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Tomatoes are one of the trickiest vegetables to grow, in my opinion. To preserve enough tomato products to last my family a year, I need – AT LEAST – 52 quarts but more is ideal. I struggled for years to figure out how to grow more tomatoes for my family.
Tomatoes are finicky plants, and blight is a common problem for many gardeners. Even though they’re often recommended as one of the best vegetables for beginners to grow, I don’t often feel the same way.
The cool thing about tomatoes is that there are so many varieties to grow. You have to decide between indeterminate and determinate tomatoes, as well as the shape, size,and color that you want to grow.
Then, you have to learn all about growing tomatoes. Here are some of the best tricks I’ve learned to increase your tomato yield.
12 Hacks for Growing More Tomatoes
1. Make Sure You Harden Off Your Tomatoes
Never just take your tomato seedlings out of your house and plant them in your garden. That’s a recipe for disaster.
You have go through a process called hardening off before you can take homegrown seedlings and plant them in your outside garden.
This process takes about a week, and it involves taking your seedlings outside for increasingly long periods. On the first day, it might be for an hour, then two hours the next day, etc.
This process might seem tedious and annoying, but it helps your plants adjust to the strength of the sun, which can burn tender seedlings. It also strengthens the stems against the wind, which can break these small plants.
2. Only Plant the Healthiest Tomato Seedlings
Word of advice: plant your healthiest and strongest seedlings first. Sad, sick seedlings need to be revived, and while that’s totally possible, you want to make sure you fill your garden with the healthiest first. Then if you have time and space, you can add the ones that need extra TLC.
3. Plant in a Spot with Full Sunlight
Some gardeners claim that they have success growing tomatoes in partial shade, but tomatoes really require full sunlight. That means each of your tomato plants need to get, at least, six hours of full sunlight each day.
4. Rotate Your Garden Bed
It’s best to pick a garden bed that you didn’t use to grow tomatoes in the previous growing season. Plants in the same family are all vulnerable to the same pests and diseases.
Believe it or not, pathogens continue to live in the soil after your plants are removed. So, if you plant tomatoes again in the same area, you’re putting your plants into an area that they’re doomed to fail.
So, practice crop rotation. Doing so prevents pests from infecting your plants earlier.
5. Add Support Immediately
One of the important garden lessons I learned was to put up the support systems earlier rather than later. Otherwise, you might do it too late or danger their root systems.
The type of support you need does depend on the variety that you’re growing. Shorter plants, such as determinate varieties, do well with stakes or cages. If you’re growing large types that reach 8-10 feet tall, you will need a stronger structure.
6. Plant The Seedlings Deeply
If you take a close look at the stem of your tomato seedlings, you might see tiny hairs. Tomato plants are unique because they can form roots along their stems if burned under the soil.
Do your plant a favor and bury your plant deeply. It’s okay to cover up some branches. Doing this helps your plant develop a stronger root system that aids your plant in the absorption of nutrients, minerals, and moisture. A healthy, strong root system also anchors your plants during heavy rains and winds.
7. Water Your Tomatoes Frequently
Tomatoes are thirsty plants. Rain provides a lot of what you need (depending on where you live) but if you have hot weather or drought-like conditions, make sure you’re watering consistently.
I highly suggest that you have a rain gauge set up that lets you know just how much rain you receive each week. Tomatoes need a minimum of one inch of water per week, but they’re happy with more.
If you don’t have a rain gauge, put your finger into the soil. If the soil is dry, it’s time to water.
8. Mulch Around Your Plants
Tomatoes are one plant that you definitely want to use mulch around. Organic mulch helps to stop soil erosion, prevent weed growth, and moderates soil temperatures.
That’s not all, especially when it comes to growing more tomatoes.
Using mulch keeps the soil evenly moist and decreases how often you need to water your plants. At the same time, adding a layer of mulch stops dirt from splashing up onto the leaves when you water the plants. Stopping soil splash prevents soilborne diseases.
9. Yes, Pruning Tomato Plants Is Essential!
Pruning does have some controversy surrounding it, but I believe that it’s essential to maximize your tomato harvest.
When you prune tomato plants, you do, technically, reduce the amount of fruit that you’ll get. However, in the long term, you improve the overall health of your plant. That means your plant will last longer and the fruiting will extend the whole season.
So, how do you prune tomatoes?
You have to find the suckers, which are extra suckers that grow out of the V between the main stem and tomato branches.
Suckers will produce fruit, but in the process, they crowd out the other branches. Not only does that reduce the sunlight that the plant receives, but it also decreases air circulation.
A lack in air circulation increases the risk of fungal issues. Also, the fruit will ripen slowly or not at all.
All you have to do is cut off the suckers when they form. Also, prune off any dead or dying leaves or branches. Doing so sends all of the energy to healthy branches.
10. Learn How to Hand Pollinate Tomato Plants
If you’re growing tomatoes indoors or in a greenhouse, pollinators can be a problem. A lack of pollinators is a problem many outdoor gardeners face as well; you cannot control how many pollinators are near your garden. You can encourage more to visit though!
Tomatoes contain both parts and are self-pollinating, so without pollinators, you typically have a 30% fruit set. That’s not terrible, but it can definitely be better.
The pollen is supposed to fall from the male part of the flower to the female part. To increase your rate of pollination, usea small paintbrush to rub the inside of the flower to encourage pollen to drop down.
You should hand pollinate every 2-3 days in midday. If pollination is successful, the flowers will wilt.
Make sure you either change brushes or wash the brush with alcohol before pollinating a different variety. Otherwise, you’ll cross-pollinate.
You also can hand pollinate other veggies in your garden such as zucchini plants.
11. Make Sure You Feed Your Plants
Tomatoes are very hungry, some of the hungriest backyard veggies. So, lack of nutrients in your soil can cause serious issues when trying to grow more tomatoes.
Tomatoes need nitrogen, in particular, to grow strong plants and to develop fruits.
When you’re planting your tomatoes, make sure you use one part compost and one part soil. It’s just the right mixture to give your plants the boost they need to get started.
Then, look for a tomato-specific fertilizer. These fertilizers are designed to have the right balance of nutrients to grow tomatoes. Tomato plants are also a great candidate for watering with compost tea! They love it and soak it up fast.
12. Harvest Your Tomatoes Often
The sooner and more frequently that you harvest your tomatoes, the more energy the plant devotes to growing and ripening more fruit.
Once your tomatoes start to ripen, you need to check daily and pick the ones that are almost ready. Tomatoes can ripen indoors.
Sure, you can leave them on the vine to ripen, but the longer you leave fruits on the vine, the more vulnerable they are to pests or spoiling. They can drop off of the plant and split open. You don’t want them that to happen!
Oh, and while nothing screams summer quite like tomatoes lining your windowsill, try keeping them in a loosely closed paper bag. It works like a charm – seriously!
Growing More Tomatoes Takes Some Work
I won’t lie; getting a massive tomato harvest takes some work – at least, it does for me. After years of struggling, I finally figured out what works and growing more tomatoes than I ever have isn’t so much of a problem.