Now that tomato planting weather is upon us, I want to write a little about some questions we often receive from customers. One of them is "When can I plant tomatoes?"
Tomatoes are best planted when the soil is warm (night time temperatures are 50F or above) and all danger of frost has gone by. In Burlington that is generally the end of May or the first week in June. The best planting method for tomatoes involves digging a shallow trench and laying them in it. You can break off the leaves on the bottom 2/3 of the plant and bury the whole stem horizontally in the warm top layer of soil. The buried stem will turn into a huge and healthy root system. The top of the plant is gently bent upwards and soil is patted around the base. Tomatoes must be trellised for best results; it keeps the plant healthy, off the ground, and the fruit stays clean.
Here are some photos of a tomato planting that happened recently in our display garden:
The language that describes tomato plants can be a little confusing. Here are a few tomato terms explained: Hybrid - a tomato that is a cross between two different types of tomatoes. Seeds from these tomatoes will not grow out true to type, but will revert back to one of the parent tomato varieties. Hybrids are not genetically modified, they are just a simple cross between two types. For example, one tomato with good disease resistance is crossed with another variety that is known for good flavor in hopes of producing a healthy yet tasty tomato. Some of our favorite hybrids are Big Beef and Early Girl. Open Pollinated - a tomato that is the product of two parents that are the same variety. The seeds from these tomatoes will be true to type. All of our "heirloom" tomatoes are open pollinated and the seeds could be saved from those fruit. Heirloom - a variety with a story. These are plants which have been handed down, brought to the new world in various ways, found in distant parts, or in your neighbors back yard. These are all open pollinated. Heirloom is not a botanical terms, it just means that it is an older variety with a lot of flavor or other appealing characteristic like color of shape. Sometimes heirlooms are less disease resistant than hybrids, but they make up for it with flavor. Heirlooms are sought after by home gardeners since those types of tomatoes are not found in conventional grocery stores. Around here they are easily purchased at farmers markets, but it is always nice to eat something harvested just seconds ago from your own garden. Determinate - a tomato that only grows to a certain height and then all of the fruit ripen at once and then the plant dies. This is a good option for people who can or freeze tomatoes so that they will have a big batch ready to use all at once. Some of our favorite determinate tomatoes are Glacier (which is also an heirloom and very early to boot) and Celebrity. Indeterminate - a tomato that grows and grows, with the fruit ripening in various stages. The plant grows until it is killed by frost or disease. In a warm climate these plants would grow into woody vines. Most of the tomatoes we grow are indeterminate. They require staking or cages, and there are many different methods for doing so. I've seen hockey sticks used in community gardens in Montreal! Concrete reinforcement wire can be cut into 6 foot sections and bent into a tube shape - this makes once of the strongest and largest cages possible. There are lots of great trellising and caging systems available at Gardeners' Supply Company and your local hardware store will have simple wooden stakes and twine. Professional vegetable growers oftenuse a method called "bakset weaving" which is simple, efficient and affordable. Here is a description from the University of New Hampshire Extension Service:
•Remove suckers (new shoots that develop in the leaf axils) before they reach an inch in length. • Leave the first sucker that grows below the first flower cluster, removing all others below the first flower cluster; allow suckers above first flower cluster to grow. • Pinch off tops once plants reach a few inches above stake. • Use 4 ft. sturdy wooden stakes, with double stakes at end of each row for strength. • Set stakes six inches deep, one stake for every two plants, as soon as seedlings are transplanted. • Begin supporting tomato seedlings after they have set the first flower clusters. • Tie sturdy, untreated twine at one end of row, about 18” up from soil level. Weave twine between tomato plants, wrapping twice around each stake down the row. After reaching the end- stakes, weave twine back up the row in the opposite direction, alternating with the weave-pattern of the first strand so each plant stem is encircled by twine. • As plants grow, weave another layer of twine every 6-8 inches to keep plants well supported. Four layers of twine will support most varieties.
Hope this information helps, and as always feel free to stop by our greenhouses where our staff can always talk to your about your tomato growing concerns. Happy gardening!