How to Grow the Sweetest Tomatoes - Blakey Style
Updated: Jun 22
Tomatoes come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes from little bitty cherry tomatoes, plums used for sauces, standard-sized most commonly found in the shops, and the large beefsteak tomatoes.
Tomato plants can be the indeterminate type, which means that the plant grows tall up a single vine or the cordon variety of indeterminate, which grows tall and produces side shoots. You will want to remove the side shoots of the cordon variety to reduce congestion and allow the plant to concentrate on producing fruit.
Determinate or bush plants will grow more like a bush and not get tall as they don't grow on a central stem. This type of plant will usually spread two to three feet in the form of a bush, which makes them great for containers or baskets. You don't need to remove the side shoots as the plant will limit its own growth.
Dwarf varieties are tiny and only grow about eight inches high.
Check your local gardening charts to confirm when to plant your tomatoes out. I plant mine in a heated greenhouse mid-April to mid-May. In my growing area, you really can't plant them outside until after the May long weekend as we always get a snowstorm.
If you grow tomatoes from seed, start them indoors six to eight weeks before the average last spring frost date. If you don't start them from seed, get some starter plants from your local buy-sell sites or garden stores.
Starting from Seed
To grow stocky, healthy tomatoes from seed, they will require 12 hours of grow light time placed about two inches above the seedlings. Once they're more substantial, you'll need about eight hours of grow light time. Ensure your setup allows you to change the height of your grow lights as the plants develop. If your seedlings are leggy, they aren't getting proper light.
Provide your seedlings with airflow using a fan to assist with mould and mildew issues and help the seedlings develop stronger roots. Run your hands along your plants to help with the root development and with self-pollination.
Where to Plant Your Tomatoes
Plant your tomatoes in a spot with at least six hours of full sun. Tomatoes require fertile soil to help them produce excellent tasting fruit. They can be planted in the garden, raised beds, containers, and grow bags. Tomatoes are heavy feeders, so if you aren't planting them directly in a garden, remember to provide adequate feed and ensure the soil doesn't dry out.
Start to harden off your plants by bringing them out during the day and leaving them in a shady area. Over the following week, bring them out into the sun for more extended periods to allow them to build up some protection against the intense rays. Leaves can burn if not properly hardened off.
Fertilize your soil before you transplant your seedlings. Note that excessive nitrogen will produce lovely foliage; however, delay the flowering and fruiting process when you put your plants in their permanent home place them two to four feet apart depending on the variety.
Bury them up to the last couple of sets of branches in either a hole or a trench. All the little hairs you see on the stem will develop into roots creating a more robust, healthier plant. Once they reach three feet tall, take off the bottom foot of branches to reduce fungus from lack of airflow and sunlight, and bacteria splash from the soil.
For indeterminate plants, pinch off suckers that develop in the crotch of two branches. They won't bear fruit and will take energy away from the rest of the plant.
Closer to the end of the season, you can "stop" the plants by cutting the top of the main growing stem to prevent further growth so the plant can concentrate on ripening the fruit. You can pinch off the ends of the primary side stems to have the plant focus on the fruit. You can also thin the leaves to allow more sunlight to ripen the fruit but don't thin the leaves too much as they are needed for photosynthesizes and creating sugars that flavour the fruit.
Bush tomatoes can pretty much be left to do their thing, although leaves should be thinned out a bit to allow airflow and sunlight to get to the fruit that's about it. Provide support, so the branches don't break under the weight of the tomatoes.
Tomatoes are not cold tolerant. At the end of the season, tomatoes can be picked and left to ripen in a cool dark place on a towel, the branches can be removed and hung, or the whole pant can be removed and hung upside-down to ripen inside.
Good - Carrot, celery, herbs and flowers, and onions
Bad - Cabbage family, fennel, and potatoes (I learnt this one the hard way when I didn’t take the time to check first)
Water deeply in a well-draining soil while the fruits are developing. If you allow the plants to dry out, the fruit can crack or cause blossom end rot if you plant in a container or raised bed pay special attention to your watering habits. Once the fruit starts to ripen, hold back some water as this will signal the plant to concentrate on producing sugar to create sweet fruit.
Planting Marigolds attracts beneficial insects such as ladybugs and hoverflies, which feast on aphids. You can spray your plants with neem oil or with water to remove the aphids, make sure you give them time to dry out before the sun goes down to reduce the chances of mould development.
Blight caused by a fungus that naturally occurs in soils. The signs are brown marks on the leaves, which quickly increase in size. If left, any developing fruit starts to turn brown and rot. Adding milk to your watering can once a week can help control blight. I put one cup of powdered milk in a large watering can once a week to control blight and leaf mould on other plants.
Nutrient deficiencies cause leaves mottling, purple or reddish under leaves. Roots are unable to take up nutrients when the temperature is cold.
Blossom End Rot and Calcium Deficiency
Blossom end rot is a dark and often rotting area around the base of tomato fruit, which is caused by a shortage of calcium. The problem may be under watering as calcium uptake is slowed in drought conditions.
Is caused by irregular watering.
Signs are yellowing of the leaves while the new leaves remain green.
The mosaic virus affects tomatoes and is identified by leaves, which turn yellow, then bronze, and become distorted. This is an exceptionally infectious virus that can be transmitted by humans from plant to plant.
The adult flies which look like little moths lay eggs on the underside of leaves. The larvae feed on the leaves, leaving a sticky secretion which attracts other diseases. Remove any types of eggs or larvae off your plants as soon as they are spotted.
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Until next time take care and live well.