The perfect tomato: Part II

By Lynette L. Walther | Jul 09, 2020
Photo by: Lynette L. Walther A bountiful harvest is what we all dream of when we plant those tomatoes.

This week we return to one of the most popular choices for home vegetable gardens — tomatoes, how to grow them successfully and increase the harvests.

Last time we introduced the first half of National Garden Bureau’s breeder members’ answers for the dozen questions most often asked about growing tomatoes. Now for the second half:

7. Should I fertilize during the growing season or just at the beginning?

Tomatoes need phosphorus, nitrogen, potash and minor elements. Starting your plants off with an ample shovelful or two of compost will go a long way toward making sure the soil will provide for their needs. It will also aid the soil in holding onto moisture, which will prevent problems such as blossom-end rot.

Many gardeners also add a synthetic or organic fertilizer. Some types, such as water-soluble granules or fish emulsion, can be applied when watering. There are also granular forms that can be mixed with the soil before planting or used as a side dressing, and time-release fertilizers, which can be added to the soil at planting time.

No matter what kind of fertilizer you use always follow the directions on the label. Do not over-fertilize because this will cause lush plants with little fruit set. It’s best to select a fertilizer that contains more phosphorus than nitrogen or potassium. Phosphorus promotes flowering and fruit set.

8. What causes catfacing on my tomatoes?

Catfacing, caused by incomplete pollination in cold weather, is a malformation of the fruit on the blossom end and is more common in larger tomatoes such as beefsteaks. To prevent this disorder, choose from among the many varieties that are resistant.

9. How do I grow a tomato plant in a container?

For best results, select a tomato variety with a compact or determinate habit — compact cherry tomatoes are particularly good for container culture. The container needs to be deep, at least a foot, with drainage holes on the bottom.

Use a sterile growing mix, keep the plants evenly watered, and place them so that they receive as much direct sunlight as possible. Feed plants regularly with a water-soluble fertilizer, keeping in mind that nutrients will leach out of the pots faster than garden soil. During periods of hot weather, full-grown plants may need to be watered daily.

10. How do I know when to harvest my tomatoes?

For the best tomato flavor, allow the fruit to fully ripen on the plant. Wait until it is deep red, yellow, or whatever final color the tomato is to be because once it is removed from the vine, the supply of sugars is cut off.

To harvest, gently twist the fruit so that the stem separates from the vine. Tomatoes are best kept at room temperature and will store on a kitchen counter for several days. At the end of the season when frost is predicted, green tomatoes can be harvested and placed on a windowsill or counter. Most will gradually turn red and have some degree of tomato flavor. Placing unripe tomatoes in a paper bag will hasten the ripening process.

11. What is the best tomato to plant for home canning?

My first choice for a canning tomato would be a determinate Roma type. Determinate tomatoes produce a large amount of ripe fruit in a relatively short window of time so you would have more tomatoes to can at one time. Roma’s also are less watery, which I prefer for canning.

12. What are the benefits of growing tomatoes?

Tomatoes provide abundant vitamins and minerals. One cup of cherry tomatoes will provide 25% of daily recommended Vitamin A, 32% of Vitamin C, and a substantial amount of Vitamin K and potassium. Tomatoes are also an excellent source of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that has been linked to a reduced risk of cancers.

Lynette L. Walther is the GardenComm Gold medal winner for writing and a five-time recipient of the GardenComm Silver Medal of Achievement and the National Garden Bureau’s Exemplary Journalism Award. Her gardens are in Camden.

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