Tomato particulars

Warrenton, VA

Hello, I was taught to pinch off the first couple of waves of tomato blossoms. I was also taught to leave the suckers on. What say you all? I have a chance right now to alter the suckering program, but I believe that removing first blossoms does make the plant healthier.
I also heard that you should throw in a banana peel into the hole before you stick the tomato in it. Have to say, something really is making my tomatoes steroidal, and this could be it! Or maybe it is the ton of manure, or Epsom Salts...

Southern NJ, United States(Zone 7a)

Gracye, I have read to remove all the branches up to the first set of blossoms but I've never heard that one should remove the first few blossoms. And I remove the suckers. I set up bamboo tripods and plant a tomato at the base of each pole, tying them up to the pole for support with velcro strips as they grow. Works for me. Haven't tried the banana peel - interesting idea! But with forty-eight plants I'd have to eat an awful lot of bananas! We use composted chicken manure and grass clippings, but not Epsom salts. My only problem with my tomatoes is blight, which sometimes cuts the season too short, but I'm going to be very careful not to water the leaves this year and hope that helps.

Monte Vista, CO(Zone 4a)

The ph is a little high, here, so I use Epsom salts, too. I'm going to try the 'cutting the branches/leaves off below the first blossoms. That is, if it ever warms up, here. :)

Southern NJ, United States(Zone 7a)

Solace, we're in the Pine Barrens so the soil is more acid than alkaline, although with the amendments it's probably much more neutral now. I do use a little borax and Epsom salts with my melons to improve the flavor, but that hasn't seemed to work well in recent years.

Madison, AL(Zone 7b)

I plant large indeterminate tomatoes in BIG cages; this is what works for me, for them, under those conditions. I trim them up, and keep them trimmed, to about 12" high off the ground to help prevent disease. I prune toms back as needed to keep them more or less within the confines of the cage and to prevent limb breakage. Usually about the time they have grow all the way back down the side of the cage to the ground (i.e. 10'+ vines) I do a major thinning back to control the plant, not because the plant really needs it.

I've never found any advantage to trimming off the suckers. I do sometimes remove early blossoms if the plant doesn't look ready yet to produce fruit, but that's not often.

Banana peels are said to be added because potassium improves tomato flavor, but one banana peel wouldn't have much potassium in it. And while adding fresh stuff to the planting hole adds organic material and might be feeding the worms, but it's unlikely to add any essential nutrients until after it's composted. For someone who always grows tomatoes in the same spot, I suppose it probably helps in the following year, so burying your banana peels in the tomato patch (if you don't mind the chemicals) certainly wouldn't do any harm and might help.

I have no idea if potassium actually improves tomato flavor... even if we knew it modified it, flavor is such a subjective characteristic. Who's taste buds decide what's better?

I don't add epsom salts because my soil magnesium levels are already ample, and excess magnesium reduces calcium and potassium uptake. So if your magnesium levels are already high and you add epsom salts, you could be causing BER.

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

That's some wonderful info you posted above! Thanks!

When you trim back your 10'+ vines, do you do anything special to the cut sites to prevent disease? I remember someone posting that the open cuts would be portals for fungaluglies...


Anderson, IN(Zone 6a)

I only add a little Magnesium (helps in uptake of Nitrogen and possibly hydrogen atoms) to the plants early , for the boost growth time ,, After that , from the time they are a few feet tall ,(a little before really) I add calcium ..
Worked nicely last year on the few good plants I had ..(drought remember) ..
The few good plants had no BER for the first time in four or five seasons ,, I was happy with that ..

Madison, AL(Zone 7b)

"When you trim back your 10'+ vines, do you do anything special to the cut sites to prevent disease?"

I have never even considered doing something like that. I don't prune when it's wet and I keep my shears clean and disinfect from time to time, but that's about the extent of my concern.

I would guess that any tomato that lasted that long in the season is perfectly capable of fighting off whatever cooties I have even if they get past the barrier of the oozing sap for the few hours it takes the tom plant to heal over.

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

Point taken.

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

Some plant diseases are more of an inconvenience but they can become systemic if there is an open wound, made from machines in the fields. Or any open wound. This usually happens when the plants are much smaller and younger. I've had plants with fungus issues and not knowing better I removed a sucker or a branch broke and the disease became systemic. The sites from Cornell and A&M explain it much better. But like Nichole said it isn't likely to show up on a large health plant. Many of these problems start when the plant is first starting to set fruit.

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

Ok. I understand better now. Thanks!

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

It is a valid question but those site explain it much better the I can.

Madison, AL(Zone 7b)

Thanks, lisa.

Last year, using 3rd generation saved seed, I had NO tomato disease issues. Zero. This year I'm planting out all my generations and the original stock to see how the plants and fruit have changed; it'll be interesting to see if I have inadvertently bred for resistance to my local cooties and the new generations fare better.

Or, perhaps, it was just a good year!

Talihina, OK

Nicole has the most important tool any gardener can have AN OPEN MIND

Madison, AL(Zone 7b)

Wow, thanks for the compliment, grits.

Enterprise, AL(Zone 8b)

I have never saved tomato seeds before, but this year I have a Beefsteak that has outperformed every step of the way all my other tomatoes. Haven't tasted it yet, but I have high hopes. If it tastes as good as it looks I am going to try and save seed and see how they do next year. It won't be long before the taste tests start.

Talihina, OK

Nicole I have to ask do you ferment your tomato seeds>?

Madison, AL(Zone 7b)

Quote from grits74571 :
Nicole I have to ask do you ferment your tomato seeds>?

Yes, but it's easy. I just leave them in a bowl with some of their own juice & pulp on the counter until it gets moldy. Usually takes about 4 or 5 days. It's pretty much what would happen to the seeds when tomato falls and rots on the ground.

This is supposed to improve germination rates, but honestly I don't know if it's truly important. Tomatoes, beans and squash are plants I never seem to have germination problems with.

I've heard of some folks who just save tomato seeds in their garden and transplant volunteers when it's time. Heaven knows I get enough volunteers, so I sure believe it works!

Cherry Grove, OH(Zone 6b)

Quote from NicoleC :
...I've heard of some folks who just save tomato seeds in their garden and transplant volunteers when it's time. Heaven knows I get enough volunteers, so I sure believe it works!

Lord knows anyone who grows tomatoes gets plenty of volunteers. The biggest issue for us is determining the variety as we plant several varieties in the same beds. But the birds probably assist in the mix up, as we see tomato volunteers quite a ways away from our tomato beds.

This message was edited Jun 4, 2013 7:51 PM

Hummelstown, PA(Zone 6b)

I also buy indeterminate varieties of tomatoes. I never pinch any suckers nor flowers. I do prune my tomatoes, usually the top growth every 10-15 days once they get up above my cages. (I also use very large cages.... Also any side branches that fall out the sides that I cant fit back in i cut off as well. I make cuts just after the fruit or a fruiting bunch. New shoots emerge fairly quickly. I do not let vines overhang on the outside of of the cages. Tomatoes need good air circulation so I try to keep things from getting too thick.
Also when you prune, and new growth is stimulated you get new flowers more consistently during the season. I also think the plants are more disease resistant. I havent had any problems with the cuts causing any diseases or spreading but use good hygene.

Enterprise, AL(Zone 8b)

drobarr, I am really enjoying your posts. I feel like my county agent is giving me instructions. I am going to start doing that with my tomatoes, they are all over the place way outside their cages. I didn't realize you could prune them like that.

Hummelstown, PA(Zone 6b)

You are too kind.
I am an agronomist and worked a summer in Ruskin, FL on a tomato farm so learned a few things there. You would only want to prune an indeterminate type(includes cherry tomatoes, beefsteak tomatoes, most heirloom tomatoes) of tomato. The reason for this is that determinate plants develop all of their fruit at one time, so if you prune, you're sacrificing tomatoes for no reason. But if you're growing indeterminate tomatoes, which produce fruit regularly over the course of a season, pruning is essential. Not only will it help keep these often-huge vines in control, but energy will go to producing several really nice-sized tomatoes instead of a bunch of smaller tomatoes (along with lots of foliage!) Lots of foliage restricts airflow and makes the plant more susceptible to late blight and other diseases because they take longer to dry off after rains or irrigation.

The main reason to prune tomato plants is that it helps your plant direct its energy toward producing fruit rather than producing more foliage. The excess foliage will eventually grow into new branches that will form fruit, but most experienced growers advise that tomatoes should be pruned to not only produce larger fruit earlier in the season, but also to protect the plants against pest and disease problems. If you prune you can also get fruit more consistently over the season.

When a tomato plant is pruned properly, all of the foliage (and fruit) receives adequate sunlight, and the plant is able to photosynthesize (and, as a result, grow and produce fruit) more efficiently. If you dont prune, some of the foliage doesnt recieve the light and it will die out which can promote disease development too. Fruit also is slower to color.

SW, AR(Zone 8a)

Stroll through drobarr’s Member Page. Dr. drobarr is a Ph.D. The plants are in knowing, caring hands. His posts and pictures are proof perfect.

Enterprise, AL(Zone 8b)

That is exactly my problem, way too much foliage, and I have not grown a tomato over 1/2 lb. all year, but I do have a lot of them.

Circle, MT(Zone 3b)

Drobarr, appreciate the advice. Thanks much!

Hummelstown, PA(Zone 6b)

You are all welcome.
Attached are a few pictures of my pruned tomatoes.

Thumbnail by drobarr Thumbnail by drobarr
Enterprise, AL(Zone 8b)

I love how green your vines still are, what have you had to spray them with so far this year to keep all the diseases away? Half of mine I have had to pull one at a time as they succumbed to what I called blight.

Hummelstown, PA(Zone 6b)

I dont spray them with anything. I never spray them. These were planted April 28th. Already harvesting tomatoes. Picture on the right is Lemon boy(VFNASt) which is a yellow tomato. On the right is Better Boy Hybrid (VFN). In general the Hybrids have been bred for and are more disease resistant than heirlooms. However most are not considered resistant to early or late blight. All varieties have varying levels of susceptibility to the blights but I am not sure if there is information regarding that out there or not.

Early blight favors warm moist conditions. The microclimate close to the ground favors this disease which is why it begins there. Late blight by far is the worst disease. It prefers cool wet conditions and can spread long distances and wipe out your whole tomato patch in 1-2 days. Potatoes are also susceptible to these diseases.

If you know you have disease every year I would try to plant the most resistant varieties that you can find. Mountain Magic Hybrid(VFF), and Defiant PHR Hybrid(LBABVF2) are two newer varieties that have supposed resistance to early blight and late blight. I would try those in the future, as well as rotate your tomato location to every 3 or 4 years if you have space.

If there are varieties that are not resistant but you want to grow you can alsways spray. I would recommend copper(Organic) rotated with Bravo (chlorothalonil-broad spectrum convential fungicide that provides preventive control). Serenade is another organically approved bio-pesticide that controls late blight but not early blight. Most spray programs need to begin before you see disease and spray on a 7-10 day schedule.

Southern NJ, United States(Zone 7a)

So far mine are doing well, with no signs of early blight. One thing we're doing differently is avoiding overhead watering, and I think that helps a lot. I plant almost entirely OP French varieties, some of which are more resistant than others, but even the most susceptible among them is looking pretty good so far. However, I didn't put them out until mid-May because the nights were so cold here, so the only thing that's ripening so far is the currant type.

What do you do about squash bugs and SVBs if you're gardening organically? In your photos your squash looks very healthy!

Hummelstown, PA(Zone 6b)

Tomatoes...I havent ever had to spray them. I do use some ferilizer so they arent organic. I rarely get early blight because I have them in raised garden beds with excellent drainage and stake them. I have had late blight and dont do any thing to treat though Sereande would work as would copper.

For squash its a different story. I use Neem oil, pyrethrins, Spinosad, and or Bt as needed. I also remove the eggs or spray them with Neem when I see them. I also try to hand pick the insects...sounds silly but it works for me.

For squash powdery mildew(PM) or downy mildew which I dont usually get I use Neem oil, copper, and Serenade.

Southern NJ, United States(Zone 7a)

Our soil is sandy so the drainage is good. I've used Neem oil and Serenade on my squash; the Neem oil helped for a bit but then the squash bugs got away from me. Someone recommended pink petunias, so I've got those, nasturtiums, and radishes growing in my squash beds, along with tucking pruned tomato suckers by the stems of the squash plants. I also sprayed with Serenade. We shall see...

Hummelstown, PA(Zone 6b)

Neem oil is most effective on the eggs. The problem with most organic products is that they do not work 100% and have to be re-applied repetively on 7 day cycles or more frequently to keep on top of the insects. Its best to also rotate products to prevent or at least prolong resistance. Occasionally, on the squash I have resorted to some Sevin (Carbaryl) or Bifinthrin but havent had to yet this year and most years do not have to.

This message was edited Jul 16, 2013 5:36 PM

Southern NJ, United States(Zone 7a)

The problem I was having was that I was planting the squash in hills, and very rapidly the foliage would become so lush that I couldn't keep track of all the leaves or apply products to them or check them all for egg clusters. This year I planted each one much farther apart and am hoping I'll have better luck!

Sorry to hijack the thread!

Hummelstown, PA(Zone 6b)

its tempting not to spread them out....alot of wasted space early on. I transplant lettuce at the end of March (Romain, buttercruch and head lettuce are quite hardy) and as I harvest the lettuce and places open up in mid May I seed the cucurbits pumpkins and squash.

Time to spend my 5 mins outside...will be longer today need to water some stuff though I prefer to water in the morning.

Enterprise, AL(Zone 8b)

I tried neem oil for scale on some of my shrubs, I had no luck at all with that. I think they market many types of neem oil, don't think mine was a good kind. I bought some Spinosad but have not had a chance to use it, I think they must make different kinds of that too, because it appears to most effective on web worms according to the directions. I don't won't to sound unkind, but I do feel better knowing I am not the only one with so many problems with squash and cucumbers...and tomatoes and... things in the garden lets say. Just checked my Canna's and the leaves had little worms all rolled up in them eating their way out, I think they are called leaf rollers. I unrolled the leaves smashed about a half dozen worms and dozens of little eggs.

Hummelstown, PA(Zone 6b)


I dont use the the plain neem oil but this one:

Its called Green Light Tree Fruit Spray and also has pyrethrins and piperonyl Butoxide which are both organically approved ingredients. This combination works bests I have found at controlling most insects but its must be used frequently when pests are present.

Here is a website that tells you about some naturally derived pesticides from CO State University and their efficacy and relative safety. Some are quite toxic and require special handling.

Warrenton, VA

I bow in awe to all of you. Experience is something you just can't beat! Neither, it seems, can you beat my Tomatoes. Rain came, and came again, and before I knew it, the doggone tomato plants had turned into Tomato Trees!
I grow heritage, organic varieties. Just harvested my first German Pink tomato. Weird that one has turned pink, the rest are, well, just watching...LOL!
The "trees" tower over me, and I am 5' 10" tall. The silly, impulse purchase of cage extenders for my huge cages need, themselves, extenders!
Oh, I do love having a garden. It is the best place on Earth. Thank all of you for your wise words.

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