General Information About Tomatoes
Tomatoes can be either determinate or indeterminate. Indeterminate tomatoes keep on growing. The will form three leaves then a truss (a flower cluster) then three more leaves and a truss. They never stop producing flowers and fruit until frost. You will need alot of space for these plants. Determinate varieties, on the other hand, after a certain distance from the center of the plant each branch stops growing and forms a final flower cluster. These plants tend to be more compact and take less space than indeterminate varieties.
Keeping this in mind what varieties of tomatoes are the Old Farm Gardener's favorites? Larry and Anna absolutely love "Big Beef tomatoes". If you like 12 ounce tomatoes and lots of them this is the one. It has old time flavor and we love this big, tasty, meaty tomato sliced on hamburgers. Although it is indeterminate, it will yield early and often if you follow the above suggestions. Big Beef is pictured below.
There are many varieties of tomatoes and many gardeners are growing more heirloom tomatoes (varieties that have been around for over 50 years or more). Try some new ones and see if you find a new favorite!
How to Grow Great Tomatoes
The directions are similar to peppers in many aspects. Pick a spot that receives full sun all day and plant in raised beds, cover with plastic tunnels and prepare the soil just as you would the peppers. There are some tips that we have found work for us. Tomatoes need lots of sun and lots of warmth to grow. If you have a sunny southern exposure next to your house this is the best. Tomatoes should be planted deep. For maximum yield they should be planted three feet apart. Many books state that you can plant them closer but don't. In Colorado Springs it is necessary to get the soil warm around the plants and shading from other plants defeats this purpose.
It is OK to bury the stem about 2 inches deeper than it comes in its container. Just remove the lower leaves that could be buried. Use the plastic tunnel method ( see below) but be sure to partially roll up the plastic on hot days. In the evenings you can role down the plastic to keep in the warmth and hasten growth.
Another tip is to be sure to prune off the suckers that form between the main stem and the branches of your plant (see picture below).
Continue to remove these suckers up about 18 inches from the ground. This keeps your plants from growing more leaves than fruit and reduces unneeded shading of the ground. This cannot be stressed enough.
Keep the soil around the base of your tomato plants free of low hanging branches! If the sun can not shine on the base of the plant then you need to prune. Tomato plants do not grow below 50ºF. The early summer nights around Colorado Springs are usually in the 50's. By the time the sun warms up the soil so the plant can start to kick in and grow it is between 10 AM and noon. If it takes longer to warm the soil it will take more days before your fruit ripens. How many gardeners say that just when it frosts in the fall their tomatoes are just starting to ripen? If they follow the above suggestions they will be eating tomatoes in the middle of July.
When your plants are 12 inches tall, trim off the bottom three or four branches. This will allow more sunlight to warm the soil around the base. As the plant grows keep the lower branches trimmed. The sun should be able to shine on the lower stem. Just doing this will dramatically increase your harvest. To discourage disease water your plants from the bottom and try not to splash your plants with soil.
To Stake or to Cage?
If you use the above method of pruning and making sure that the soil next to the base of your tomato plants "sees" the sun then staking is better. It allows you to stake and direct the growth of the plants for maximum "elbow room". Larry uses many stakes, one for each branch and sometimes two if the plant is a vigorous grower. Use soft twine or plastic tie downs but keep them a little loose to allow for a bit of movement and growth. The idea of staking is to keep the plant growing upright and the fruit off the ground (slugs and pillbugs love ripe tomatoes).