How the garden has grown in the past week! Compare this photo, taken today, with one taken less than a week ago–notice how much taller the tomato plant in the center is.
Right now, while tomato plants are growing rapidly, is the time to take steps that will safeguard the harvest you’re so eagerly looking forward to. Many factors go into a good tomato harvest–the weather, certainly; spacing the plants at least 24″ apart (36″ is better), watering deeply and in the morning so the leaves dry off–but two things that are very, very important are proper staking and removing suckers.
Lots of people buy those little 3′ high tomato cages and are surprised when the plants outgrow them. Tomato plants are generally more than 5′ high, so a 3′ cage will be pretty useless come September–the plant will grow out of it and the whole thing may even fall over. Instead, buy or make stakes that are 7-8′ high, sink them in the ground at least a foot (preferably when you put the plants in to avoid damaging the roots), and continue to tie the main stem to the stake as it grows, using some kind of twine or old pantyhose.
Use a figure-8 tie to attach the plant to the stake, as the photos show:
Put the tie around the stake, cross the two ends, and then put them around the plant. Finally, tie a knot. Leave lots of room–the stem grows fatter as the plant grows taller.
It’s also important to remove suckers, extra branches that grow between the main stem and the leaves:
Pinch them off with your fingernails or use clippers to remove them. This will result in better fruit and healthier plants, because the plants will not become overgrown and crowded, making is easier for fungal diseases to spread. It will also make it easier for you to see and harvest the fruit when the plants start producing. Attending to these two chores–tieing and pinching–each week will give you a better harvest.
There’s lots of good information about growing tomatoes on the web and in books. Sites belonging to university extensions are particularly reliable and will not be in business to sell you things you don’t need. Two good sites are those managed by Rutgers and by the University of Missouri extension.
Check back soon for a post on watering and fertilizing tomato plants.