There are as many opinions about the best methods for growing tomatoes as there are varieties. And I’d bet you that they all work for the right people in the right situations.
This is what I currently believe (and I reserve the right to change my opinion)…
First, and most importantly I’m convinced that mulch is fundamental. It maintains more even temperatures and moisture for the plants. It also keeps leaves from direct soil contact, reducing the risk of disease. But I hold off on the mulch until the weather and soil surrounding the plants has warmed reliably. Grass clippings are my favorite.
Then of course there’s the sucker debate. Over the years I’ve pinched suckers and trained vines up stakes. I’ve gone the hands-off route too, letting the plants sprawl. I’m not sure whether it’s a direct cause and effect, but it seems to me that in years when I’ve pinched out suckers, my plants usually succumbed to disease earlier. And letting tomato plants sprawl can be a jumbled mess.
That’s why I heartily endorse remesh cages, 5′ tall by 2 1/2′ wide. The plants are supported well and kept off the ground. There’s no need for pinching out suckers; everything’s tucked in behind the wire.
But I also believe that it’s good practice to continually monitor the lower branches of the plants and trim them off when they touch the ground. It opens up air flow and keeps the plant away from soil-borne nasties.
I try to keep from touching the plants when they’re wet, and never water them in the evening, again for disease prevention.
The real key to tomatoes though is the soil. Start there. Compost, compost, compost. If your soil’s right you don’t need anything else. But if you feel the need to meddle (like me), eggshells or tums, Epsom salts, and banana peels are usually good additions from the folklore department. And a light dose of fish emulsion a few times a season doesn’t hurt anything.
Finally, two ways that I’ve had success with in keeping disease at bay are 1) Neem oil spray (which is derived from an evergreen, and is both a fungicide and insect repellant) and 2) aspirin dissolved in water sprayed on the tomato leaves every couple of weeks. I use a regular 80 mg tablet crushed and dissolved in water, which is supposed to stimulate the plants’ natural immune system.
The only tomato pest I’ve had trouble with is the tomato hornworm, a gigantic green worm that can devour plants like I devour ice cream. The first, and most sure-fire defense is search and destroy. Look for devastated leaves and dark green droppings, then look again. They’re masters of disguise. Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis, an organic bacteria) works when you don’t have time to survey all the plants.
But in the end, sometimes even with your best efforts, the weather intervenes or something just goes blooey. Hazards of the game.
That’s my 2 cents. If you don’t see pictures of my tomato plants in this blog after a while, you’ll know you shouldn’t have believed anything you read here.