The time is now



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.



  1. A woman after my own heart. My first steps into the Grow Your Own world were due to my love of tomatoes and a memory of my Italian grandad perched on his stool at the end of his greenhouse glorying in his scented vines! I once heard someone say, the best things in life are love and home-grown tomatoes. I have never looked back!
    In the west of Ireland where you can’t trust a summer, my red fruited beauties are grown undercover in a polytunnel. Temperatures inside may be akin to your backyard and thus my plants get super thirsty. A tip I have picked up over the years is to upend a litre plastic bottle with the bottom cut off, and bury into the soil alongside the transplant. As the vine matures you can water/feed into the bottle to get it direct to the roots .

    • Yes, indeed. Tomatoes are like Brits on a pub crawl. They do get thirsty. I love the upended bottle idea. It’s both effective and waterwise which is important here in drought territory. As the garden grew over the years, I installed a drip irrigation system to ensure consistent deep root watering and that has worked well. It was little work figuring out how to do it but I love it especially in the summer where a heat wave can take out plants if you’re not on top of watering. I’ll post about that soon. Send me pics of your poly tunnel. I want to do that next winter to extend some crops.