Art Knapp Articles
Best Practices for Growing Tomatoes Part IIin Informational
Last month we started talking to you in our blog about growing tomatoes. This month, we would like to cover a few more tomato topics like watering, rotating crops, and pests and other problems to give you the best chance a good harvest.
Tomatoes need a lot of water, and if you read several sources, you will find lots of different and conflicting advice about how much water they need. In fact, how much water they need depends on the variety of tomato, the soil composition, whether they are planted in the ground or in pots, the weather, outside temperature, and what type of pot they are in. So, it’s not a simple question to answer.
Our advice is to use the finger test. Stick your index finger in the dirt where your tomatoes are planted, up to the second joint, and see if the soil feels dry. If it’s moist, don’t water. If it’s dry, then water. Always water in the morning, except if it’s very hot and you need to water twice per day (like during last year’s heat dome.)
Remember that tomatoes in pots or planters need more frequent watering than those in the ground, and those in unglazed clay pots need more water than glazed or plastic pots/planters. In mid-summer, when it’s hot and dry, you may need to water your tomato plants every day. Also, try your best to water on a regular schedule, as an irregular watering schedule can contribute to some problems like Blossom End Rot (see below.)
Tomatoes need some kind of fertilizer for best results. Use something balanced, like equal numbers of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium (X-X-X on the label) up until the plants flower. Once you have flowers, switch to lower nitrogen and higher phosphorus and potassium, for example, “0-5-5” on the label. You can use a fertilizer that is slowly released or just include a dilute (like half-strength) fertilizer every time you water.
You should rotate your crops if you grow several vegetables. If you grow the same thing in the same place in the same dirt every year, eventually you will start to have pests that are difficult or impossible to get rid of. Crop rotation prevents several problems, a complete discussion of which is beyond the scope of this article. Rotation means that you should wait at least four years before growing the same vegetable (or fruit) in the same place. You will save yourself a lot of heartache if you rotate.
Pests and Problems
There is a long list of potential pests and problems that a tomato grower can experience, and this is a giant topic. We will just give you some general guidelines. Pests share the world with us, so when you grow vegetables, you should aim to just keep them at bay. You cannot grow without any pests unless you are growing in sterile laboratory.
The key to growing without a major pest problem is prevention. Rotation and companion planting will help you considerably. Another good prevention strategy is water the soil, not the plant (leaves), and prune off everything that is within a foot of the soil surface. Also, use little collars around the base of the plant and buried into the soil. This does not have to be something sophisticated; the cardboard from an empty toilet paper or paper towel roll will work fine. This simple solution prevents cutworms.
There are other problems that are not pest-related. Blossom End Rot, Zippering, Catfacing, and Splitting have nothing to do with pests. Some of these are genetic accidents or mutations or a problem with pollination, for example, which some varieties are more prone to than others. Or maybe you have some raccoons or other mammals feasting on your tomatoes.
Irregular watering contributes to Blossom End Rot and Splitting. Blossom End Rot is brought on by a calcium deficiency, however, the presence of it does not necessarily mean that you do not have enough calcium in the soil. The presence only means that the plant had difficulty with its calcium uptake, which might be due to root damage, excessive heat (or cold) or irregular watering. Without a professional soil test in a laboratory, you cannot know what your soil composition is.
Our advice is to try growing more than one tomato variety and see what does best at your house in your soil in your personal microclimate. There are thousands of tomato cultivars, heirlooms, and hybrids. Try different ones, and see what performs best for you. And if you are experiencing problems or pests, then pick at the first blush and let them ripen off the vine. Those tomatoes will be just as delicious as the ones picked when they are beet red, and experts probably would not be able to tell the difference.
We have lots of tomato plants and seeds and every kind of soil and soil additive in our flagship store in Surrey, and we will be happy to answer tomato questions. We wish you lots of success with your tomatoes. They are the most commonly home-grown vegetable (fruit) in North America. Happy growing!
Art Knapp has 15 locations across British Columbia and is well known as the go-to garden centre for everything garden-related. Art Knapp, himself, began the business in the 1940's, and now, 80 years later, you can find more than he ever dreamed of in our stores. Come and see us on King George Boulevard in Surrey.
If you have any questions about this article or want to talk to us about gardening, just give us a call at (604) 596-9201.