determinate and indeterminate plants so you have staggered harvesting times.

3. Trench planting ensure the plants are well rooted and will support the weight of the fruit. Dig a trench, remove all but the top 2-4 sets of leaves. Lay the plant on it's side with direct contact to soil. All those "hairs " on the stem will form roots.

4. Stake or cage your plants at this point. Nice and sturdy to support the weight of your intended bounty. You have lots of options: cages, stakes (Florida weave), spiral, ladder or tripod.  If staking do not bind the plants tightly or you will damage them making them susceptible to damage or death. Follow this link for more information.

5. Make sure the plants are spaced well. Good air circulation means you are less likely to have problems with pests or blight.

6. Water deep at the roots. Moist, well drained and no standing water! An innovative way to do this is to insert perforated tubes near the roots when planting.
7. When the plants set blossom an begin developing fruit, side dress with compost or if you must a nice organic fertilizer (8/10/10 or 10/10/10) These numbers represent NPK  which is Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium. These elements are needed for proper nutrition, development of healthy plant and fruit.

8. Be diligent with pruning and pinching off the suckers on your (indeterminate plants only)! You want the energy to go into making your food not more plant.  You will have a main stem from which branches (axis) will form (effectively making a Y formation). Pinch the suckers off that appear in the Y juncture (it makes it look like a W). This also promotes much need space for air circulation and light penetration.

9.  When the weather gets really hot (usually mid July in the Midwest) I blanket the bed with straw to a depth of 2 to 3 inches. I make sure the straw is nice and loose so water and air can get in but thick enough to deter weeds. It retains moisture, cools the roots and provides a barrier between the fruit and soil, reducing chances for spoilage.

10. Harvest frequently and enjoy the "fruits" of your labor!

Maybe you are new to growing tomatoes or maybe you have been doing this for years. Either way I hope you enjoyed my post. If you have any great hints or tips please share because I am by no means an expert and I love to learn!

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