Many moons ago, when I was a wee 20 something traveling to Europe for the first time, I tasted what I consider to be my first tomato. I was at a rooftop restaurant on the isle of Santorini in Greece, a perfect setting for my romance with tomatoes to begin. This gorgeous specimen was far from the mealy, anemic cousin ever present in the supermarkets of the 80’s. No, this was more akin to steak. Juicy and meaty. Served with a creamy slab of feta and grassy olive oil, it was a revelation. Never did I taste another tomato like that until I started growing my own. In fact, tomatoes are the entire reason I got into gardening in the first place. It’s a gateway vegetable.
Of course, a lot has changed in the offering of quality produce. But, even the finest farmer’s markets can’t beat what you can grow on your own. There’s just something about a fresh picked tomato grown by your own hand. If you’re not currently gardening, just try one or two in a sunny location in your yard or containers if you don’t have garden space. Here in Southern California, we can start transplanting tomatoes in early April and continue through the end of May. So get on it people. You’ve got 3 weeks left.
A few things to keep in mind:
- Find a spot that gets 6-8 hours of sunlight minimum. They are heat seekers.
- Enrich your soil with lots of yummy worm castings, compost, or organic fertilizer. They are heavy feeders. Fertilize every few weeks during the growing season. I side dress with compost. In the past I alternated between fish emulsion and liquid seaweed and that worked well too.
- When planting a young tomato transplant, it is important to remove the branches on the lower part of the main stem and bury up to 80% of the plant. All the fine little hairs you see on the main stem will turn into roots and create a stronger healthier plant.
- After digging out a deep hole to bury 80% of the plant (so important I’m saying it twice) mix a handful of worm castings, compost or other organic fertilizer in to the soil you’ve removed. (This will be backfilled around the plant shortly)
- Sprinkle a two-finger pinch of mycorrhizal powder into the hole so that when you place the plant in, the roots will be touching the powder. This has all kinds of amazing benefits to both your roots and the soil itself. It’s not absolutely necessary but I highly recommend it.
- Backfill the hole with the soil/compost combo and lightly tamp around the plant.
- Stake the plant or use a tomato cage so that you can fasten the main branch on the stake as it grows taller. Keeping the plant off the ground keeps it away from pests and increases airflow to keep down invasive diseases.
- Water in.
- As the plant grows, prune the suckers. After a branch grows off the main stem, little branches will appear in the “armpit” between the offshoot branch and the main branch. Pinch these off as the plant grows. There is a lot of conversation about this in the gardening world as to whether it is necessary. I try to go the route of least extra work so tried not pruning last year. I had a tomato jungle which was awesome because it did produce mountains of fruit. But they were less flavorful and I was battling diseases all summer since there was decreased airflow. So, I’m committed to pruning now.
There’s nothing to it but to do it.