Thursday, January 6, 2011

Seven Tips Tomato Lovers Need To Know or How to Love Your Tomatoes

Have you ever seen those gigantic tomatoes at your local farmer’s market or on exhibit at a fair and wondered how they grow them that big? I used to wonder the same thing too until I stumbled across an article in a popular gardening magazine about pruning tomatoes. Now I had never heard about this before or maybe I had and wasn’t paying attention but in any event it made sense.

Tomatoes, which most culinary institutes and the U.S. Supreme Court consider a vegetable, are technically a fruit. Now I don’t care what the Supreme Court says, trees, bushes, or vines that produce fruit must be pruned; tomatoes are no exception and must also be staked.

Prune Away Shaded Interior Branches

Tomato plants, when young, produce tons (ok an over abundance) of sugar. The only way the plant can use up that sugar is to produce new leaves which leads to rapid, snowballing, growth. Eventually, the plant begins to set fruit and when this happens the weight of the fruits pulls the branches down to the ground; this creates several problems.

A Dead Leaf Caused by Consuming More Sugar Than it Produced. 
This is Typical of Leaves on the Inside of the Plant That are Shaded.  Prune
Away Shaded Branches to Maximize Sugar Production.

First of all when the plant is hugging the ground many of its leaves are shaded from the sun and stop producing sugar. When the leaves start using more sugar than they are producing they turn yellow and die. To keep it from lying on the ground either tie it to stakes or place a tomato cage around it while it is still small.

Another problem caused by plants lying on the ground is that the leaves and often the fruit come into contact with fungus and bacteria that cause disease which is evident in plants with spots on the leaves and fruit.
Avoid Contact With The Ground, Prune Away
Low Hanging Branches.

Finally, when the plant has too many leaves, sugar is diverted from the fruit to the leaf resulting in smaller fruits and less of them. We want to show our tomatoes a little love by maximizing photosynthesis and by keeping them off the ground. Leaves that are in the shade produce less sugar than they consume and the additional sugar needed by the leaves is diverted away from the fruit. By pruning away the branches that are on the inside of the plant and away from the sun, we make the plant more efficient and therefore produce larger, tastier tomatoes. When pruning, it is not necessary to remove all of the inner branches; we only need to remove enough to allow the other inner branches full exposure to the sun. Remember, a shaded leaf is an inefficient leaf but we don’t want to remove leaves that are exposed to the sun and are feeding the fruit. As a rule, if a leaf is exposed to the sun it is producing more sugar than it consumes with the excess going to the fruit.

To wrap this up here do a few rules to follow when loving your tomatoes.

1. Do not let the leaves and vines lie on the ground.

2. Do not plant tomatoes too close together, keep about 3 feet between them.

3. Do not prune plants when they are wet.

4. Prune the plant to allow for maximum leaf exposure to the sun. Leaves in the shade are inefficient and they should be pruned away.

5. Keep the leaves clean and free of dirt or dust which inhibit the leaves ability to make sugar.

6. Love your tomatoes like they are a family member and they will love you back by producing large, healthy, succulent fruits.

7. Practice sustainable gardening by keeping some of the seeds to plant next year.

I hope these tips help and that you have fantastic tomato crop. Please write and leave me your tomato success stories; I like to know if I’ve offered you advice that has helped. Until the next time, Happy Gardening!

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