Tomatoes are not only my favorite garden crop, they are also the most popular among American home gardeners. And it’s no wonder: have you ever compared a tomato from the supermarket to a garden tomato? The local scent alone will transport you straight into summer.
Another benefit of growing your own tomatoes is variety. Yellow, black, pear-shaped, and even giant tomato seeds — which you won’t usually find in the produce aisle — are readily available in catalogs and at many garden centers. And since my favorite tomatoes are big and lumpy, that’s usually how I roll.
I’m so in love with it that while writing a garden column for Newsday in New York, I created and hosted for 13 years The Great Long Island Tomato Challenge, a gathering of fellow tomatophiles in search of the biggest fruit in the season (yes, tomatoes are technically fruits).
Over the years, I’ve come face to face with many beautiful, sweet-smelling giant tomatoes, including a 5-pound, 4-ounce beauty that was the largest ever to enter the competition – not to mention heavier than some new ones. -born. .
I also got to meet and talk with the competitive tomato growers who bred these champions, and it didn’t take long to notice some commonalities in practice between them.
But first of all, although tomato plants can be a little difficult, they are not difficult to grow. Give them consistent watering (deep and infrequent assets, watering daily), well-drained soil (incorporate generous helpings of compost into beds or containers when planting), plenty of heat and light (sun straight and unobstructed for at least 6 hours a day is best) and a balanced slow-release fertilizer formulated for tomatoes.
Keeping beds well weeded will eliminate breeding grounds for pests and diseases while eliminating competition for nutrients and water.
Tomatoes grow best in soil with a pH between 6.0 and 6.8. The test kits are worth their $10 to $20 cost and will last for many years. If the pH reading is below 6.0, incorporate about 2 cups of dolomitic lime into the soil for each plant, working it about 8 to 12 inches deep.
So you want to grow a whopper? Follow these seven expert tips for success:
1. Select large, indeterminate varieties like Big Zac, Porterhouse, Rhode Island Giant or Bull’s Heart, all genetically programmed to produce large fruits.
2. Sow indoors early and transplant seedlings several times into larger containers before moving them outdoors. Plant them deep each time, removing the leaves from the bottom third of the plants and burying the stems until the next set of leaves. This will produce stronger plants.
3. Remove new flowers developing at the top of the plant when older fruits near the bottom begin to grow. This will force the energy of the plant to produce fewer but larger tomatoes.
4. Be vigilant! Monitor plants daily for pests and diseases and react quickly to problems to prevent plants from becoming stressed.
5. Remove suckers – the little shoots that grow at the junction where the plant’s stems and branches meet – to prevent them from sapping the plant’s energy and shading out the developing fruit below.
6. Prune plants to retain only one main branch instead of allowing them to grow into shrubby forms.
7. Be diligent: Water, fertilize and weed regularly.
Jessica Damiano writes regularly about gardening for The Associated Press. A master gardener and educator, she writes The Weekly Dirt newsletter and creates an annual wall calendar of daily gardening tips. Send her a note at [email protected] and find her at jessicadamiano.com and on Instagram @JesDamiano.
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