Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"You say tomato, I say tomahto"

Like the old song goes "You say tomato, I say tomahto", everyone has their own interpretation of what it takes to grow and harvest tomatoes. I have read about the planting the plant on its side trick, or the planting the tomato plant with a dead fish trick or the question of whether to plant a determinant or indeterminate variety, the list goes on and on....There are so many tricks and rules you may just feel like calling the whole thing off.

Tomatoes are an easy plant to grow, anyone can do it. I have always had a successful crop of tomatoes and my secret has been to have four main ingredients:

  • Water
  • Fertilizer
  • Support
  • Sun
Water - Like most plants tomatoes need regular water. I use automatic drip irrigation for three great reasons. The first reason is because it delivers consistent moisture to the plant. Tomatoes (and other vegetables) do not like to be over watered or dry out, especially when it happens inconsistently. The second reason is drip irrigation waters the root zone not the leaves. Overhead watering (especially in the evening) can cause moisture born fungi and disease (e.g. Powdery mildew ) to develop on leaves. The optimal time to water is early in the morning when leaves have a whole day to dry off before temperatures drop and humidity rises. The third reason is because it saves water (better for the environment and easier on the wallet). With overhead watering, much of the water is lost through evaporation and run off. Basically, I water my vegetable garden in the morning three times a week for ten minutes with drip irrigation. Mulching around the the plants will help conserve moisture and keeps weeds at bay.

Fertilizer- Any complete vegetable fertilizer will do. I use an organic fertilizer such as E.B. Stone's Organic Vegetable and Tomato Fertilizer. I also use fish emulsion, which is a liquid fertilizer mixed with water. Fish emulsion liquid fertilizer is the fastest way the plant can receives nutrients and is known as foliar feeding.

-Most Tomato growers would agree, there are two main methods of support for tomato plants staking and cage. In Pat Welsh's book Southern California Gardening a month to month guide She explains the two techniques in great detail but I will give you the shorter version.

The cage method- bend a 6 1/2-foot length of 5-foot-tall, 6-by-6 hardware cloth or cement-reinforcing wire to make a round cage 2 feet across. Place the cage over the tomato plant (make sure it is anchored down to withstand wind). With this method no pruning is involved, just let the branches climb up inside the cage. With this method the fruit will be smaller but you will get more fruit.

The next method is the staking method. Stake each tomato plant with one 8-foot-tall stake that you embed in the ground. Prune all side suckers and allow only one main trunk to grow. This method takes a lot of work but you will get larger and earlier fruit but less of them.

Sun-Like all plants that produce flowers and fruit tomatoes need at least seven hours of direct sunlight in order to flower then fruit. Without the sun exposure you may have a plant that has great green foliage but has no or little fruit.

So, it is that simple and before you know it you will have tons of beautiful and tasty home grown tomatoes that you can brag about.


  1. Hello Clare, thanks for the tomato tips. I may be watering just a little to often. I was wondering if you could tell me the best time to harvest the summer squash, t seems like the edges are scalloped and i pulled two very small ones off, or actually the pretty much fell in my hand when I touched them but there are several very large ones that are very much attahced and they are still green so they dont seem ripe to me. could you give me a general rule of thumb to follow for these?

  2. With these squash you can eat them small or large. Here is what baker creek seeds says;

    Patissons Panache Jaune Et Vert Scallop
    Beautiful scalloped fruit are a lovely creamy-yellow with contrasting deep green radial streaks. Small fruit may not show streaking and it can be variable. Stunning displayed with our other scallops! The flavor is delicious as a summer squash or is great baked in the fall. We are happy to offer this French heirloom again this year.

    I pick all my summer squash small (tennis ball size or smaller)and barbecue or deep fry them. In fact, I tried this recipe http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/fried-cheese-stuffed-zucchini-blossoms-recipe/index.html last week and it was very yummy. Let me know how you like them!

  3. Thanks Clare, I got it, Sorry I guess I just didnt know where to look. I will forward some pics tomorrow, Things are really starting to grow like mad. Lots of Squash, Tomatos, beans almost ready and the eggplant has started to fruit. I'm getting excited!