By Renea Winchester
By a show of hands, how many have dark green-almost black tomato plants with very few blooms? Ooh, it’s just me. This growing season I have―again―over fertilized. The result is a plant that is so healthy it decides to grow, grow, grow instead of bloom, bloom, bloom. I hereby do solemnly vow that effective immediately, I will not fertilize my tomatoes…this week.
Now is the time tomato plants start producing “sucker” branches, as shown in the photograph above. “Suckers” appear basically anywhere there is a branch or “crotch” in the plant. Each sucker will bloom and eventually produce small fruit.
There are many theories about tomato suckers. Should I leave the suckers on the plant, or snip them off? The plant will not be harmed either way. I actually clip them off at the base, stick them in a glass of water and as wait for tiny roots to appear (usually in 7 to 10 days). Planting rooted “suckers” ensure a fresh tomato harvest until frost. I personally believe the fruit is larger if you remove the sucker branches. Why not experiment and let me know your results?
Another issue I have is plants that grow 8 feet tall (probably due to the aforementioned abundance of fertilizer). Last year I noticed that Billy had snipped his tomatoes in a manner similar to hedge trimming. I was afraid I this method would decrease the harvest. However, once the plant was trimmed the stalk became stronger and “bushed out,” and the stalk didn’t break due to the weight of the fruit.
It is also time for those lovely creatures, the Tomato Horn Worm, to make an appearance. These beautiful worms have the ability to wipe out an entire plant in a matter of hours. I have spoken to my other farmer friend, “Mr. Thomas,” who mixes a concoction of one gallon of warm water and 2 tablespoons of hot sauce or (powdered) cayenne pepper. He then sprays this on his plants.
Note: The hot sauce can NOT contain any salt or it will kill the plants. It should probably go without saying this should not be sprayed during a windy day, and you would be wise to wear eye protection during the spraying process. Mr. Thomas applies this to his beans as well. Since I am accident prone by nature, I don’t use the pepper spray method. Instead, I pluck the worms and feed them to the chickens.
Finally, I believe I’ve mentioned blossom end rot in a previous posting. (It is a dark black spot at the bottom of immature fruit). Mulching tomatoes is an easy way to prevent this disease. Using shredded newspaper and either straw or wood chips, apply a thick layer of newspaper and then a layer of mulch to ensure adequate moisture. Blossom End Rot is caused by a calcium deficiency and water fluctuations. If Blossom End Rot appears, apply broken eggshells, crushed Tums, or milk around the plant.
Properly staking tomatoes is as crucial as insect control and fertilization. For those who’ve purchased one of those upside down growing devices, the same results could be achieved by using a gallon milk carton or plastic bucket. No staking needed. For me, I try to use inexpensive items such as bamboo (which people will allow you to cut for free). Crepe Myrtle also makes excellent stakes because they are strong, straight, and readily available in the south. I drive three stakes into the soil around the plant. (Picture a three-prong teepee-like structure). Next, I secure the top with some twine, and wrap more twine mid-way around the base. The end result is a “stake” that will support three very large tomatoes.
What is working in your garden? I welcome your stories.
Soon friends we’ll be enjoying tomato sandwiches. I can’t wait. Until then, keep those hands dirty.