Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture
                                One reward of nurturing a tomato plant from seedling to fruit is a simple tomato salad.

Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture One reward of nurturing a tomato plant from seedling to fruit is a simple tomato salad.

Cultivating a healthy crop of tomatoes

  • Fri May 22nd, 2020 3:50pm
  • Life

By Mary Shane

WSU Master Gardener

There is almost nothing more rewarding than picking ripe tomatoes from the garden. Here are a few tips to help your tomato plants thrive.

Like all the plants in your garden, tomatoes will need moisture throughout the growing season. The plants will need approximately an inch of water each week from April to September. Some of the moisture will be the result of rain, but usually watering from your garden faucet will be needed from July on.

The are several methods to water a vegetable garden, ranging from a garden sprinkler to drip irrigation. Using overhead sprinklers or hand-watering with a hose may waste water if the walkways and other garden areas where nothing is planted are sprayed. In addition, overhead sprinkling will increase the chance for a variety of blights, particularly with tomatoes.

A better approach is the use of automatic or semi-automatic watering systems that deliver water at ground level. A drip tape will deliver water to the roots, but it also waters the weeds that may be growing in between the tomato plants.

I have found the easiest and most useful way to water my vegetable garden, including tomatoes, is a simple set of drip emitters. I run the emitters through each row from a larger irrigation tube. That tubing, usually a half-inch in diameter, is connected to the water source, be it hooked to a garden hose or hooked directly to the faucet.

There is a lot of good information online, especially from companies that sell drip equipment (e.g., Raindrip and Orbit), to help understand what is needed and how to set up the system.

In either situation. to reduce evaporation, do your best to water during the cool parts of the day — early morning or late afternoon — and try not to water on windy days.

There are over 7,500 tomato varieties from which to choose — and at least 10,000 more in cultivation worldwide. Territorial Seeds, a major Northwest seed catalog, offers 48 varieties this year.

Tomatoes are classified as either determinate or indeterminate. Determinate varieties are bushlike, with all the tomatoes ripening about the same time. Indeterminate varieties are vinelike, with tomatoes ripening throughout the growing season.

It is best to choose varieties that that have a short growing season, which is normally shown on the seed packet or on the plant marker in the pot in which the nursery plant is grown. For our area, look for varieties that have a short growing season — about 75 days.

Anyone who has planted a tomato has a couple of favorites. Mine is Taxi, which — no surprise — is yellow. The harvest runs for three to four weeks. And it is reliable; I often say it will bear fruit no matter how warm or chilly the summer.

Territorial Seeds sells 29 varieties of cherry or currant-style tomatoes. For me, the yellow cherry tomato Gold Nugget is the winner in this group. Bred at Oregon State University, the plant matures and bears sweet-tasting fruit starting in about 60 days and continuing until the first frost.

Before you put a tomato plant into the ground, trim off the lower two-thirds of the leaves and apply a 5-10-10 or 10-10-10 fertilizer to the planting area. Then either dig a hole deep enough to cover the stalk to the leaves, or lay the stalk roughly 3 inches below ground level and parallel to the ground. Whichever way you choose, the bare stalk will develop roots to support the plant and will promote vigorous growth.

In our garden, we start by laying out red plastic mulch to cover the row in which the tomato plants will grow. We space the plants 2.5 to 3 feet apart. Most years we surround each of the plants with a red plastic tepee. Each segment of it is hollow, and we fill those with water. This provides a warmer surrounding for the tomato plant.

We insert the plant support after we put the tomato in the ground, being careful not to puncture the tomato stalk/roots.

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Do you have a problem with a plant, or need some help with disease prevention in your vegetable garden? Ask WSU Master Gardener. Go to PNWMG.org and post your question where you see “Ask a Master Gardener” toward the bottom of the home page.

Mary Shane finished WSU Master Gardener training in 1998. She gardens on one-third of an acre overlooking the Sylvia Creek Valley.

 

This young plant will use this inexpensive galvanized steel form for support as it grows.

This young plant will use this inexpensive galvanized steel form for support as it grows.

John Phelan photo
                                Plum tomatoes can be grown as container plants. This meaty variety is generally used to make tomato sauce and paste.

John Phelan photo Plum tomatoes can be grown as container plants. This meaty variety is generally used to make tomato sauce and paste.

Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture
                                One reward of nurturing a tomato plant from seedling to fruit is a simple tomato salad.

Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture One reward of nurturing a tomato plant from seedling to fruit is a simple tomato salad.

This young plant will use this inexpensive galvanized steel form for support as it grows.

This young plant will use this inexpensive galvanized steel form for support as it grows.