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All about planting tomatoes – and keeping insects away!

Improved Gurney Girl II

Improved Gurney Girl II

There truly is nothing more delicious than a warm, red, sun-ripened tomato direct from your garden. And the beauty of tomatoes is that they are fairly easy to grow, and no matter what your space limitations are, you can find one to fit your needs- either tucked into a container on your modest porch or staked in rows in your vegetable garden. One of my favorite ways to plant tomatoes is to plant a Roma variety in a large container and surround it with basil at the base- not only are they good companion plants, but it gives me a really nice supply of ingredients for salads and sauces all summer long.

One summer I planted several varieties of tomatoes- including a gorgeous heirloom- and waited anxiously for my plants to start producing fruit. But something wasn’t quite right, and something was eating my tomato plant leaves and leaving behind hard, round, brown pellets. We found the problem- tomato hornworms, and lots of them. I lost most of my crop that year, but the next year, I took precautions; and also learned a valuable lesson, that no plant, including tomato plants, is entirely fool proof (or bug proof). There are products out there to help with deterring or getting rid of pests like the tomato hornworm, and preventing issues such as blight or mildew. I try to watch for eco-friendly options, like Gurney’s Soap Shield® Fungicidal Soap. You can also plant dill near your tomato plants, as the tomato hornworm likes dill better, and they are easier to spot on the dill plants.

Besides being on the lookout for fungus and “very hungry caterpillars”, tomatoes can be relatively easy to grow. Due to the large variety of tomatoes available, it’s important to take some time to plan and decide which varieties are best for you and your yard. Also consider what you will be using your tomatoes for- canning, cooking, juicing, or just eating. Unless you plan on canning, you really only need about 3 to 6 tomato plants for your household; and if you grow from seed, you can save the seeds for up to three years- which makes a small investment go a very long way.

Beefsteak Tomato

Beefsteak Tomato

Tomato seeds should be started indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost and will germinate in a week when set in a sunny, humid spot. Once the second set of leaves emerges, seedlings can be transplanted to new containers, and once the weather warms, can be hardened off prior to planting in the garden. Hardening off not only gets the plants ready for outdoor temperatures, but also helps develop a rigorous root system. Tomatoes should be planted in full sun. If you are planting early, or if you would like to speed up the growth of your tomatoes, you can use a product that wraps around them like Kozy Kotes. Spacing depends on your own individual preference (and available space)- if you are staking or using a trellis, leave 2 feet between plants; if you plan on letting the tomatoes sprawl, leave 3 to 4 feet between plants. And if you are choosing to plant in a container, use a trellis or tomato cage. Once you’ve planted tomatoes, keep them weed free and then add a deep layer of mulch to keep in moisture. Vegetable food is an excellent idea for tomatoes, and Gurney’s has a Tomato Food that is a blend of fast and slow release nutrients and can also be used on your peppers and eggplants.

Once your tomatoes start to produce fruit, check them daily in order to pick your fruits at their peak and avoid any damage from heavy rotting fruit.

There are so many varieties- from small cherry tomatoes such as Sweet Baby Girl to heirlooms like Green Zebra and traditional big beefsteak varieties, Gurney’s has you covered! What’s your favorite tomato? Any tips- especially for battling pesky tomato hornworms?

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