Tomatoes are an extremely popular plant to grow. But if you are growing tomatoes in your garden, how can you make sure you get a great tomato harvest? Here are some tips to help you increase your chances of success when growing tomatoes in your garden:
Add Companion Plants to Increase Yield and Reduce Pest Issues
Remember, no crop in your garden should be considered in isolation. Companion planting is an excellent strategy in an organic garden. It can help you make sure that tomato plants remain healthy, and you get a great yield by the end of the season.
The companion plants for tomatoes should be carefully chosen to provide benefits without increasing competition excessively. Benefits conferred by companion plants for tomatoes include:
Ensuring soil fertility (through nitrogen fixation, for example).
Attracting pollinators (which can improve tomato fruit set and yield).
Repelling, confusing or distracting pest species.
Providing ground cover around tomato plants to reduce water loss and weed growth.
Three excellent companion crops for tomatoes, for example, are basil, garlic and marigolds. Though these are just a few examples. There are many plants you could consider as beneficial neighbours for your tomato plants.
Give Your Tomato Plants The Right Support
Another important thing to take into account when growing tomatoes is support. The right support can make a big difference to the health of your plants and the size of your yield. Which support option or options you should consider will depend on which type of tomato you are growing, its growth habit and eventual size. Some tomatoes can simply be staked, or supported with a tomato cage or similar. Other tomatoes will do best when grown as cordon plants.
Make Sure You Are Watering Correctly
Many common issues with tomato cultivation are caused by watering too much, watering too little, or watering in the wrong way.
Watering is most important during the flowering and fruiting stage. You certainly need to make sure that the soil around your tomatoes does not dry out. Set up a reliable watering or irrigation system, ideally using rainwater harvested on your property.
However, remember that adding excessive water during the fruiting stage can make fruits split, or increase the risk of your plants succumbing to a tomato disease. You should also make sure you reduce and even stop watering as the end of the season approaches. This could increase the number of mature fruits you get.
When watering tomato plants, it is also important to deliver water where it is needed – at the base of your plants. Try to avoid watering from above, and wetting the foliage. Tomato plants with wet foliage may become sun-scalded, and are also more likely to succumb to disease.
Mulch Your Tomato Plants
Another very important thing to think about is how to conserve water in the soil below your tomato plants. Mulching around tomato plants with organic matter can help reduce evaporation from the soil surface.
Mulching can also reduce weed competition, and, of course, help in providing the nutrients required for healthy and productive tomato plants.
Which mulches you use is important. It can be a good idea to mulch with a general purpose mulch like a well-rotted manure or home-made quality compost at planting. Later, when the plants begin to set fruit, it is also a good idea to add a potassium rich mulch – such as comfrey leaves, for example. Or the leaves of Chenopodium album. To reduce the chances of a calcium deficiency, you might also consider adding some egg shells or calcium rich plant matter to your mulch.
Feed Tomatoes With an Organic Liquid Feed
Throughout the growing season, especially if growing tomatoes in containers, it is also a good idea to give liquid feeds. A potassium-rich organic tomato feed can be purchased, or you can make your own. One example of a home-made plant feed you could make is comfrey tea. Be sure that the feed you give does not have excessive nitrogen levels, however. A nitrogen rich feed can encourage leafy growth at the expense of flowers and fruit.
Remain Vigilant for Pests and Disease
It is important, when growing tomatoes, to keep a close eye on your crop. Tomato plants in an organic garden can be susceptible to a range of pests and diseases. The sooner you spot a problem, the more likely it is that you will be able to tackle it and prevent its spread.
Prevention is always better than ‘cure’. Keep your tomatoes as healthy as possible, and maintain good hygiene and environmental conditions. This means that disease is less likely to take hold. Maintain a healthy and biodiverse garden to keep pest numbers in check through natural predation.
Late blight is one of the most problematic tomato (and potato) diseases. Register for Blightwatch in the UK to be forewarned about this problem in your area.
Prune Your Tomato Plants
As your tomato plant grows, pinching off side stems which form between the main stem and a leaf can focus the plant on fruit formation and increase your yield overall. It is not absolutely essential, and is not required for all tomato types. But it can make plants healthier and open up the plant to allow fruits to ripen more successfully in the sun. Removing the lower leaves on more mature plants can also be a good idea.
One other thing to note is that you can potentially use the side shoots to make cuttings of your tomato plants – to grow on into new tomato plants.
Make Sure You Get as Many Ripe Tomatoes As Possible
Finally, as the end of the season approaches, there are certain steps you can take to make sure you get as many ripe tomatoes as possible.
Give tomato plants more protection (e.g. row covers or cloches).
Place ripening fruit around your plants. These give off ethylene gas which encourages the fruits on the tomato plant to ripen.
Cut back on watering.
Trim lower foliage and cut off any flowers and small fruits to focus the plants on ripening green tomatoes which have a chance of reaching maturity by the end of the season.
Give tomato plants a tug to loosen their roots. This will ‘shock’ them into rushing to produce viable seeds as quickly as possible.
Remember, however, that even green tomatoes can be used and eaten in a range of different ways.
Do you have any more tips to share for a great tomato harvest? Let us know in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.