When asked for advice on growing this summer favorite, tomatoes, Pat Patterson, an Oregon State University Master Gardener volunteer for more than 40 years, said, “The main thing is to have the proper environment for tomatoes. They want warm temperatures and very bright light. Tomatoes don’t grow well in the shade.”
With seed catalogs offering hundreds of tomato varieties, the biggest challenge may be choosing which ones will work for you. “You need to pick a variety that tastes great and fits the climate,” she explained. “For example, a Mid-western tomato will tolerate more heat while a West Coast tomato will not do anything if the temperatures approach 90 degrees. It will just shut down production until nights get cool.” She went on to say that local extension agents are a good resource for which varieties do well where you live.
When to Nip
To boost a tomato plant’s production, you have to make sure the plant is happy. “It has to have everything it wants and you need to protect it from attack,” she noted. Removing lower branches improves air circulation and boosts light, for example, which helps reduce problems with disease. She suggested nipping off the top buds to promote side branching, “which gives more and better-quality fruit.”
Peak Tomato Harvest Time
She had this to say about harvesting tomatoes. “It can be a bit tricky to determine if they are at peak flavor, especially if they come in colors such as orange, purple and yellow, not colors necessarily associated with a ‘ripe’ tomato. When you see the white star at the bottom of a tomato, you can pick it and it will ripen to peak nutrition. If you really want the best tasting one though, let it ripen until all parts are red, but use it fairly quickly.”
As the summer season approaches a killing frost, you can encourage tomatoes to ripen more quickly. “You don’t want to cut off the water completely; if you reduce it by half or more, it will stress the plant. Another thing you can do is to cover them and then throw in some apples, which release ethylene gas. It helps the fruit ripen and color faster. It works beautifully.”
If you want to extend your harvest beyond the frost, take it inside. “I’ll go ahead and pull the tomato plant and hang it in a greenhouse,” Pat said. “Or, I’ll pick the (ripe but not red) tomatoes and put them in flats to ripen.”
This article is from a previous issue of The New Pioneer. Grab your copy at OutdoorGroupStore.com.
It is that time of the year to consider your summer gardens and when...
by Barbara Delbol / Apr 18, 2018