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CAROLE McCRAY/THE POTTING SHED: Tips for growing great-tasting tomatoes

on March 31, 2013 2:40 AM

If you are like most of us, the tomatoes in the grocery stores during the winter months just don’t measure up to a homegrown, freshly picked and warmed by the sun garden tomato.

Follow some growing tips for a fruitful harvest of fresh, juicy tomatoes.

GARDEN SPACING: Tomatoes should be set 30 to 48 inches apart in a row with the rows spaced 48 inches apart.

If you plant tomatoes too close together, you’ll only increase the chance of disease.

EARLY PEST PREVENTION: Wrap the tomato stems with a piece of cardboard or wax paper that extends an inch above and below the soil to protect from cutworms. A regular office stapler can be used to secure the material in a circle. After the stems toughen up in 3 to 4 weeks, cutworm damage will no longer be a concern and the paper will have rotted away.

FEEDING: Use slow-release fertilizer pellets at planting time to nourish young tomatoes. Do not overfertilize early in the season. It will result in a large plant but will not yield many tomatoes.

GIVE THEM HEAT: Lay black or red plastic over the planting area a couple of weeks before planting the tomatoes. One recommendation is to use clear plastic; it traps heat energy, causes weeds not to germinate and not reappear.

MULCHING: Plastic mulch conserves water; however, laying mulch down too early will shade plants and keep the soil cold. Wait for the ground to warm up to lay mulch. A layer of newspaper about 6-8 sheets thick between the rows will work. To keep the sheets in place, soak the newspapers before setting them down and then cover the newspaper sheets with dry grass clippings or bark mulch.

CLIP THEIR LEAVES: To prevent fungus problems from developing, cut the leaves from the bottom 1 foot of the stem once the plant has grown to 3 feet. Very little sun gets to the bottom leaves and is a place where a fungus problem can develop.

GIVE THEM A PINCH: Tomatoes will bear more fruit and give energy to the plant if you pinch and remove suckers where the two branches join.

GIVE THEM A DRINK REGULARLY: Water tomato plants on a regular basis. Be careful to not miss watering regularly and then try to make up for it by overwatering. Playing catch up on watering can lead to tomatoes cracking. Some of the new tomatoes out on the market for 2013 are ones you might want to try. Here are a few suggested from Burpee:

TOMATO SUPER SAUCE: This roma tomato has aroma and can weigh in up to 2 pounds. It delivers a seedless sauce, good as a meaty slice on a burger and is well-suited to salads.

TOMATO BERRY: Cut this tomato and you will see its heart-shape. As a cherry tomato, it is excellent as a snack and as an addition to a salad.

TOMATO SUNCHOCOLA: If you like a sweet, smoky flavor, then this cherry tomato will suit your taste.

Follow the growing tips for tomatoes, and try a new variety or two, and you will have a healthy and tasty tomato harvest.

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