Friday, June 26, 2015

Tomatoes: companion planting and harvest

Last year I wrote about companion planting with tomatoes and I’d just like to reiterate here how great it is to be aware of how plants can help or hinder each other. Tomatoes love herbs like basil and oregano and dislike many cruciferous veggies, such as kale, cabbage, and brussels sprouts. Yet it does fine near broccoli. Go figure!

Many of these plants improve the health of the tomato plant and a few aid in the flavor of the fruit. Here’s a handy list of companion plants you might want to grow near your tomatoes:
  • Borage
  • Broccoli
  • Basil
  • Chives
  • Nasturtium
  • Onions
  • Chard
  • Hot peppers
  • Asparagus
  • Beans
  • Carrots
  • Lettuce
  • Parsley
  • Marigold

When it comes time to harvest, the tomatoes should easily pop off the stem without being twisted. Tomatoes don’t have a long life after being gathered and the best way to keep them for as long as possible is to set them in a shaded room temperature spot. Don’t place the tomatoes in the refrigerator because they will quickly lose their flavor.

What do you do with all those green tomatoes? Wait until after the first frost and harvest all of your healthy green tomatoes. Some of these tomatoes will ripen indoors. One way to do this is to place them in a box until ripe. Remember to keep the tomatoes away from sun and heat.

Image: Bill Benzon

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Tomatoes: keep your plant healthy

Tomatoes are fairly easy to grow and some simple steps can keep your plants healthy all season long. Be sure to plant your tomatoes in a different location every year, keeping in mind at least half a day’s worth of sun. Changing around the position of your tomato crop will keep away late blight.

 Mulching the area around the base of the plant prevents certain soil-related diseases as well as keeping the soil moist after watering. Mulching also keeps unwanted weeds at bay.

 As your plant grows, make sure to remove leaves that touch the ground not only for air circulation as mentioned in the previous post, but also to reduce mildew and blight. When you remove the lower leaves, soil won’t splash onto the leaves. In general, keeping the bottom of the tomato plant airy and pruned will improve the entire plant’s performance and health. Pruning is a good practice for a healthy plant, ripening fruit, aiding air flow and preventing blight and disease. Pruning should also involve removing dead and unhealthy leaves.

 Water should only soak the ground beneath the plant, not the foliage or plant itself. If using a hose, try setting it on a gentle flow and holding the nozzle close to the ground, avoiding the lower branches of the plant. If using a watering can, try the same technique, never watering from above the plant. A fully drenched plant can create mildew and allow room for blight. For hot weather, water your plants once a week with at least one inch of water in addition to regular watering. Once fruit is going strong later in the season, stop watering! This seems a strange idea, but it will help your fruit to ripen before the season ends.


Image: Laurelville Mennonite Church

Monday, June 15, 2015

Tomatoes: Basic Growing Tips

Tomatoes are a fun and popular plant to grow due to the flavorful fruit and abundant produce from even a single plant. Yet it’s easy to run into problems with this garden favorite. I’ve written three posts to discuss the best ways to grow tomatoes in our Pacific Northwest climate. This post deals with the basics of growing tomatoes. While you can grow tomatoes from seed, I’ll just be discussing growing tomatoes via starts you’ve planted in your garden.

Tomatoes come in two specific varieties: determinate and indeterminate. Determinate tomatoes are perfect for small spaces because they require little room and can often do without support, such as cages. The fruit on a determinate plant will ripen around the same time, creating a glut of delicious fruits. Indeterminate tomato plants take up more space and continue to grow even as they bear fruit. This type of tomato plant will need support due to its increasing size. The indeterminate plant will have fruit throughout the season.

Air flow is very important with tomatoes. Be sure to follow the spacing guidelines given to you with your tomato plant. The plants need air to help prevent mildew and fungal attack. Just like humans, plants need to breathe and can easily get overcrowded. For the branchy indeterminate tomato plants, you can remove the suckers from the bottom 10” of the plant for extra air flow. A sucker is the little branchy leaf that starts to grow between the V-shape of tomato stem. While there’s contention on whether or not you should remove all the suckers, removing just a few will help the flow of air and redirect growing energy to the fruit instead of a new stem.

Stay tuned for most posts dealing with tomatoes!


Photo Credit: Shandrew