It’s no wonder tomatoes are the most common crop gardeners grow. They’re relatively easy and will feed the family throughout the summer and fall with some simple care and attention.
They’re also spectacular plants to grow. In the first stage, tomatoes are prolific, doubling their size every two weeks before yielding the sweet fruit that tastes so much richer when freshly picked; much better than anything you could buy from the supermarket.
Try it yourself and follow these 8 tomato growing secrets for a huge harvest.
1. Choose your plant wisely
It may sound ridiculous, but the first step in a huge tomato harvest is choosing the perfect variety for you. There are two reasons for this.
First, if you choose a variety that you don’t particularly care to eat, you’re unlikely to look after it as much as it needs. What’s the point in investing so much time, energy, and money into something that won’t give you anything back?
Second, different tomatoes suit different climates and regions. Check the seed packet before you buy to double-check you can give this plant everything it needs to thrive.
2. Get the conditions right
Another simple, but practical point here, is to mention that if you don’t invest in the right conditions, your plant won’t give you the bumper crop you’re after, no matter how much love you have for them.
Keep tomatoes at the correct temperature, between 55-85 degrees, although somewhere in the middle is ideal. They may survive hotter or colder temperatures, but they’re unlikely to thrive as they should.
If a tomato plant doesn’t receive enough light, even from the very beginning, it’s unlikely to grow into a vigorous, healthy fruit-bearing plant.
If you’re growing outdoors or in a greenhouse and want to avoid tall, thin, leggy plants, they’ll need at least 6-8 hours of sun a day.
If you’re starting them off under fluorescent light, this needs to increase to around 14 hours a day.
Although tomatoes are not super fussy, you need to plant them in potassium and phosphorus-rich soil to get a bumper crop.
Top them up with liquid fertilizer designed for tomatoes when the fruits begin to develop. Then a light fertilization every few weeks until the end of the season will suffice.
It’s also worth remembering not to give your plant too much nitrogen, as this will inhibit its fruit production.
3. Plant deep
The deeper you plant your tomatoes, the healthier they grow. Around 12 inches is perfect.
This is because you allow the plant to establish a more profound and more substantial root system. The deeper you go, the more nutrition your plant will be able to find and utilize.
Whilst you’re there, add a sprinkling of ground eggshells to the compost. This will add plenty of calcium to nourish the plant, making its cells much stronger. It’ll also make your crop even bigger and better and prevent Blossom End Rot.
4. Automatic irrigation
Although watering your tomato plants by hand is okay, investing in an automatic irrigation system has extra benefits.
Irrigation systems come in many shapes and sizes, so spending a little time researching before buying will ensure you’ve chosen perfectly for your needs.
The main advantage when using an irrigation system is that watering will remain consistent, which tomato plants need for a bumper harvest.
Heavy wet periods, followed by lengthy dry spells, can cause serious problems, such as catfacing. So, depending on your climate and variety, you can set it to suit your plants.
Automatic irrigation is also handy if you’re a little forgetful or want to pop away for the weekend. There’s no bother; the watering is taken care of.
Lastly, automatic irrigation will avoid unnecessary splashing, which significantly contributes to the spread of blight and other diseases.
Even the most careful gardener may accidentally get the leaves wet, whereas an irrigation system allows the water to flow freely straight into the soil.
5. Provide plenty of support
Tomato plants are natural climbers. As soon as they emerge from the soil, the only way they are heading is north towards the sun.
They also expand outwards with thickening stems and heavy leaves as they grow upwards.
Eventually, if you leave the tomato plant to do its own thing, it will weigh itself down, sprawl itself out along the ground, and become a tangled mess.
Using a tomato cage or sturdy lengths of cane will act as excellent support that you can tie the plant to.
What’s more, propping your tomato plant up will keep it away from any pests lurking in the soil.
It’ll allow for more air to circulate through the plant, and even more importantly, by supporting your plant, you can see your prize shining much easier.
6. Massage the flowers
Unlike many crops that rely solely on insects to cross-pollinate the flowers, tomato plants have both male and female parts.
Therefore, tomatoes are just as likely to pollinate via the wind as an insect. In theory, this should make it twice as possible for your flowers to complete this process and for fruit to grow.
This isn’t always the case. If you’re growing your tomatoes in a greenhouse and your pollinator count is low, you may still need to lend a helping hand.
Believe it or not, using an electric toothbrush could be just the ticket. Gentle vibrations applied to the neck of a flower may just loosen the pollen enough to help the process along. A soft shake should also do the job if you don’t have a spare electric toothbrush.
Once your plant has begun providing you with your tomatoes, you can congratulate yourself on doing a fantastic job. However, there is still more you can do to reach a bumper harvest.
If left to its own device, your tomato plant will continue to shoot new leaves, eventually becoming more tomatoes. Although this sounds great, your plant will grow better and more robust if you keep it under control; it’s less likely to fall victim to diseases and pests.
It’s also important to prune or pinch off any leaves that are dying or discoloring, paying close attention to blight symptoms, which, left unchecked, will sweep through your whole crop and render it useless.
Another tip is to prune leaves from the first fruit downwards; this will also help prevent blight because the leaves will be further away from the soil.
Although many plants can be fussy about pruning, the tomato plant is not one of them, so it won’t be too bothered if you make a mistake.
8. Avoid the soil
Adding a layer of mulch, such as straw or woodchip, to separate the plant from the soil has many advantages.
Adding this barrier will insulate the soil during colder spells and keep it cool from the blazing sun. It will help the soil retain moisture, allowing for more consistent water levels.
However, the most critical advantage is that mulch helps prevent diseases, such as blight, which can creep up from the soil underneath during wind or whilst watering.