Red Truth

By Heather Schultz

February 12, 2014 4 min read

Tomatoes are easy to grow. Many times, unintentionally dropped seeds pop up into little seedlings without special care or attention. However, there are some simple tips to know before starting. These five will make your growing experience, and your tomatoes, that much richer.

1) Tomato plants are best watered at the roots. When you place the seedlings deep into soil, making sure they are planted up to the first leaves, it is time for watering. Avoid watering the leaves. Water on the tomato leaves actually increases the risk of disease, which can eventually harm the plant. If your plants are in the ground, then a soaking hose laid on or under the soil works well. Too much commitment? Then water the plant at the base of the plant and skip the leaves entirely. Water every five days.

2) Clipping at the "y" part of the plant branches will make the plant grow taller and produce more fruit. The "y" is the space between the main stem of the plant and the strong vines that grow off of them. These growths at the "y," commonly called suckers, generally do not yield fruit and take energy away from the parts of the plant that do produce delicious tomatoes. If you pinch off the suckers early, they will not detract from fruit production. Simply take your thumb and first finger, and pinch off the offenders. Remember to put them into your compost.

3) Pick your tomatoes a day or two before they are fully ripe or right after a rainfall. Picking tomatoes before they are fully ripe (you can tell by their bright, non-green color) is a good idea. It encourages the plant to then focus on its budding fruit, allowing more fruits to grow during the season. It also prevents overripening, which can lead to mealy tomatoes.

Another good time to pick ripe fruit is just after a large rainfall; the abundance of water can cause splitting. Splitting occurs when the fruit and its skin cannot hold the new liquid it takes in. Splitting brings nasty little insects that enjoy the open, rotting fruit.

Where do you store your almost-ready-to-eat tomatoes? Store them in a flat and open container in a cool, dry place, such as a counter or open area in a garage. Be sure to shuffle and rotate the tomatoes around to allow for even ripening. Also avoid refrigerating tomatoes. Mother Earth News explains that, "Tomato flavor declines at temperatures below 55 degrees."

4) When you pick the fruit, try to keep the green stem on the tomato. Keeping the green top on the fruit can help prevent it from rotting sooner than it would have otherwise.

5) Cage and stake your tomatoes. Caging your tomatoes ahead of time and setting up stakes to hold their lovely weight when full of fruit is easy if planned and done early in the season. Cherry tomatoes require taller cages than regular or plum tomatoes.

In the center of the cage, place a bamboo stake: at least 9 feet for cherry or 6 feet for regular or plum tomatoes. Tomato plants should be 4 feet apart to promote air circulation for disease prevention. Place the bamboo stake in the center of the square of four tomato cages and tie each cage to that stake. As your plants grow, tie up the vines to the cage if low enough, or to the bamboo stake you placed in the center.

Also space your planting. Organic Gardening Magazine explains that, "Three weeks after you plant tomatoes in your garden, put in another set so all of your harvest doesn't come at once."

Bonus tip: Cook the green tomatoes that were picked or fell from the plant too early.

Larger green tomatoes can easily be cooked and eaten. Cut quarter-inch slices, soak a moment or two in milk, and cover the slices with breadcrumbs. Fry in cooking oil until golden brown and serve warm.

Did you know? Tomatoes can be classic red, golden orange, pale yellow, clear white and even deep purple. Try to grow a variety for mouth-watering new flavors.

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