Plant ’em deep and prep the soil.
Enjoying a summer showcase of awesome tomatoes of any variety takes good garden prep work now. By prepping the soil for these heavy feeders and following these easy instructions, you can enjoy tasty homegrown tomatoes in the months to come.
1. Prepare the soil.
Tomatoes are heavy feeders. This means they want good fertility. To prepare beds, remove weeds and rake to level out. Add one bag of worm castings for each 4-by-8-feet area of bed space. Got compost? Add one cup of compost per plant.
2. Dig an over-sized hole so that the tomato plant will sit quite deep.
Tomatoes have a vigorous rooting system. By planting deep, you help the plant send out strong roots so it will surge forth with green growth above ground.
3. Pinch off all leaves except the top three to five.
You can use scissors or fingernails of your thumb and pointer finger. This seems aggressive, but rest assured that the tomatoes like it! (See above.)
4. Put some fertility in the bottom of the hole.
Worm castings are black gold. They’re full of good probiotics that will boost the immune system of the plants. What’s more, worm castings don’t burn the plants, so a novice gardener can trust in them as a safe bet.
5. Place the tomato plant in the hole.
Tamp down the soil around the plant by hand. Only tamp it enough to establish it as balanced and straight.
6. Create a berm of soil around the perimeter.
This will help water seep down to the tomato plant’s roots when you irrigate. (See above.)
7. Water every 2 to 3 days, depending on the weather.
Tomato plants do best with wet and dry in intervals. Think two or three times per week or every two to three days, depending on rain and temperature spikes. In other words, let the ground dry a bit before watering. If they get a nice soaking from a rainfall, count that as a watering; if it gets extra hot out, check the soil around the plant to make sure it isn’t completely dried out.
8. Trellis the tomato plants.
Those large tomatoes get heavy, so the vines need support. Metal tomato cages are the easiest to use—just place one over each tomato plant.
9. Plant tomatoes with friends.
Tomato plants love peppers, basil, and marigolds. Plant these nearby to discourage pests. If you choose basil, you have the added bonus of fresh basil to serve with the tomatoes when they’re ripe—just slice them, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and add a bit of chopped or torn basil on top.
Tips and photos courtesy of Joshua Burman Thayer, who is a regular contributor to Edible East Bay, where this story was originally published. You can see his landscape design at www.nativesungardens.com.