What you should know about keeping your tomato garden healthy
Proper culture, deterring predators and pests, and preservation are crucial to the success of your tomato growth. It is necessary to continually watch what is happening and maintain your tomato garden throughout the tomato growing season. Keeping your tomato garden healthy and disease free ensures your tomato plants are the best they can be.
Keeping your tomato plants well-watered during the tomato growing season, especially in periods of drought, will help ensure better yields. This can help control tomato problems such as Blossom End-Rot, which is a blackening of the fruit on the blossom end due to a calcium deficiency often related to water uptake. Proper tomato soil testing, lime applications, and tomato foliar treatment with calcium solutions like “Nutri-Cal Liquid Calcium ” will also help avoid this tomato problem.
Weeds compete with tomato plants for water, food, and space. It is extremely important to control weeds when it comes to growing tomatoes. Keep tomato soil cultivated to approximately a 1” depth or remove all established weeds and use a liberal application of mulch to prevent new weeds from emerging. Mulch materials, such as straw or plastic film, also help conserve moisture, help protect the fruits from rot and blight tomato diseases, and help maintain even tomato soil temperatures. The use of Red Mulch Film for growing tomatoes, a bright red, thin plastic, is popular for boosting tomato crops. In addition to warming the soil and helping retain moisture, it also reflects far-red wave-lengths up into the plant to stimulate plant development. Results are earlier and increased yields. Using drip irrigation or soaker hoses is beneficial when using any plastic film to ensure plants have the water they need. Growing tomatoes using Red Tomato Trays are another alternative. Place them around your plant when transplanting your tomato starts in the garden. Their red color stimulates plant growth and the trays protect against cutworms, serve as a mulch to prevent weed growth and help roots retain moisture, thus helping to prevent blossom end rot.
Tomato plants grown on stakes or trellises will need to be tied at regular intervals throughout the summer. Use soft string, tomato clips, strips of old sheeting or other soft, stretchable materials and be sure you do not tie the tomato stems so tightly they are strangled as the stems grow and thicken.
Tomato ripening time varies with location and tomato growing season and is influenced by soil and weather conditions. The days to tomato plant maturity gives you the approximate number of days from tomato transplanting until the first fruits should ripen. Leave the fruits on the vine until the tomatoes become completely ripe for the best flavor and food value. When tomato plants reach their full color, they are ready for picking. Be sure to pull the tomatoes off gently to prevent bruising.
Once picked, tomatoes should be stored in a cool dark place (but NOT in the refrigerator) where they will keep better than if left on the vine. In hot, humid weather, tomato fruits will be firmer if they are picked slightly before they are fully ripe and allowed to ripen indoors. All green tomatoes should be picked at the end of the tomato season, before the first hard frost. You can use the greenest tomatoes for making pickles. Tomatoes of ripening size can be stored in shallow boxes or trays in a cool but frost proof area where they will ripen gradually. These will provide usable tomatoes, however not vine-ripened tomato quality.
Tomato Plant Diseases & Pests
Tomatoes tend to be attractive to many worms, beetles, diseases, and other pests. It is crucial to keep a very close eye on what is happening throughout the tomato growing season. Damaged or stripped tomato foliage is almost a sure sign of tomato hornworms, and holes bored into fruits mean tomato fruit worms have hatched. If you see blotched and yellow tomato foliage, this might mean blights are present. Stunted tomato plants could mean the invasion of nematodes.
Organic tomato gardeners often choose to hand pick these uninvited guests. You can use insecticidal soaps or pyrethrins as treatments in combination with natural predators. Some tomato gardeners, especially those with larger tomato plantings, may need chemical pesticides for control of various insects and diseases. Make sure the pesticides you use are specifically labeled for your tomato crop and pests, and follow the label directions thoroughly. The more modern hybrid tomato varieties have in-bred disease resistance.
Many tomato gardeners plant extras for canning, freezing, and juicing since tomatoes are so versatile. You can easily prepare your own tomato soups, tomato juices, spaghetti and other sauces, tomato pastes, pickles, and many other tomato recipes. For helpful information on home freezing and canning of your tomatoes contact your local extension service.