Chatelaine Kitchen

Three tips for growing the best tomatoes

Tomatoes are not the most demanding fruit to grow, and with a few simple tips you'll be harvesting a bumper crop, too. Plus, we get inspired by a little start-up called the "Salsa Project"
By Kristen Eppich
Three tips for growing the best tomatoes

Despite some obstacles I have experienced with my rookie vegetable garden, one thing is for sure: there is an intrinsic goodness that comes with growing your own food. It's a soul-satisfying endeavour that makes the challenge worth taking.

Since starting this gardening adventure, many interesting and fun gardening projects have come to my attention (stay tuned for updates) which only emphasizes my point - gardening is hot right now! Most recently, a colleague told me about The Salsa Project, a just-launched, new take on urban-community gardening started by Kevin Cornelius in Toronto. With a goal to connect people to their produce, Kevin grew 200 heirloom tomato seedlings (with seeds donated by Tree and Twig heirloom tomato farm). He nursed the plants, growing all 200 in his home (on his dining room table...over the winter...with heat lamps). When they matured into small plants, Kevin gave away every single plant. For free. Each caretaker will foster their plant over the summer, learning how to grow tomatoes and enjoying the fruit of their (tiny) labour. In early fall, this group of individuals will donate their crop back to The Salsa Project so Kevin can make his homemade salsa, selling the jars at local Farmers' markets and donating the proceeds to local agriculture activities.

Now that we're inspired, let's make sure we do our best to take care of our tomatoes. Whether you are a participant in a program such as the Salsa Project, or, like me have your own gardening project on the go, here a few maintenance tips to apply while tomatoes are in their growing stage:

1. Water routine Tomatoes are not the most demanding fruit to grow, but they do like consistency. Tomato plants need to be watered thoroughly, with the moisture reaching deep into the soil. In between watering periods, the soil should be moist, but not soggy. Water directly onto the soil, keeping the leaves as dry as possible. Wet leaves can be susceptible to airborne spores and fungus. It is also helpful to set up a regular watering routine (usually once or twice a week depending on rain levels). When tomatoes aren't watered sufficiently or regularly, it often leads to blossom-end rot. In particularly dry times, applying mulch to the base of the plant can help keep in moisture.

2. Sucker If you want to get the most out of your tomato plants, then you need to help concentrate their energy on the stems that will bear fruit. To do this, you need to prune (pinch out) the suckers, or side shoots, that grow between the stem and a branch.

3. Leaf control Tomatoes are particularly vulnerable to contracting disease and fungus. To keep your plants healthy, remove the bottom leaves - about 1-2 inches from the soil. These leaves are closest to the damp soil, and get the least amount of sun, therefore susceptible to fungus. If one area of fruit isn't getting adequate sun, then conservative pruning may be helpful. If any leaves start to yellow or grow spots, then remove the infected leaves right away.


Recipes: 3 ways with tomatoes Although your tomatoes aren't ready for harvesting (yet!), the local markets have plenty, so be sure to pick some up. Here are three delicious tomato recipes: Rouge's grilled panzanella salad
Grilled eggplant salad
Gourmet BLT

Originally published August 16th, 2012.


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