Garden Tips for Perfect Tomatoes
By Mary Murray
Some country pleasures never seem to change. With the windows open, the sweet scent of freshly-cut grass drifts in, a woodpecker can be heard in the big maples surrounding our front yard, and a cherry-red cardinal is perched on a windowsill. And this spring, for the first time ever, we have seen the orange Baltimore Orioles at our birdbath…so exciting for a birdwatcher like myself!
A continuous string of warm days here in the Midwest means we’re enjoying sun-dried sheets as well. It’s a simple pleasure to hang sheets and quilts on the clothesline and then watch t hem snapping smartly in the breeze. By early afternoon, t hey’ll be dry and brought in doors, t hen tonight, our family will sink into sheets that smell faintly of sunshine and clover…sure to bring pleasant dreams.
Our last frost date has officially passed, so soon we’ll be planting tomatoes, potatoes, beans, zucchini, peppers, and other family favorites. A visit to the local nursery found us choosing fragrant herbs…cinnamon basil, German thyme, spearmint, and apple mint will be growing in our little kitchen garden.
Because, at least in our humble opinions, there’s almost nothing like the taste of sun-warmed tomatoes fresh from the garden, I wanted to share a few of our tips for what we think makes for perfect tomatoes.
1. Prepare the garden soil
Tomatoes need anywhere from 6 to 10 hours of sun a day, and rich, well-drained soil is a must. Add generous amounts of compost or manure to your garden patch. I like to start with about 2 inches of compost and then work it into the top 6 inches of the garden.
2. Planting tomato seedlings
The best time of the day for tucking seedlings into your garden is morning or late evening, on a cloudy day. This lets them settle into their new spot without the shock of a scorching sun or extreme mid-day heat. I space my tomatoes about 3 to 4 feet apart; this allows plenty of room between the plants and rows for tomato cages and also allows me to easily hoe and till between them as they grow and spread. I add mulch around each plant as well. We always have compost or spent hay from our goats (always with a little manure included!) but you could use pine needles or wood chips to keep the weeds down and keep the tomato roots cool and moist.
3. Watering…a must!
Tomatoes need continuous and even watering. Too much water will rot the roots, while too little will keep them from growing. I’ve learned that letting the soil dry out too much, then rushing to water heavily doesn’t make up for the dry soil. I’m sure to end up with tomatoes that have cracked along with blossoms that drop or rot.
The key is to water early in the day, water the ground, and water deeply.
I always use a fertilizer that’s just for tomatoes, and I’m sure to follow the label instructions…which means I have to curb my desire to overfeed thinking I’ll have even larger tomatoes! Too much fertilizer will lead to lovely vines, but not many tomatoes.
With these few steps to get you started, I hope you find time to add a tomatoes to your summertime plans. And whether you have a full-size garden, sunny patio, or breezy balcony…you’ll be so glad you did. Imagine the wonderful flavor of your own salsa, tomato sauce, or fresh tomato bruschetta!
Mary is a Midwest farmgirl who enjoys the simple pleasures of living in the country. “For us, living where there is plenty of room for gardens, animals, and for kids to roam and explore is the best kind of life.” You can visit Windy Meadows Farm here.