4 Ways to Support Tomatoes… Well, actually 5.

Every gardener knows at least one way to support the most anticipated crop of the season.
Many have their favorite way.
Here’s a few options you may have heard of, and one I bet you didn’t:

1. Stakes

how to support tomatoes

Staked in a planter.

Likely the first way anyone supports a tomato, stakes are easy to do and relatively inexpensive.
Points to Remember: Always put your stake in the ground or pot at the same time you plant the tomato, so as not to break any roots. Also, tie your plant to the stake loosely, or with a stretchy material, such as string or old pantyhose; never use wire.
Drawbacks: The main negative aspect to this method is having to go back and add ties. With just a few tomatoes, this is no big deal; but as I grow older and my garden bigger, this became a problem.

2. Cages

how to support tomatoes

Upside down cage.

Tomato cages, in their many forms, are a wonderful way to support your tomatoes.
Because our soil is very rocky, and in raised beds, we turn our cages upside down and support the plants that way.

how to support tomatoes

A little fushia in the garden.

For most plants, they work wonderfully well, and can add a bit of pizazz to your garden at a relatively low cost.

how to support tomatoes

I'm a sucker for color

Points to Remember: If you grow rocks as well as you grow veggies, like us, tomato cages are impractical unless you place them upside down around your plants. Also, most containers used for growing are not deep enough, inverted cages do well here though.
Drawbacks: As I mentioned, these particular cages set up to 24″ deep in the ground, that does not work for all gardens. There are other designs, though, check into those. I also found these did not stand up well in a high wind storm. Don’t ask. :-(

3. The Weave

how to support tomatoes

What have we here?

This is a wonderful way to support your plants that I fully admit I am trying for the first time.
Simply put a stake at either end of a reasonably sized row of tomatoes, then run a string stake-to-stake, in and out of the plants.
The next string up runs alternately, thus supporting the plants from both sides.

Points to Remember: Although I’m new to this, I’ve already learned to keep after it. I would suggest two opposite rows every time the plants get about 4-6 inches taller.
Drawbacks: Still some bending, but a lot less than some of the other methods. Pruning is highly recommended.

4. String ‘Em Up

This idea came into my life through Eliot Coleman’s wonderful Book Four Season Harvest (see the link to the right). I’ve since seen many adaptations.
The idea is simple, tie a string to the bottom of the plant, some gardeners tie the string to a stake and push that into the soil. Secure to a structure above.
As the plant grows, loosely twirl the string around the plant, giving it support.

how to support tomatoes

A more structured life.

I like this because there is far less bending. If your support is well built, there is also less chance of problems with heavy wind.

how to support tomatoes

Hangin' comfortably.

Usually we plant basil in the middle of the tomato patch, this year it’s filled with beans instead; which led to support method #5.

how to support tomatoes

Beans and maters.

5. Let nature help.

I swear I thought the beans I planted were all bush types.
Apparently not.

how to support tomatoes

And nature's way.

Isn’t it great- the bean vine is holding the tomato plant to the string support.
No bending, no tying- about as simple as things can get.
I love this so much that next year I intend to try it with all my tomatoes.

Points to remember: No matter how much you think you know, nature can still out-grow you.
Drawbacks: Other than an ego slap-down, I can’t think of one.


Categories: faq's, How to Grow, tomatoes



White Cherry Tomatoes – You Can Grow That!

Did a picture on a seed packet ever just grab your attention to the point you felt compelled to plant that veggie?

This year's must-have color.

This year’s must-have color.

Well that’s how we ended up with white cherry tomatoes.
The idea seemed intriguing, and it has proven to be so.

You see, even in the picture on the packet these heirloom tomatoes are not really white.
Ours, in fact, ripened quite yellow.

Not quite white.

Not nearly white.

So I looked on the back of the packet to see if there was any information about these tremendously delicious, but actually yellow, large cherry tomatoes.
They describe them as ‘pale yellow to ivory, 1 ounce fruits; color will be paler with less sun exposure.’

Hmmm… A challenge.

More on the way.

More on the way.

We have two of these plants in pots in our roadside garden; but rather than move them out of the sun, we decided to see if we could just limit their sun exposure.

So now they are covered with shade cloth, and we’ll see if we can get at least a pale yellow, if not an actual ivory-colored tomato.
If we do, we’ll let you know the experiment worked.

Helping things along.

Helping things along.

But whatever color they ripen to, one bite will convince you it doesn’t really matter.

you can grow that

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Categories: gardening people, places & things, How to Grow, tomatoes, you can grow that



13 Do’s & Do Not’s of Growing Tomatoes

Purchase seedlings that have flowers on them. You may think you are getting a head start, but really what the plants need to do first is establish their roots, not produce babies. Let them get settled in.

If you started your own plants and they are budding, pinch those flowers off. Really, you’ll get more fruit in the long run.

The tomatoes are ready, is the soil?

The tomatoes are ready, is the soil?

Over fertilize. It’s fine to give your plants some good healthy compost, but take it easy on the fertilizer. Too much will grow wonderful bushy and green, albeit unproductive, plants. Same goes for your peppers by the way.

Give them a bit of Epsom salts. They love that stuff. If they don’t need it, it won’t hurt. It is good to have it as a preventative measure to help grow healthier plants.

Plant your transplants very deep. ‘Up to their necks’ is what the farmers say. This way they will grow a great root system, as mentioned above. The better the roots, the more productive the plants will then be.

Ready to rumble.

Ready to rumble.

Water from above, if you can help it. This can cause soil to splash up on the stems, making them more prone to disease. Try to use a soaker hose whenever possible with tomatoes.

Mulch, especially if you are watering from above. This helps prevent that soil splash just mentioned, as well as holds the moisture your tomatoes may need.

Put in the stakes you are going to use for support at the same time you plant. You don’t want to go back later and start damaging those roots you both worked so hard for.

Know what type of tomato you are growing. If it’s a ‘determinate’ type, it may suddenly stop producing. Learn more by following the link at the end of this post.

Stress it. Are you feeling over run with tomatoes? Are you concerned about fruit flies in your kitchen? Simply wash some of those tomatoes off and toss them in the freezer. When you have time, thaw to use. A bonus: the skins will slip right off after defrosting.

Happy in their cloched bed.

Happy in their cloched bed.

Enjoy a variety if you have the room. Roma and plum tomatoes are best for preserving, slicing types for fresh eating, and of course cherry tomatoes for snacking. Plant tomatoes based on how you intend to use them.

plant them outside before the soil temperature is 50F. How warm the soil has become is a function of how close the sun is, the depth, and how much sunshine the area gets. Surface soil can feel warm but 6 inches down it can still be quite cold. Some gardeners plant their tomatoes out when the overnight lows are consistently above 50F. Not the same thing, but close.

Tomatoes under glass.

Tomatoes under glass.

speed up the process by covering the area with black plastic, and turning the soil over every so often. If you plant early, keep those heat loving tomatoes warm through the use of cloches.
In a pinch, canning jars will do the trick, just don’t let the plants get fried. That’s for the green fruit.

Learn more about growing tomatoes here. Scroll down for all previous posts.

Categories: extending the season, How to Grow, tomatoes



Potato Leafed Tomatoes?

Don’t worry, I’m not going all botany-like on you now. This is just a fun thing to know and it could actually save you a little time.

Variations in tomato leaves.

Variations in tomato leaves.

Here’s the deal:
There can be variations in toato leaves, even on the same tomato. But there are 2 basic types of tomato leaves. The one you see the most often is called ‘Regular Leaf’ and abbreviated ‘RL’ by those that actually use the term.
These are the jaggedy-edged leaves that are most often what is expected from a tomato.

The there’s the other type, ‘Potato Leaf’ or, yes you guessed it (y’all are getting so smart!) ‘PL’.

So what’s the difference?
Well, as far as your tomato sandwich is concerned, none. As far as you the tomato grower, none.

So G. J., why are you telling us?

Well, suppose for example you’re out buying some tomato plants and you see some that have different leaves. Will you have to ask the sales person what’s what? Nooo… you’ll know better.

You can even be a smarty pants and say “Why yes, I’ll take a cell pack of these Potato Leaf Variety Tomatoes”.
They may even offer you a job!

Now I admit I got my tomato plants mixed up this year, what else in new, so I can’t say I am even growing a potato leaf tomato variety. I’ll direct you here instead for a good example of what they look like from Purdue University.
4/2/13This just in! An example of a potato leaf tomato from my friend Beth M. -thanks so much for sharing!

Thanks Beth!

Thanks Beth!

Categories: How to Grow, tomatoes


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Planning on Tomatoes

early girl tomatoes

early girl tomatoes

If you take a quick count in one of your seed catalogs, you may easily find over 75 different types of tomatoes. Which variety to choose? Decisions, decisions.

There are two basic types of tomatoes; which one you want depends in part on your growing space.

The shorter, bush type tomatoes are called determinate tomatoes. They normally don’t need to be supported, though it won’t hurt. They also don’t need to be pruned, and will only grow to a height of 3-4 ft., making them easier to care for. Determinate tomato plants will produce most of their fruit in a short period of time, often within weeks. These tomatoes are good for those who want a lot of fruit to ‘put up’, for gardeners with a shorter growing season or those growing in containers. If you want to free up some space for succession planting, go with determinates. Most determinate types are hybrids, though there are a number of heirlooms to choose from as well.
We often get asked “Why did my tomatoes suddenly stop producing?” Well, unless they have been subjected to very hot weather, it’s usually because they are determinate plants. If they are short and you got a lot of tomatoes, chances are they are that’s the reason.

sungold tomatoes

sungold tomatoes

Taller and vining indeterminate tomatoes are just the opposite. They will need to be supported and are better off pruned. Indeterminates can easily grow over 6 ft. tall. They will produce less fruit at a time, but over a longer period. On these types of plants you’ll see flowers as well as different stages of fruit development throughout the season; in fact they don’t stop growing until frost. You’re not going to want these if you are growing in a container. Indeterminate varieties are better for those gardeners who just want a few fresh tomatoes throughout the week and over a longer period of time. Most heirloom tomatoes are indeterminate, the way nature intended.

Many tomato connoisseurs would argue that heirloom tomatoes, and especially indeterminate varieties, are the best tasting.
That could very well be true. I can say from experience that the indeterminate heirloom Sungold was by far the best tasting cherry type tomato we ever grew. It also tried to take over the garden, growing easily to 8 ft. tall and quickly out of control, attaching itself to other tomatoes and anything else it could find. It also dropped enough of its fruit that I know we will be digging up young ‘volunteer’ plants come spring; and that’s all right by us.

Categories: How to Grow, tomatoes


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Tomato Snobbery

Many gardeners are quite adamant about some of the varieties of veggies they prefer to grow, including me.
But when it comes to whether that veggie is an heirloom or a hybrid, I have found a few gardeners to be a bit snooty.

There are a handful of growers out there, and this is especially true when talking about tomatoes, that think because they grow heirlooms their plants are somehow better.

And they tend to be vocal.

tomatoes Oxheart

heirloom Oxheart

Note: We’re not talking about GMO’s, learn the difference here.

Think about it.
If heirlooms were inherently superior, there would have been no need to develop hybrids, right?
So why did they?

Well, one reason was ship-ability.
It’s important to those that grow for market to have tomatoes that are uniform in size and can handle travel.
But that doesn’t apply to the home grower, so what else?

tomatoes early girl

hybrid Early Girl

A hybrid that will ripen sooner, like Early Girl or 4th. of July, can be very popular in the backyard garden.
There are also hybrids that are heavier producers, are disease resistant, or are bred specifically for container growing.
And that’s not all- there are tomatoes that can take more heat, and ones that can take more cold.

tomatoes Franks Iranian

heirloom Frank's Iranian

Guess what? They have even crossed heirloom tomatoes that taste great with ones that have some of the qualities mentioned above.

Can you imagine a great tasting tomato that ripens sooner?
Someone already has, and they developed it.

tomatoes Viva Italia

hybrid Viva Italia

What we in the Jones’ garden grow is a blend of both heirlooms and hybrids.
Our Early Girls get us that homegrown taste sooner.
We choose a hybrid roma with heavy production characteristics since we ‘put up’ a lot of salsa, sauce, soup and juice.
And we grow heirlooms too- for fresh eating flavor and variety.

I admit this is where my tomato snobbery shows- because to me, to use an heirloom tomato for canning is akin to sacrilege.

tomatoes san diego paste

heirloom San Diego Paste

IMHO not one of these varieties is ‘better’ than any other, they are just different.

So if you’ve got your nose in the air because you’re growing only heirlooms and you think your plants are better – well, good for you.
But understand that if you’re limiting your thinking, you may be limiting your garden’s potential as well.

What’s your opinion?

Categories: faq's, tomatoes



A Tomato Rebuttal

Recently I was sent this link, that I then re-posted on Facebook:
How The Taste Of Tomatoes Went Bad (And Kept On Going).

silician saucer, big beef

Another gardener, George Rebeiro Brooks, Jr., sent me his thoughts on the subject:

“There has been a lot stories lately written about Tomatoes that say that only Heirloom Tomatoes taste the best. All of the articles I have seen are written by Reporters that want to have an article that gets attention & raises the Hype level. I’m involved in many groups that had agricultural stories written for them. Sorry but working with the media for 35 years on this type of agriculture story I’ve found they almost never get things right. I’m not a reporter though I have written some agricultural articles, I’m not a TV or Radio personality thought I have occasionally been on both. What I am is a Gardener though a fanatical one. OK that ends the editorial section of this article.
What I am good at is observation over many years, combined with detailed notes on my gardening experiences. I base the following on those observations.
It’s absurd to think that once Tomatoes were developed that were all red affected their flavor negatively as a group, (read that in an article). It is also a myth that Heirloom or (Heritage) means great flavor & Hybrid means poor flavor. Heirloom means an old variety, Open Pollinated means pollinated by Insects or air movement (must be isolated from others to remain consistent), Hybrid means controlled cross pollination practices nothing more.
There are Great, Good, & Poor selections in every group. There are new verities that have come out for the home gardener that have been on the market for only a few years because they weren’t very good. On the other hand there are Heirlooms that are not grown anymore because they don’t taste good. That said what makes a great tasting Tomato, not just one thing!
Great taste does not come just in a name or method of pollination. Flavor comes from parentage & the soil, & can be influenced by heavy rainfall which dilutes soil minerals & nutrient take up. Soil pH plays a role in nutrient uptake so that should be a consideration also.


Over the last forty years I have experimented with many types of Tomatoes for flavor, earliness when needed, appearance (excessive cracks increases disease), and disease resistance. Though I will sacrifice some negatives in suburb flavor Tomatoes. You need to test Tomatoes in your soil & area, one that I grow might not taste the same grown somewhere else. Make sure you have plenty of Organic matter in your soil, I’m sure it influences the flavor. I also Trench Feed my Tomatoes with Fish Meal; trench is 6” deep & 8” away from the plant. Roots will sense the food & grow into it. You can also use Compost in this trench. This will provide a steady supply of food for the Tomatoes throughout the season. Good food equals good taste, & experimentation on your part. I Stake all of my 130 plants for air circulation, except for Cherry & use recycled woven plastic that lets moisture through & stays dry to prevent disease.
Why do grocery store Tomatoes generally have poor taste? My thoughts; but not from my experience personally growing this type of Tomato. They were developed to be tough enough to survive shipping. One way they do that is pick them green & gas them with synthetic ethylene at point of distribution. That gives them that translucent red you see. Ethylene is given off naturally as something ripens enhancing the ripening process. Not sure how they produce the synthetic version. I would think there would not be the level of organic matter found in home gardens present in most production fields.

homegrown tomatoes

Here is a list of Tomatoes I found to give me the best qualities consistently:

~Overall best qualities: Big Beef, Super Tasty, Delicious, Super Beefsteak, Early Pick, Supersteak.
~Earliness with good flavor: New Girl, 4th of July.
~Cherry: Tomatoberry (a meaty expensive Cherry Tomato but I’m hooked).
I try a few new ones every year along with oddities in color & form.

Two of my favorites in the BIG class Tomato:
~Delicious: Open pollinated huge Tomato that makes out of this world Tomato Sandwiches. Moderately disease resistant plant, fruit forms small shoulder cracks that heal quickly preventing disease of the fruit. Doesn’t produce a lot of Tomatoes but the flavor makes up for it.
~Big Beef: a Hybrid developed for the Home Garden quite a few years ago. Good disease resistance, few cracks, excellent flavor, great production.

Pick your Tomatoes with your taste buds & growth habits not hype.”

George Brooks
North Tewksbury, MA USA

Thanks George!
How do you decide which tomatoes to plant, and what are your favorites?

Categories: gardening people, places & things, tomatoes



How to Transplant Tomatoes

Transplanting tomatoes is easy to do, but there are a few hints that will make it go better.
If you are buying your plants, look for ones that have not blossomed yet; the transplanting will be less of a shock to them.

transplanting tomatoes

can you see the tiny roots forming just above soil level?

If you have a 4- or 6- pack cell container of plants, spread your fingers amongst the plants.
Turn the cell pack upside down.
Some plants make come out on their own, that is why you were ready to catch them.

transplanting tomatoes

be gentle now

Otherwise, very gently squeeze the bottom of one cell until the plant comes loose.
Never pull it by it’s stem.

transplanting tomatoes

I'm ready if you are 'mater

You can see the plant is pretty tall, and below that it’s roots were filling up the pot.
It’s time.

transplanting tomato plants

yep, it's planting time

Place your plant in a trench- not a hole- about 4 inches deep.
Lay it on it’s side. This plant is already bent up, but it doesn’t need to be.

how to transplant tomatoes

spread that stem lengthwise

Here’s another that grew straighter:

how to transplant tomatoes

The idea is that the more of the plant that is below ground, the stronger the root system it will develop.
Since it will gather nutrients through it’s roots, it will be a more vigorous, healthier plant.

how to transplant tomatoes

you'll be glad you did

Mound the soil up around the plant- bury it up its neck- so to speak.
Your tomato will thank you by producing some beautiful fruit in about 10 weeks.

homegrown tomatoes

about 8 weeks after transplanting

Here they come!

More on Growing Tomatoes
Roasting Tomatoes
Canning Basics

Categories: How to Grow, tomatoes



How to Grow – Tomatoes

If you could only grow one thing, would it be tomatoes?

They produce well and take relatively little space.
Their fruit can be eaten green or ripe, raw or cooked; and they store well.

Then there’s the extreme flavor difference between homegrown and store bought. Don’t get me started.

Choose from Heirloom (nature made) or Hybrid (people made) Tomatoes. The flavor is usually superior in Heirlooms, but they are more prone to disease and don’t hold fresh as well.

Choose also from Determinate, or bushier varieties, which can be grown without support; or Indeterminate, or climbing tomatoes, which will need to be staked or grown against a fence or trellis. We stake all the tomatoes.

There are so many varieties of tomatoes it can be mind boggling.
My Dad likes the biggest hybrid tomatoes, one slice fills a sandwich.
We prefer the paste types, Romas, for roasting and making sauce, soup and salsa.

If you are just starting choose a variety based on what you will use it for most, fresh eating or cooking. If you have the room, choose a few different kinds.

homegrown tomatoes

newly set out transplants

You can start your seeds indoors, not too early though; about 6 weeks before you can plant outdoors, after all danger of frost is passed.

If you purchase transplants, look for ones that do NOT have tomatoes growing on them yet and preferably no flowers either.
They will handle transplanting better and produce just as soon.

homegrown tomatoes

About 1 month after transplanting.

homegrown tomatoes

About 8 weeks after.

Follow these directions to transplant your tomato.
Plant your tomato ‘up to its neck’ it will develop more roots this way and be stronger.

Help control weeds by planting with basil, the tomatoes will likewise shade the basil and prevent it from bolting.
Tomatoes also do well in containers, one plant per 5 gallon pot.

One last tip, water tomatoes at ground level, not from above. This will help ward off some of the problems tomatoes face.

I know, I know… Mother Nature waters from above, so why can’t I?

Just remember this- Mother Nature really doesn’t care how many tomatoes you get from your garden; but we do.

homegrown tomatoes

About 10 weeks later.

Botanical name: Solanum lycopersicum
Yield: varies
Spacing: 16-24″ Closer if you are staking them and/or pruning.
Days to maturity: From plants, 60-75 days
Harvest: When ripe but before a frost.
Storage: Can, freeze, roast, dehydrate.

Categories: How to Grow, tomatoes


1 Comment »

Tomato Tips – Growing Up

Tomatoes are a vine crop and can be left to grow that way. However, you are more likely to get rot in your fruit and to have them attacked by numerous creepy crawlers. Pretty much everybody stakes their tomatoes nowadays.
You do have a number of choices on the How-To end. You can buy Tomato Cages that are easy to use. Unfortunately in our area they don’t work very well because our soil is so rocky. It really is hard to find a spot to get even those thin wire legs into the ground deep enough to offer support.

gardening jones garden staking tomatoes

tomato cages abandoned in my garden

Staking tomatoes is another easy way to grow. Put the stake into the ground a few inches from your tomatoes when you first plant them. Don’t wait, after the plants are established putting a stake in can damage their roots. Use lightweight string, or better yet, strips of pantyhose, to tie your tomato as it grows. You may also want to consider pruning your staked tomatoes, more on that later.

gardening jones garden staking tomatoes

staked potted tomato plant

gardening jones garden staking tomatoes

staked but not yet pruned

gardening jones garden staking tomatoes

staked and neatly pruned

My favorite way to support tomatoes is to tie them to a main overhead support. I moved my tomatoes this year, due to last year’s Late Blight, so cannot show you them on the main support we had in another area. Instead, here is an example using PVC pipe.
You tie the string to the bottom stem, then to the overhead support. As the tomato grows, simply twirl the string around it for support.

gardening jones garden staking tomatoes

tie the string to the tomato at the bottom, the PVC pipe above

gardening jones garden staking tomatoes

just twirl that string as they grow

And what if I don’t stake?

gardening jones garden staking tomatoes

unruly tomato plant

Related links
Late Blight
Staking Tomatoes
Staking Tomatoes and a Little on Pruning

Categories: How to Grow, tomatoes



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