GARY CHURCH: Tomatoes the pick of the crop for new gardeners

Pruning tomato plants helps to promote new growth.

COVID-19 has really upset the normality of life. Since I’m cheap, I like to wait until a few weeks after Memorial Day to visit greenhouses, to see what I can get at a lower price. This year, most of them were closed, because they had sold out of merchandise.

Seed companies have had one of their greatest years ever. One company mentioned their volume was 10 times higher than what they had planned on. Since seeds are packaged before April, they ran out of seeds.

I guess there are going to be some new gardeners out there who may want some advice on growing tomatoes. You’ll never guess who has some advice – me.

The first stage of growing tomatoes is fairly simple; dig a hole, put a tomato plant in it, and water. Since it is July, I figure you probably have already done that.

The next thing you need to think about is fertilizing the tomato. Again, I waited way too long to hunt for Miracle Gro for tomatoes. There wasn’t a box of it left on the shelves in Lawrence or Mercer counties. I have to use regular Miracle Gro and alternate with fish emulsion.

There are two types of tomato plants, determinate and indeterminate. Determinate grows to a certain height and stops, while indeterminate keeps on growing until frost. The tag should tell you which one you purchased. If it is a patio plant, it is probably determinate.

Tomato plants produce suckers. Suckers are the growth coming out of the V at the sun leaf.

You ask, “Gary, what is a sun leaf?”

It is a leaf stem, that like your neighbor, likes to lay in the sun. The stem is not very long, but it takes in the energy from the sun, and sends it to the rest of the plant. Do not remove the sun leaves. It’s that growth growing out of the V of the sun leaf that should be removed.

You can have one to four main stems, it is totally up to you. Remove all of the suckers growing out from these main stems so you don’t end up with 38 main stems. You will still get tomatoes with the 38 stems, and really impress your neighbors with how large the tomato plant is, but all that growth takes away energy that should be going to the tomato.

All foliage touching the ground should be removed. When it rains, diseases that are present in the soil will splash up on to the lower leaves and cause problems to your tomato plant. You should also spray your tomatoes with Fung-onil or Daconil every 10 days, to prevent any diseases.

The last thing I would like to mention, I know was never practiced by the late tomato growing king, Dr. Jim Snow. His tomatoes reached as high as the gutters on his shed. If you are growing the indeterminate tomatoes, and they start to vine over the tomato cages, they can be topped.

Topping should be done, about one month before the first frost. This will help your green tomatoes to ripen faster, by sending the plant’s energy in their direction, instead of using it to make useless foliage. Just prune off, where you think is a good spot, usually above some flower buds. Determinate tomatoes won’t need this done.

Congratulations to all of you new gardeners. It is a very healthy exercise, and gets you out of the house and in the sun. It is so healthy that my health insurance provider wants to pay me to garden. My choices were to either join the Silver Sneakers and do exercise, or garden. Guess which one I picked?

Make your space a green space.

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