February 3, 2009

A GOOD TOMATO CROP calls for sturdy stakes or cages; the best gardeners make their own cages from wire mesh, available at hardware- and builders’-supply stores. It’s sturdy, and six-foot lengths of it can simply be formed into cylinders that support the plants without restricting their growth. Concrete reinforcing wire is one good choice; the six-inch mesh is large enough to allow your hand to reach through for picking. The experts agree that cone-shaped wire tomato cages sold at garden shops often don’t do the job; they’re small and flimsy.

  • When starting tomato seeds, don’t fill the seed pots full of potting mix, but fill them only halfway. When the seedlings are three inches tall, then fill the pots to the top. New roots will develop along the newly buried stem, and you will have young plants with stronger root systems.
  • Don’t plant tomatoes too close together. Set plants six to eight feet apart; that way, grasshoppers and other pests can’t jump from one plant to the next.
  • Rotating the crop – planting it in a different part of the garden each year – will lessen the threat of soilborne diseases. As an extra precaution in areas that have heavy rains and high humidity, mulch well all around the tomatoes once the plants mature, to keep the soil from splashing up onto the leaves during a downpour.
  • To help tomatoes through periods of drought, find a flat rock (about the size of a sheet of notebook paper) and place it next to each tomato plant. The rock pulls up water from under the ground and keeps it from evaporating into the atmosphere.
  • If cool weather and high humidity have spelled disaster for your tomato crop in the past, consider cherry tomatoes. Foolproof in any climate, they bear abundant fruit in high or low temperatures and in rain or drought. Varieties for top flavor include ‘Matt’s Wild Cherry’, ‘Dr. Carolyn’, and ‘Gardener’s Delight’.

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