“How do you get such huge, flavorful tomatoes and how do you get such a bumper-crop of tomatoes?”
I’m always asked this question and so now I’m going to give you all of my ‘dirty’ little secrets to growing the best, most flavorful tomatoes that produce in large quantities!
I have been growing tomatoes since I don’t know when. And through the years, I’ve figured out what works and what doesn’t work. I also live in the South (USA), where the soil is mostly red clay. This gardening environment has an incredibly different soil and weather reality than my home state of Iowa where you can grow anything in the rich, dark black soil (Iowa is known as the “bread basket of the nation” for a reason)!
I grew up in a family of Italian gardeners and farmers in the Midwest. Everyone in Italy has a garden even if it’s just in a pot on a windowsill! Every inch of the little country of Italy is planted with vegetables and fruit (except in the mountains of rock and stone). When on the Amalfi Coast, I had to take a photo (below) of how the homes are stacked on top of each other hugging the side of the mountain. Gardening in pots on patios gives Italians who live ‘vertically’, opportunities to scratch in the dirt.
Both of my grandfathers who immigrated from Italy had gardens that included grape vineyards (of course) from which they made their own wine (and that was some pretty good stuff, I might say so myself)! We always had fresh veggies every spring and summer from their gardens . . . and those tomatoes! Oh my goodness, nothing could be finer in the summer than home-grown, juicy, red tomatoes!
So fast forward to my life and my gardens here in South Carolina with its fairly unforgiving clay soil. What to do?
Not to worry, it is possible to overcome adversity in the garden! If I’m facing a challenge, I’m going to figure out how to overcome it . . . including gardening challenges!
Here is what we do for a successful harvest of outstanding tomatoes:
1) Pick a SUNNY spot in your garden to plant your tomato plants — they need at least 6 hours of full sunlight. While you’re selecting that perfect spot, don’t forget to plant in a completely different place each year — rotate your veggies so the soil can recover every year. Tomatoes are hungry feeders and really deplete the soil’s nutrients, so you have to move them around your garden each year.
2) Amend that soil!! We have horses on our acreage, so we have a lot of horse poo, if you get my drift! We let the manure age for one year and then blend it into the soil (PS: Rhubarb especially digs poo from horses, cows and other livestock). That ‘crap’ is good stuff, so hang on to it or find a friend who will give it to you. If not, go to your garden center and buy manure, but who wants to pay for ‘sh…t”?. Sorry to be so blunt, but it’s the truth!
3) Get your hands on some BLACK COW in the big yellow bag at your garden center. Buy a LOT of this stuff! It’s full of composte and more goodies that your soil and plants thrive on. Blend it in the soil big time!
4) We LOVE Miracle Grow Garden Soil . . . not potting soil, but gardening soil. It’s full of food for your tomatoes. Blend it in as well. I don’t know if it’s organic enough for some of you, but it works for us and we use bags and bags and BAGS of it!
5) Got any leaves saved over from fall? Chop ’em up and blend ’em in the soil; they are full of nutrients!
6) We composte, that’s right we throw every vegetable and fruit-based ‘garbage’ in a composte pile . . . let it age and blend that stuff in too!
YOU GET THE PICTURE!
7) Wait for your soil to be WARM to plant your tomatoes. If you’ve got neighbors who are planting early . . . don’t worry, your patience will pay off as your tomatoes will not only grow to the same height and width of your neighbors’ earlier planted tomatoes, they will SURPASS those earlier planted tomatoes with healthier vigor and productivity because you waited for the soil to warm up!
8) Plant on an overcast, cloudy day so as to not shock the plants as much.
8) Dig a deep, deep hole for each tomato plant.
9) Sprinkle in each hole, a handful of crushed egg shells into each deep hole. WHY? The eggshells provide something that tomatoes thrive on and can’t get enough of: CALCIUM! The calcium from the egg shells is absorbed up into the roots and into the stems of the tomato plants. If you have yellowing tomato plants, you have a calcium deficiency! Buy a bunch of eggs, make egg salad sandwiches, top your salads with chopped boiled eggs, and make some delicious deviled eggs! Its’ worth it! NEVER throw away an egg shell if you are a gardener! And when you boil eggs, don’t throw away the water, it’s full of calcium from the egg shells, so let the water cool off and water your tomato plants with it.
10) Sprinkle in a handful of (ICK!) worm castings! (click on ‘worm castings’ and you’ll be taken to a link where you can purchase worm castings)
11) Sprinkle in some bone meal!
12) Place the tomato plant in and pinch or clip off all of the layers of leaves except for the top one or two layers of leaves. Yup that’s right, bury them deep so that the roots will grow super, super strong! All of those little hairy things growing on the stems will grow into roots when planted under the soil! Better soil, better roots, better plants, better tomatoes!
13) Mix up some sea/fish emulsion in warm water and fertilize those plants immediately. We also use Miracle Grow’s “Quick Start” to help the roots get a head start in growth. We use it only at planting time.
14) Stake and cage the tomatoes correctly!
14) Continue to feed your organic fertilizer every 2 weeks or so.
15) I don’t know if “Osmocote” is organic or not, but this is what we sprinkle around all of our plants . . . this helps the production of large quantities of tomatoes. One fertilizer helps the plant grow and leaf out, this fertilizer helps increase the production of ‘fruit’ (which is really what tomatoes are).
16) Water in the morning and ALWAYS water underneath the tomato plants. Do not use a sprinkler and water from above. Do not get your tomato plant leaves wet; it promotes disease! Depending upon the weather, it is a good idea to water every other morning. Here in South Carolina, when the temperatures hit 90 – 100, we water every morning.
17) Continue to pinch / clip off any stems that may begin to touch the soil. NEVER let either leaf, branch or tomato touch the soil . . . this is one of the ways that disease enters the plants. Keep it clean underneath at all times.
18) Remove weeds on a daily basis, don’t let them get out of control. If you see a weed, get it out of the garden right then and there.
And that’s it! It’s a lot of work and a labor of love, but you won’t believe the flavor, the quality and the bounty of tomatoes that you will have as a result of all of your dedication!
Later this summer I’ll tell you how to preserve all of your tomato bounty to enjoy throughout the cold months of winter!
Thank you so much for stopping by my blog today! If you’ve enjoyed these gardening tips please consider leaving a comment and subscribing to my blog to receive e-mail notices of any new posts and recipes!