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Tomato ripening on the vine

Tomatoes are one of the most popular and easiest crops to grow. If you provide everything the tomato plant needs, then you will probably have more tomatoes than you’ll know what to do with.

To grow tomatoes there are a few things you should really pay attention to, and they are: sunlight, moisture, food (nutrients in the soil) and temperature.

Sunlight –

Tomato plants need full sun (6-8 hours a day) to flower and produce fruit. The plants will grow in less light but won’t flourish and thrive and bear the bumper crops you dream of when planting tomatoes.

Moisture –

Tomato plants need a even supply of water, without droughts and floods. With too little water and the plants suffer and won’t bloom and produce. With too much water the roots can’t get air. The drought and flood type of watering will affect the fruit as well, causing splitting. When watering it is important to water slowly and deeply to encourage the roots to go deep. Water around the roots and try to keep the leaves dry. Keeping the leaves dry will prevent diseases.

Food –

To produce fruit, the plant needs food. It gets its food through it roots and there should be a ready supply of nutrients in the soil to nourish the plant. Nutrients can be added by fertilizers or by organic material such as compost.

Temperature –

The tomato plant needs moderate night temperatures (55′-75′) to bear tomatoes. Also, living in a cold climate, it can be very tempting to plant tomato seedlings on a beautiful spring day, but if the night temperatures drop, the plants will suffer. It’s best to wait until the soil has warmed a bit and all danger of frost has past.

Of course there are other factors that affect how well your plants do, such as weeds, insects (good and bad), diseases and a strong support to grow on.

Weeds –

Weeds compete for the food and water available to the tomato plants. If they are larger than the plant, they can also compete for the sunlight. Keeping the garden free of weeds is not only better for the vegetable plants, but easier on the gardener. It’s much harder to tend the plants and harvest the vegetables without the weeds crowding around and choking them out.

Insects –

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Tomato Horn Worm

There are beneficial insects in the garden and sometimes they can be hard to distinguish from the bad guys. One of the most

common ‘bad guys’ is the Tomato Horn Worm. If you find all the leaves gone one day on a healthy plant, then you can be sure there is a big fat tomato worm somewhere in the vicinity. They blend in so well with the plants that it can be very hard to find

them. If you can spot them when they have just started on a plant, then you can minimize the damage they will do. In this picture you will see that the stems in the background have been stripped.

Diseases –

Check out this site for information on diseases that affect tomato plants:
http://vegetablemdonline.ppath.cornell.edu/DiagnosticKeys/TomWlt/TomWiltKey.html

Supports –

The most common support used for growing tomatoes is the cone shaped wire cages commonly sold in garden centers. In my opinion, this is the most useless type of support. They are never tall enough, and as the plant grows and gets top-heavy and laden with tomatoes, these cages are easily tipped over.

It’s much better to find or make cylinders or square cages out of garden fencing that are 24″ in diameter and 5 feet high. The wire weave needs to be large enough that you’ll be able to easily get your hand inside to pick the fruit. The advantage of this way of supporting the plants is that no tying is needed. The plant is allowed to grow naturally without pruning.

Another way of supporting the tomatoes is with a tripod made of bamboo poles which have been lashed together about 1′ from one end. Spread these out and dig them into the ground as deeply as you can leaving at least 6′ above the ground.

Single or two stake (8 foot long 2″ x 2″) method will also work. The plant must be tied to the stake or stakes and the stake must be in the ground deep enough (2 feet) to support the weight of the plant. I’ve even used three stakes and it makes it easier to balance the plant if the stakes are far enough apart.

Tomato stakes needs to be strong (tomato plants with tomatoes are heavy), tall and the plants and tomatoes need to be accessible.