thoughts on tomato culture

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.
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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

Sucker.

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20 thoughts on “thoughts on tomato culture

  1. Your plants look like they are thriving on whatever you are doing for them 🙂 I think it is testament to the life force of tomatoes that they grow despite almost everything we do to them – and it is why they are the most popular home-grown crop! I don’t grow any outside here in Ireland because blight nearly always devastates them just as they are ripening and I don’t want to spray (more out of lack of time than ethics). So they are all in the greenhouse but I do mulch the beds. But I train them up strings and take off sideshoots to keep them in check. I find that if I leave them to wander I get lots of small tomatoes that haven’t a chance of ripening. I am sure we will see more of your soon 🙂

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    • You’re very right about the tomatoes. Every spring I spend a few weeks completely convinced that my tomato plants are sickly and won’t make it. Then they pull themselves out of it and I forget about it till next time around.

      I know that success can be had with training the vines like you do. I’ve never been able to keep my plants healthy that way. But I never discount other gardeners’ methods. There’s always more to learn. Someday I may try that method again.

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    • Thanks! I’m growing Jet Star (a hybrid), along with Heirloom varieties Moskovitch, Cherokee Purple (x2), German Johnson Pink, Mortgage Lifter, Amish Paste, Opalka, and Druzba.

      All of those varieties I’ve grown before except Opalka and Druzba. I’m shooting for a good mix; a couple of medium-sized early tomatoes, a couple of meatier varieties for sauce and canning, and some bigger guys just for fresh taste.

      What kinds do you grow?

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      • What a great mix! I’ve not heard of some of those heritage varieties and that’s all the more interesting. Over here it’s Tomatoberry, Sweet Million, Indigo Blue, Heinz 6402, Tiny Tim, Tigerella and Andine Cornue. Like you say a mix of types and sizes seems the way to go.

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  2. Hey Dan … great post. I remove the laterals and then let the plants sprawl everywhere- my dad would not be impressed. I really need to get some organisation happening for my toms as they got blight early in the season last year and had to be hauled out. Love the idea of mulching too – always a good thing to do. I have never used neem on the tomatoes although I’m sure the white butterfly pillars wouldn’t much like it. Aspirin .. never used that either, but I use fish fert/seaweed brew regularly! 😀

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    • Ah, that’s a shame about the blight Julie. I know exactly how you feel. It’s one of the things I dread most in the garden.

      I really do joy hearing how other gardeners do things! 🙂

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  3. I stick with cherry or grape varieties. The bugs and squirrels pretty much steer clear of them. I plant roma as insect bait — leaf-footed, hornworm. Love using grass clippings as mulch! Caging is always my problem with tall bushy plants. ‘Jumbled mess’ pretty much pegs it!

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    • Well, it seemed to work for me last year. Could have been a fluke though. I’m spraying the tomatoes every 2 weeks again, so here’s hoping. Good luck!

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  4. ‘Remesh cages’ : I looked around for tall sturdy cages like you show but couldn’t find any..I live in southeast Ontario Canada so our resources might be slightly different, but I’m wondering if you could give some more info about the cages you used? Lots of great sounding tips — I’ve been cautious about pruning, was thinking about it this year…I have stakes up for blondkopfchen cherry tomato plants….I’ll see how the plants do….

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    • It’s exciting that you’re interested, because I love those cages! They’re made from remesh (also called concrete reinforcing wire). It comes in rolls like fencing, and you can get it at home improvement stores like Lowe’s or Home Depot in the lumber department.

      I got a 100′ roll, which is a lot, and the roll is heavy, so you might want some help. Each cage is made from 7′ of the roll. I’m not sure whether it’s available in shorter rolls, but you can call and ask.

      One other note; it’s pretty heavy duty. You might want to pick up a small pair of bolt cutters. Mine cut the wire like butter.

      I hope none of this changed your mind. They’re wonderful cages, and you can let them sit outside all the time. They last forever.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s great, thank you! I read somewhere that only sturdy cages like that would work for an indeterminate, but I had no clue how to make it. That could be a project for a future year. Janice

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