Like many Manitoba gardeners, you probably have a few tomato plants somewhere in your yard.
Even if you do not have a vegetable garden, you may have some tomatoes planted along the south foundation of the house — a nice warm, sheltered spot to grow tomatoes — or a few plants tucked into spaces in flower borders.
For the many gardeners who are not into big time vegetable gardening but crave the taste of fresh-picked tomatoes, the choice is often cherry tomatoes, those bite-sized tomatoes that almost melt in your mouth. Just three or four plants of cherry tomatoes, depending on the varieties chosen, will keep you in fresh tomatoes all season.
Although I have a vegetable garden and grow my tomatoes there, I too have chosen several cherry tomatoes to keep us well supplied during the summer. I have one Sweet 100 plant that will provide a late crop of cherry tomatoes.
This variety is indeterminate, so it gets quite huge — up to two metres in height — and must be staked. A single Sweet 100 plant will provide several gallons of fruit.
I also planted two Sun Sugar plants; this variety is probably the sweetest tomato on the market. The fruits are pale orange and are produced in clusters on the bush-type, determinate plants; most cherry tomatoes produce their fruit in clusters.
The other cherry tomato that I planted is Tumbler, and I have two of them. They are the earliest cherry tomato and shortly after they were put out in the garden in late May, they began to produce flowers and set fruit.
Tumbler is a larger, red cherry tomato produced on larger determinate plants that I usually stake to keep them upright; the plants are larger than those of Sun Sugar. In past years I have grown yellow varieties such as Yellow Pear and Lemon Boy, but I did not include them in my planting plan this year. There isn’t space for everything I’d like to grow!
Now that the cherry tomatoes are in the ground, it is important to care for them properly so that they produce the best crop of cherry tomatoes possible.
Firstly, tomatoes like to be kept consistently moist and I accomplish this by first of all planting my plants as deeply as I can and secondly by surrounding each plant with a ring cut out of a nursery pot and then pushed into the ground.
The rings are pushed into the ground enough to prevent water from escaping under the bottom of the ring when it is full of water. The rings also make fertilizing the plants easier — I simply add fertilizer to the water before I pour it into the ring.
Early in the season, I use a balanced fertilizer or one made especially for tomatoes, with the last two numbers in the formula being the largest. Later in the season, however, when the plants are heavily laden with fruit, I use a fertilizer with a high nitrogen content to help the plants support the large crop of fruits.
Besides not allowing the tomato plants to dry out, if you have been bothered by blossom end rot in the past, it can be prevented by using a fertilizer that has some calcium content. Alternately, crush egg shells and/or use water from when you boil eggs to add calcium to the soil around the tomato plants.
I stake the taller varieties, Sweet 100 and Tumbler, and tie the plants securely to the stakes with garden cord, being careful to leave enough slack to allow the stems room to grow larger without being choked. Of course, I planted my tomatoes in full sun, and I made sure the taller plants were planted north of the shorter ones to prevent them from being shaded.
I make sure to keep weeds picked near the plants — I have to be particularly observant to spot weeds growing within the rings around the plants as the constant supply of moisture and fertilizer will entice weeds to try to grow there. Keeping nearby weeds controlled prevents their attracting insect pests or diseases to the tomatoes.
I remove any lower leaves that touch the ground to prevent contact with the soil to prevent the spread of soil-based pathogens — the rings around my plants also help to keep leaves from touching the soil. Some gardeners mulch their tomatoes with several layers of newspaper or grass clippings to achieve the same result.
Regular inspection of your tomato plants will ensure that they stay healthy. Remove any diseased or malformed leaves and watch for insect pests. If you are bothered by slugs, scatter course sand or crushed eggshells around the base of each plant.
If you suspect your plants have been infected by a disease, try to prevent its spread by removing infected leaves and by washing your hands before moving on to tend the next plant so you do not spread the disease pathogen from plant to plant.
Water at the base of the plants and avoid overhead watering with a sprinkler to keep the foliage dry.
Pollination is usually not a problem with tomatoes, but to ensure good pollination, I usually have a few flowers planted near my tomato patch to attract bees. Usually there is enough wind to move pollen around enough to guarantee good pollination.
It won’t be long until we are enjoying the fruits of our labours — literally — by harvesting cherry tomatoes from our gardens. Tending to your cherry tomato plants diligently during the summer will ensure that you have a bountiful harvest of these succulent beauties.
Albert Parsons is a consultant for garden design and landscaping who lives in Minnedosa.