Melinda Myers: Grow an earlier, more abundant tomato harvest
Be the first in your neighborhood to enjoy a garden-ripe tomato. Then continue harvesting an abundance of flavorful tomatoes throughout the growing season. A little planning and strategic planting can help you get an earlier and bigger tomato harvest.
Jump start the season by warming the soil for an earlier start. Cover the planting space with a floating row cover, clear plastic or a cloche. Once the soil is warm, you are ready to plant your tomatoes. Use the row cover or cloche to protect your plants when cold temperatures or frost is in the forecast. You will get a two- to four-week jump start to the season.
Further shorten the time to harvest by planting an early ripening tomato like Early Girl, Fourth of July, and Quick Pick. Check the catalog description or plant tags for the number of days the tomato variety needs to reach maturity. Growing these or others that require fewer days between planting and harvesting means you’ll be enjoying fresh tomatoes sooner.
Train at least one of your tomato plants onto a stake for an earlier harvest. Loosely tie one or two stems to a tall stake. Continue securing the stems throughout the season as the plant grows. Remove the suckers, the small branches that form between the main stem and leaf, as they appear. You’ll have fewer fruit, but they will be ready to harvest sooner than those caged or grown sprawled on the ground.
Staking also saves space and helps reduce the risk of disease. If staking seems like too much effort, grow your tomatoes in cages. Use tall, sturdy cages for larger indeterminate tomatoes that grow, flower, and produce fruit until frost. Caging tomatoes also increases airflow and light penetration for greater yields and fewer pest problems.
Save even more space while bringing the harvest to your kitchen door, balcony, or window box with compact tomato varieties, like Patio Choice Yellow Sweet and Neat or Tumbling Tom. Plant one in a 10-inch pot or grow several in a larger container. You’ll have a large crop of bite-sized tomatoes in about two months.
To improve the quality of your harvest, choose disease- and crack-resisting varieties. Cooks and canners will love Early Resilience Roma-type tomato. It is resistant to late blight, blossom end rot and several other common tomato diseases. This determinate tomato plant only grows two feet tall, so will not need staking. It is great for containers, small spaces, and traditional vegetable gardens. Reducing the risk of disease means a bigger harvest with less effort on your part.
Further reduce your workload and increase your success with mulch. Spread a two-inch layer of shredded leaves, weed-free straw, or evergreen needles over the soil surface around your plants. You will conserve water, suppress weeds, and improve the soil as the mulch decomposes.
With a little planning you will be ready to enjoy an early and bountiful harvest of tasty tomatoes from this season’s garden.
Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the nationally-syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is also a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. Her website is http://www.MelindaMyers.com.
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