Nothing drives vegetable gardeners to distraction like the elusive quest for a ripe crop of tomatoes. There’s the fickle weather to consider, diseases to battle and insects to thwart.
“Everyone wants to grow tomatoes,” says Amy Jo Detweiler, a horticulturist with Oregon State University’s Extension Service. “It’s a universal food people tend to like.”
Wanting to grow them and actually doing it are two different things.
When shopping for tomatoes for shorter growing seasons, Amy Jo recommends buying those with 60 to 70 days to maturity rather than 70 to 100.
“Some of those are Legend, Early Girl and Siletz, all developed by OSU,” she says.
Cherry tomatoes such as Sun Gold, Gold Nugget and Sweet Million ripen early and are a good bet for beginners.
Big, beefsteak types can be challenging.
Tomatoes are either indeterminate or determinate. The former ripens throughout the season, while determinate can be harvested all at once for making such things as sauces and salsas.
In colder climates, growing tomatoes with protection is necessary because of the possibility of frost at any time of year.
If you don’t have a greenhouse, use a cloche or row cover. When plants are young, use water rings, found at garden centers. Water rings have channels of water that collect heat during the day and reflect it to plants at night. Covering the soil around plants with plastic sheeting also will help.
Amy Jo offers these tips for growing tomatoes:
- Select sturdy plants.
- Put in a plot that gets a good six hours of sun.
- Plant in well-drained soil that has been amended with organic material such as compost or well-rotted manure.
- Pluck off leaves at the bottom of the stem and bury in soil 5 to 10 inches deeper than it came in the pot. Additional roots will form along the stem.
- As the plant grows, remove branches and leaves close to the ground to help prevent soil-borne diseases.
- Give plants plenty of room so air can circulate and sunlight can penetrate. This will result in more vigorous plants that can more easily fight off diseases or pests.
- Use a strong tomato cage or trellis for support.
- Start fertilizing about two weeks after planting with a 5-10-10 or 5-10-5 mixture. Feed according to package directions about every three weeks until fruit ripens.
- Don’t wait for soil to dry out completely between waterings. Irrigate deeply every two to three days, more often on particularly hot days.
- On side stems with no blossoms, pinch them off at the V where they meet a main stem. This forces energy to develop the fruit rather than plant foliage.
For detailed information and canning recipes, refer to OSU Extension’s guide to canning tomatoes and tomato products at https://catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/pnw300.