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How not to grow tomatoes

10 rules for guaranteed failure

Tomato plant with straw mulch and chamomile
Breaking most of the failure rules here: The tomato plant is green and healthy, with support, straw mulch, and a companion chamomile plant to attract bees and
other pollinators. (Photos: Kathy Morrison)

Tomato plants in a row with boards for walking along
This tomato row uses wooden stakes and strings to keep
the plants in line.
Just looking around the community garden where I have a plot, you can see so many different ways to grow tomatoes. Some people have them in ditches, some in raised beds. Fancy cages in one plot, contraptions of wire and twine and stakes in another. Some plants are pruned so much they look like bean poles; other tomato plants are so full and fluffy that you can't tell one plant from its neighbor.

You know what? We all manage to harvest tomatoes. So when it comes to growing Sacramento's favorite crop, I've decided that the only hard-and-fast rules are how NOT to grow tomatoes. If there's a link after the rule, it takes you to a good explanation of why this approach will fail:

1) Plant from seed, and leave the seedling indoors, with inadequate light, as long as possible. Result: Tall, lanky plant with a skinny stem.
See this guide, especially page 4

2) Alternatively, buy a tomato in a 4-inch pot, then keep it there for months. This also works with the seedling in #1.

3) Dig a very shallow hole. That is, when finally getting around to plant the 4-inch-contained, skinny, pathetic plant. Or put it in a very shallow pot, certainly no bigger than a 2-gallon container. Who needs roots? Same link as above , page 5.

4) Put those plants close together in the same place they grew last year. No amendments allowed. Explained here

5) Cages, are you kidding? They're vines -- let them flop all over the bare ground. Farmers do it. Back to this again, page 6 especially. Also this

6) Water the plants when you feel like it. Five minutes one day, then 5 more next week. Or flood the area daily. Make them hew to your schedule. Oh, and no fertilizer, either. Here's a classic.

7) Don't bother planting any flowers or herbs for pollinators. Why get the bees in on this? Try this link or this one
Sickly looking tomato plant
Is this sad or what? Never planted,
never will be.

8) Pests are natural, so let them roam your tomatoes. Spider mites, tomato hornworms, whiteflies -- eh, just doing what comes naturally. Try this and scroll down to the pest section.

9) Blossom end rot? You know, those dark mush spots on the ends of the tomatoes (assuming your plant managed to produce any). Must be a calcium deficiency, so buy calcium tablets and put them in the soil.

10) Tomatoes like full sun. We live in "Sacratomato," after all, so that triple-digit summer heat shouldn't bother the tomato plants. Don't even think of using burlap or shade cloth over them to protect the fruit. Gotta love exploding tomatoes.


So there it is, how to guarantee you won't get tomatoes.

I finally planted the last of my container tomatoes this week. Here's the official 2021 list:

The familiar:

Big Beef,  Juliet, Jet Setter, First Prize, Lemon Boy -- all hybrids -- and Sweet Chelsea, a vigorous large cherry.

New for me:

Sungold Select -- a Wild Boar Farms variation on an old favorite; Chef’s Choice Red -- AAS winner;  Brad’s Atomic Grape -- wild multicolored grape tomatoes, from Wild Boar Farms; Pink Boar -- pink and dark green, also WBF; Wine Jug -- dark purple, WBF; Tasty Pink -- a pink heirloom and incidentally a gorgeous plant; Orange Oxheart -- free seeds so why not; Lucid Gem -- Wild Boar Farms again, this one orange and yellow with purple skin.

In pots at home:

Patio Choice Yellow;  Better Bush -- best container tomato I've found; Robeson -- overwintered survivor.

In grow bags, my big experiment this year:

Braveheart cherry; AAA Sweet Solano -- a Wild Boar Farms yellow-red; Cherokee Carbon -- wonderful  hybrid of two heirlooms.

Here's hoping we all have a successful tomato-growing year, drought notwithstanding.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of June 4:

Because of the comfortable weather, it’s not too late to set out tomato and pepper seedlings as well as squash and melon plants. They’ll appreciate this not-too-hot weather. Just remember to water.

* From seed, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, melons, squash and sunflowers.

* Plant basil to go with your tomatoes.

* Transplant summer annuals such as petunias, marigolds and zinnias.

* It’s also a good time to transplant perennial flowers including astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia, salvia and verbena.

* Let the grass grow longer. Set the mower blades high to reduce stress on your lawn during summer heat. To cut down on evaporation, water your lawn deeply during the wee hours of the morning, between 2 and 8 a.m.

* Tie up vines and stake tall plants such as gladiolus and lilies. That gives their heavy flowers some support.

* Dig and divide crowded bulbs after the tops have died down.

* Feed summer flowers with a slow-release fertilizer.

* Mulch, mulch, mulch! This “blanket” keeps moisture in the soil longer and helps your plants cope during hot weather.

* Thin grapes on the vine for bigger, better clusters later this summer.

* Cut back fruit-bearing canes on berries.

* Feed camellias, azaleas and other acid-loving plants.

* Trim off dead flowers from rose bushes to keep them blooming through the summer. Roses also benefit from deep watering and feeding now. A top dressing of aged compost will keep them happy. It feeds as well as keeps roots moist.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushier plants with many more flowers in September.

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