Spring is for planting veggies for bountiful harvests. Pike Nurseries shares tips and tricks to grow the tastiest tomatoes in town.
Properly prep spaces
When selecting a space for tomato plants, be sure to choose an area with plenty of natural, direct sunlight, preferably for at least six to eight hours per day. For gardens lacking a full-sun area, try planting tomatoes in pots so they can be easily moved to bright spaces. Be sure to use a large pot, as tomatoes have a vigorous root system and grow quickly.
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When selecting tomato varieties, it’s important to understand the two types: determinate or indeterminate. All blossoms and fruit develop at the same time on determinate plants, leading to a short but abundant harvest. This is popular with gardeners who enjoy canning tomatoes or preparing sauce. Indeterminate plants grow and produce fruit along the vine throughout the growing season. In this case, the harvest will last several months and provide fresh fruit for sandwiches, salads and more. Favorite varieties include:
• Better Boy: Noted for its superior flavor, these bright red fruits yield a large amount of tomatoes for slicing. Indeterminate.
• Brandywine: The beefsteak-shaped fruits are rosy pink in color and loaded with a superb, old-fashioned tomato taste. The heirloom standard grows quickly and ripens gradually until frost. Indeterminate.
• Cherokee Purple: This heirloom’s vigorous vines grow dusky pink fruits with a deep red interior and rich flavor. Ranked high in taste tests, Cherokee Purple adds a sweet taste to any meal. Indeterminate.
• Early Girl: An all-around popular hybrid, the Early Girl is best used to jump-start early harvests that continue to produce throughout the season. These fresh fruits can be planted again in the late summer to produce a bountiful fall crop. Indeterminate.
• Super Sweet 100: Clusters of sweet-tasting cherry tomatoes are perfect for tossing in salads and snacking. Known to be highly disease-resistant, these plants will continue to grow all season long! Indeterminate.
• Roma: Prized for its use in cooking, this plant produces egg-shaped fruits with thick walls, few seeds and little juice, ideal for making tomato sauce and paste. Determinate.
• Yellow Pear: Named after its pear shape and bright yellow color, this heirloom tomato flaunts long vines that produce clusters of mild-flavored tiny tomatoes! Indeterminate.
When prepping the area to plant tomatoes, dig a hole that is about twice as big as the tomato pot. Remove the native soil and mix it at a 50/50 ratio with Pike Vegetable and Flower Mix to break up the dense clay soil and allow for better root growth, adding nutrients the veggies will need to produce an abundant harvest. This will improve drainage and balance soil pH for a healthy crop. Be sure to backfill the hole about half way with the amended soil! When planting in containers, the experts suggest using Pike Potting and Container Soil, which contains wetting agents that help retain moisture in the soil. No matter where the tomatoes are planted, add a handful of a starter fertilizer, like Dr. Earth Root Zone, at the bottom of the hole and mix in. The starter fertilizer will prevent transplant shock and help roots begin to establish.
Bury and Stake Stems
When planting tomato plants, remove the bottom one or two levels of leaves and bury the plants up to that portion of the stem. New roots will sprout from the base of the stem, anchoring the plant in the dirt and ultimately providing a sturdier plant with more fruit. The experts point out tomatoes are the only plant that should be planted this way. When planting or transplanting tomatoes, start plants out with tomato cages, especially for indeterminate varieties like Brandywine. Tomato cages are easier to insert when plants are young and will help support the tomato plants as they grow and keep fruit off the ground.
The key to tomato success is consistent water. Thoroughly soak tomato beds at time of planting and always water the soil directly rather than watering the leaves. Keeping the leaves dry will minimize the chance of fungus and disease, ultimately keeping tomatoes healthy and strong throughout the growing season. Water when the soil feels dry one to two inches down. Maintain a consistent watering schedule as irregular watering can cause the fruit to split. Fertilize every six weeks with Dr. Earth’s Organic Tomato, Vegetable and Herb Fertilizer.
Compost and Trim
Once plants reach a height of about three feet, remove any brown and fungus-ridden bottom leaves to prevent diseases from taking hold. When little sucker stems sprout from the base of larger stems, pinch them off to result in more fruit; they will just suck the energy away from the more prolific stems. While the first fruit is ripening, gardeners can encourage new growth and continued fruit by spreading compost around the stem and trimming some of the upper leaves. Visit pikenursery.com for more information and care tips.
Pike Nurseries locations are offering delivery and curbside pick-up. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Customers can complete an online form or call a local store to order.
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