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June 23, 2010

taking tomatoes seriously

Perhaps for the first time, I think I might try to grow tomatoes that are better than just those you can eat on a bagel with salt and pepper. I do grow them every year, but I don’t really pay them any attention, except for cutting back on the water once they start to seriously fruit. But as it turns out, when the plants get so huge and out of control (as they tend to in our yard) the tomatoes themselves are good for cooking and not much else.

What is the point of growing tomatoes if you can’t chop them up in a salad and love them to pieces?

So this year I’ve done a little research and it appears that one of the most important things is to be vigilant about suckering them from the start. For those of you who don’t know what suckering is, I shall explain both the process and why you do it. Now that I am an expert. Or you could just read one of the articles I read and you can be an expert too.

So the tomato plant has a main stalk, and at each leaf juncture, it has a tendency to want to create another main stalk by sending out a little shoot. This little shoot, if left alone, will go on to become a fruit producing part of your tomato plant’s team. Sounds good, right? The more tomatoes the better? Apparently no. In order to produce delicious tomatoes, you need to coax your plants into using all of their energy (the sugar they create from sunlight) into producing just one stalk, with a few key leaves and very sweet, very tasty tomatoes. If you allow the plant to produce as many stalks as it would like, you’ll have a dense thicket of tomato leaves, branches and fruit. But it will be prone to disease and rot and all sorts of other sub-optimal things. Not to mention, your tomatoes will have to compete with all those leaves and stalks for the sugar that makes them so tasty.

So the plan is this: go out to your plants, and if it’s not too late snap off each sucker at the root of the main stem. You’ll have a more spindly looking plant, but it will be healthier. And with a few other tricks will allegedly produce Caprese worthy tomatoes. The only other note is that above the first fruit clump, you are apparently allowed to let your plant grow one more main stalk. I accidentally had this happen to one of my plants but the rest I think I’m going to keep as barren as possible. It’s my summer gardening experiment. And part of my pledge to grow only what I actually want to eat. As opposed to 30 pounds of italian squash per week like last summer. That was disgusting.

This year I think the problem is going to be beans. We have A LOT of pole beans creeping skyward. I will be donating them to the first person who shows up on my doorstep when the time comes.

And as far as tying your tomatoes, staking is supposed to be better than cages. Which makes sense if you just have one stalk. But I already have all of the cages so I’m still using them this year.

And if I remember correctly, your should cut back on water significantly once your plants have started to really fruit. Too much water = mealy, flavorless tomatoes. And if there’s one thing I REALLY can’t stand it’s a mealy tomato. (Same goes for peaches and apples. Sick). I also read that you should fertilize them with kelp and bone meal, but I haven’t gone that far yet. Debating on whether I should order some though. I mean if I say I’m taking this seriously then don’t I have to go all the way?


  1. Char said on June 23, 2010

    :) this is serious. i hope you get great ones.

  2. The Note Ventress said on June 23, 2010

    Love it, and go for it! This world needs serious people who dive in at the deep end! lol ;) Hope they deliver brilliant and beautiful prize winning worthy batches of goodness! :)

  3. danielle said on June 23, 2010

    Oohh. Thank you- very helpful. I know I always make the mistake of overwatering, this suckerling thing new news.

    I've been using sea kelp this year. My master gardener friend told me once they fruit to lay off and only hit them with the fertilizer once every two weeks. Just a tablespoon per gallon of water. That bone marrow stuff or fish emulsion is nasty and gross and makes me not want to grow things.

  4. c said on June 23, 2010

    that is some great advice on the tomatoes. Wish I had known sooner! I take such good care of my tomato plants and they produce loads of fruit but they don't taste great and now I know why. It may be too late for this year seeing as they are so big already. Thanks for the garden inspiration!

  5. Rachel said on June 23, 2010

    Forwarding this on to my guy. We have tomatoes on our balcony for the first time this year and he's obsessed. He's out there multiple times a day, petting them and checking their water levels and counting the fruit. If you can't have a dog, just get some tomatoes, I guess.

  6. Cassi said on June 23, 2010

    Excellent post! We grew mealy tomatoes last year…yuck. This year, we've got new varieties and new tools to grow better ones. We barely water them, but I don't know the stalk situation…I will have to check that on my lunch break today. Technically, I am not the one growing them, since I have a black thumb; the hubs is the farmer; I just contribute to the compost pile and cook/prepare the fruits of his labor. Our snow peas are amazing, and much like your beans, they're vines are going crazy! We've already shared them with family and friends and still we find hundreds more when we pull back a few limbs. Let us know how your tomatoes turn out! Which varieties did you plant this year?

  7. The Yellow Door Paperie said on June 23, 2010

    This is awesome, as a tomato grower, I had no idea about suckering.

    Thanks for the insight!

  8. stephanie said on June 24, 2010

    I have read that a little baking soda mixed into the soil can help to cut some of the acidity in tomatoes. I plan on trying that this year to see if I notice any difference. Thanks for this tomato lesson though; I'm going to try it out.

  9. Peonies and Polaroids said on June 24, 2010

    Wow! I'm jealous. We have no garden and no sunshine which equals living on supermarket fruit and veg (ugh).

    I would go for the kelp but lay off the bonemeal, it's not made from the bones of happy, healthy animals and is most likely chock-full of antibiotics and the other crap they pump into animals destined for the cheap meat market.

  10. simpleblissbycourtney said on June 24, 2010

    i am in experimentation mode with my tomatoes as well. thanks for the advice… i'm off to prune! :)

  11. The girl behind the blog. said on June 24, 2010

    Thanks for the tip; I am a novice gardener and tomatoes are on my list. And I, too, want the kind that taste delicious. I also wouldnt mind my friends being slightly jealous of my green thumb!

  12. Cinnamon said on June 24, 2010

    Ok, I know that this has nothing to do with tomatoes, but it does have to do with vegetables and I feel like since you're an expert and all on homegrown vegetables you could give me a much needed answer. I just started getting squash on my plants and they were looking really good and then all of the sudden they have this white powdery substance all over the leaves and now its starting to die! Everything I've read says pull the plant out but I don't want to! It's my first squash plant ever! Is there anything I can do, any home remedies to save it?

  13. lovelymorning said on June 24, 2010

    okay yeah, the bone meal was never an option. If I'M vegetarian, I'm certainly going to be raising vegetarian plants. But I do think I'm going to order some sea kelp.

    Cinnamon – I'm not sure what to tell you. :( But the good thing is, squash grows really fast. If you do rip it out and plant a new one, I would plant it in a different spot if possible.

  14. Ash3 said on June 30, 2010

    This was always my job as a kid. This and the weeding of course!

  15. Lois said on July 13, 2010

    I tried kelp meal for the first time this year and it's been amazing for my tomato plants, definitely do it!

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