Tomatoes are among the most popular crops for home gardeners, and most varieties can produce good yields under almost any conditions. If you want to bring in a bumper crop of tomatoes, though, you’ll need to use a few strategic tricks to get the most out of every plant. Here are five of the best tips to help you maximize your tomato harvest this summer.
1. Get Your Tomato Plants Started Early
The earlier your tomatoes get established, the sooner they will come into production and the longer they will continue to yield tasty, ripe fruit. If you live in a cooler climate, it’s a good idea to start your plants indoors about eight weeks before your area’s last average frost date. By starting the plants early and getting them into the ground as soon as the soil is warm enough, you can extend your growing season and get a larger harvest.
2. Plant Tomato Varieties That Yield at Different Times
Establishing plants early will help increase your harvest, but some varieties still won’t produce until later in the summer. The plants that produce latest tend to be the large beefsteak varieties. To get more tomatoes over the course of the summer, it’s a good idea to plant some smaller tomatoes that produce fruits earlier. Grape and plum tomatoes, for instance, will start ripening a month or more before you get any beefsteak varieties. Certain hybrid varieties have also been bred to ripen early. By planting a good variety of early and late ripening plants, you can ensure you’ll have reliable harvests throughout the summer and early fall.
3. Prune Your Tomato Plants
Like many other plants, tomatoes provide higher yields when they’re lightly pruned. For tomato plants, the best approach is to remove small branches, often called suckers. These branches come off at roughly 45-degree angles between the main stem of the plant and the fruit-bearing branches that grow at right angles to it. By pruning these suckers when they first appear, you will encourage your tomato to grow upward rather than outward. This provides more space for fruit production.
4. Feed Throughout the Season
Tomato plants are heavy feeders that need quite a lot of nitrogen to produce large quantities of ripe fruit. Fertilizing the plants with a small amount of liquid fertilizer, granulated feed or compost every two weeks will help them produce more and larger tomatoes. Compost is preferable, as it will also help to build up the soil’s health and increase its ability to retain water during dry periods.
5. Use a Paper Bag to Encourage One Extra Harvest
Most years, your tomato plants will still hold unripened fruit when the weather starts to turn colder. While some growers write these tomatoes off or harvest and use them green, there is a way to get one final batch of ripe tomatoes from your plants. Simply harvest all the green tomatoes and place them in a brown paper bag. Add in one fully ripened tomato, apple or banana, and wait a few days to one week. The ripe fruit will produce a gas called ethylene. The ethylene trapped in the bag will encourage the remaining green tomatoes to ripen. If you have many tomatoes, it may be a good idea to use two or three bags. Depending on how many green tomatoes were left on your vines at the end of the growing season, this trick can give you a large extra harvest.
Using these five tips and tricks, you can take your tomato production from mediocre to extraordinary. You’ll find that you can get more tomatoes each season without any need to put in a larger garden.
All vegetable gardens benefit from regular applications of composted material. Learn how to use your kitchen and yard waste to create rich composted soil in our article Compost Tips for Beginners.