Top Tomato Tips

As is widely recognized, growing tomatoes is perhaps one of the most common activities in the garden patch. Due to their quick growth habit and excellent production potential, almost every gardener adds them to their list of plants to adorn their garden space. Like any other plant, there are cultural practices that need to take place during the growing season to ensure good productivity for these plants.

Which Tomato Should I Grow?

Almost every time I start thinking about which varieties, hybrids and/or heirlooms to cultivate, I will change my mind at least 5 times prior to arriving to a final selection. If I had the space, I’d grow more tomatoes! Truthfully, I don’t believe there’s a “one fits all” tomato to grow. For instance, in a 20-mile radius from where you live, you’ll find that many types of tomatoes are cultivated and every grower swears by their choices. At St. Joseph Street Community Garden you’ll find varieties, hybrids and heirlooms in the mix.

Before I reveal my short list of superstars, now I sound like Motley Fool, it’s important to know the basic tomato types available. Growth habit is the divining rod here. Tomatoes are either determinate, indeterminate or dwarf. A determinate tomato can reach 4 to 5 feet in height while the indeterminate can attain a height of 6 to 9 feet. The dwarf tomato, a material which I do not cultivate, is suited for container gardening. Determinate tomatoes typically have a shorter flowering and fruit production period making them more suitable for large production growers. The indeterminates have much longer flowering and fruiting cycles making them an excellent choice for the garden plot.

Indeterminate Tomato

An Excellent Read for the Tomato Enthusiast

Like anything else, you can find a ton of information about tomatoes in books, catalogs, university bulletins and online. However, one of my favorite sources of information is my tomato bible (see below):

  • Title: EPIC Tomatoes (How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of All Time)
  • Author: Craig LeHoullier
  • Publisher: Story Publishing
  • Published 2015

I couldn’t resist. Here’s a photo of the front cover.

My Tomato Bible

Pruning Tomatoes

Please read my post entitled “Pruning Tomatoes”….

Disease Control

Well, and although disease can be an issue for tomatoes, I don’t seem to have many problems with foliar diseases. I attribute this to being careful not to over fertilize plants, irrigate at the base of plants (this reduces splashing which moves spores from soil to the plant), pruning (see above) and cultivating tomatoes which exhibit resistance to many of our common foliar and root diseases.

Insect Control

I’ve grown tomatoes for years and in many states across the USA. When it comes to insects, I’ve only had difficulties with Tomato Hornworm and occasionally with Western Yellowstriped Armyworm . Both larvae stages can do considerable damage to leaves and fruit. If larvae are not controlled promptly the amount of damage escalates quickly. Fortunately, we have an excellent means of organic control for both pests. I use Bacillus thuringensis, a soil borne bacteria, to control these pests. Several vendors manufacture and sell this product in liquid form making it simple to apply with a hand held sprayer.

Tomato Hornworm

I usually apply the first dose a few weeks after flowering initiates. As long as it doesn’t rain, the treatment seems to remain effective for up to two weeks. In a given season I may apply Bacillus perhaps 4 or 5 times. Any larvae which ingest the bacteria will stop feeding, almost immediately, and their development ceases.

Western Yellowstriped Armyworm

Growing the Best

Oops…… I almost forgot to tell you which tomatoes work well for me. Here they are, Better Boy, Ivan (MO heirloom), Mortgage Lifter (heirloom) and Jetsetter. Warning, this list will change!

Applying Fertilizer

As you already know, tomato plants have the potential to produce enough fruit for a small village. One of the ways to tap into this potential is by applying fertilizer throughout the tomatoes growth cycle. i may feed my tomatoes 5 times beginning at transplant.

Pruning Tomatoes

There has been a lot said regarding the pros and cons of pruning tomatoes (AKA removing suckers). Over the course of several years, I have pruned tomato plants while leaving their neighboring plants free to produce a crop without any pruning. When we speak of pruning a tomato plant it refers to pinching out the vegetative branch which grows out of an axillary bud located where a branch is attached to a main stem of the plant.

Overall, I can say that pruning hasn’t always resulted in a bountiful yield as compared to unpruned partners. However, I do believe that pruning is typically beneficial (for indeterminates) when plants are exhibiting good vegetative growth, early in the season. Hence, pruning helps to slow vegetative growth in favor of flower and fruit production while excessive pruning may likely reduce overall yield. However. when I decide to initiate the pruning process, it will begin at the 2nd node, on the main stem, and continue to 6th or 7th node. The reason being that removing too many suckers from a tomato plant can cause increases in burn or scald to developing fruit. Also, if the plant becomes stressed during its production cycle, the remaining unpruned suckers will likely bear fruit allowing the gardener to realize a reasonable yield.

Because there are hundreds of tomato varieties, hybrids and heirlooms which are either determinate or indeterminate plant types, pruning is most effective for indeterminates. For a determinate or dwarf tomato, I may remove a few lower branches to allow for greater air circulation and to keep lower tomatoes off the ground, but I won’t remove suckers as mentioned above.

it’s likely that your experience in pruning tomatoes has led you to a different conclusion, so we would love to know what each reader has to say about this topic.

Missouri Tomato Production

The Garden Dreamer

Selecting Hybrids, Varieties and/or Heirlooms for your Vegetable Garden

An important consideration when planning the vegetable garden is to select plant material (heirlooms, varieties or hybrids) that are adapted to your area’s growing conditions.  Although local plant nurseries strive to carry adapted plant materials you shouldn’t assume that they have made all the best selections.   Recently, this was the case when I was shopping for apple trees.  I found some healthy-looking trees at one of our local nurseries however, upon close inspection, I discovered that the original vendor stated that certain of their varieties are not recommended for my region of MO.

Adapted, locally grown plant materials typically have the advantage over other plant varieties due to their resistance to disease, ability to complete their life cycle in a particular climate and favorable plant development under local weather conditions.  In general, proven cultivars and hybrids for your area will be a good choice year after year.  However, keep in mind that newly tested plant materials are frequently introduced so it is wise to save room in your garden to test a few new lines of your favorite veggies.

i enjoy comparing productivity of heirlooms, common varieties and hybrids.  My goal is simply to utilize the best genetic material that suits my expectations for good yield, quality production and resistance/tolerance to major plant diseases.