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Boost Your Tomato Growing Success

Boost Your Tomato Growing Success

By Melinda Myers for Milorganite
Photographs courtesy of Melinda Myers, LLC

Nothing beats the flavor of fresh-from-the-garden tomato. Make this your best tomato season yet.

Proper soil preparation is always key to growing a healthy and productive garden. Add to this proper selection, planting, and care for even greater results.

Boost your harvest by growing the most disease-resistant varieties whenever possible. The All-America Selections winners Celebrity and Big Beef are resistant to several tomato diseases. Others like Mountain Merit, Mr. Stripy and Galahad have shown resistance to late blight.

Check plant tags and catalogue descriptions for disease resistance information listed as; V (Verticillium), F (Fusarium), FF (Fusarium Races 1 and 2), FFF (Fusarium Races 1, 2 and 3), N (Nematode), T (Tobacco Mosaic Virus), LB (Late Blight), EB (Early Blight), St (Stemphylium gray leaf spot), A (Alternaria stem canker), C (Cladosporium Leaf Mold), and TSWV (Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus).

Consult with your local Cooperative Extension Service for a list of tomato varieties suitable for your location: You’ll find one best suited to your climate and the length of your growing season.

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When purchasing tomato transplants bigger isn’t always better. Improve results by trenching leggy tomato plants. Dig a shallow trench about three to four inches deep. Remove the lower leaves and lay the plant on its side in the hole. Carefully bend the stem, so the remaining upper leaves are above the soil. Fill the trench with soil, then water. Roots will form all along the buried stem.

Remove flowers and any fruit on transplants at planting. These structures divert the plant’s energy into forming fruit rather than establishing a strong root system. As difficult as this is, the payoff is a healthier plant and bigger harvest.

Install stakes or cages at planting to avoid damaging roots. You’ll also find it easier to place a tomato cage over a small transplant than trying to shove an established plant into a tomato tower.

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Even small space and apartment dwellers can enjoy garden fresh tomatoes. Look for one of the many compact and semi vining tomatoes to grow in containers. Even those with lots of garden space may enjoy growing a few tomatoes right outside their back door.

Use at least a 2- to 3-gallon pot for small compact tomato varieties and a 5-gallon or larger container for bigger tomatoes. Some research suggests growing in a pot that is at least 14” (preferably 20”) wide will yield greater results.

Fill a container that has drainage holes or a self-watering pot with a quality potting mix. Add a slow release fertilizer like Milorganite to reduce maintenance and improve yield. One application at planting provides small amounts of nutrients throughout much of the season. Add a second application six to eight weeks later. The amount of Milorganite needed is based on the size of the container:

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Be the first on the block to harvest a juicy red tomato. Select an early ripening variety like Early Girl, Fourth of July or Subarctic and train it on a stake for an early harvest. Place the stake in the ground at planting being careful not to injure the roots. Staked tomatoes produce the earliest but smallest harvest.

As the plants begin to grow, select one or two main stems to secure to the stake. Use cloth strips, twine or other soft ties to loosely attach these stems to the stake. Continue tying the stems to the stake as the plants grow. Check several times a week and remove all side branches and suckers that develop between the main stem and leaves. Regular pruning is needed to restrict the size of the plant to fit onto the stake. The payoff for your investment of time is an earlier start to the tomato harvest season.

Invest some time up front for a delicious harvest this season. Then share your bountiful harvest with family, friends and food pantries in your community.

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