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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Tips on Growing Two Pound Tomatoes: A Basic Overview

Tips on Growing Two Pound Tomatoes: A Basic Overview

If you like growing large beefsteak tomatoes then you have probably reached or flirted with growing a two pound tomato. It is not as hard as one might think. There are some things to keep in mind when you want to break through the two pound wall and even more so when you want to break through the three pound wall. I have come close to three pounds but it really requires removing a lot of upper fruit which I don't really like to do.

Last Year's 2 Pounder the 'Aussie' Chunked Up

Grow Tomatoes That Produce Big Tomatoes

The first tip, seriously, is to start with a variety that will get to two pounds. They are probably known as beefsteaks in seed catalogs. You can find free seed catalogs down the right corner of my blog. I get catalogs every December and choose a few good high pounder beefsteaks. Not all varieties will do well in your area, so try a few and keep what does best. At this point, the 'Aussie' is my favorite as is the  'Brandywine Yellow'. They both have produced a two pound tomato.

Use Transplants and Don't Plant Them Early

Start with a transplant. Pick one that is strong, green and stocky. A 'leggy' or spindly tomato plant will struggle to get going. You can start your own and pick the tomato that looks the strongest. Don't put them in the ground too early. A tomato loves heat. A tomato sitting in the cold will sit there and do nothing. Cold and frost is bad. There is nothing wrong with waiting three weeks past your frost date. The goal is not early tomato but two pound tomatoes. Let the transplant get to 10-12 inches tall, before putting it in the ground. This will require moving it from the seed starting cell when it is about 4 inches to a large cup or small pot.

Loose Soil, Compost (If You Have It) and Fertilizer

Start your transplant tomato off with really loose garden soil and try and dig down two feet. Loosen up a three foot wide hole/circle. You want the roots to establish and easily move through the soil. This also allows water to seep down deeply too.  If you have compost, of course, use a lot of it. You also want to add in a well balanced fertilizer. Something with the numbers close to 10-10-10 works quite well. If you are going to fertilize just the immediate planting hole (the hole you dig to actually plant the tomato in the ground) then 1 or 2 tablespoons is recommended. If you want to fertilize the whole three foot wide and two foot deep planting area you dug... then 5 or 6 tablespoons is recommended. Just make sure you mix in the fertilizer well across the entire planting area and don't leave concentrated patches.

Planting the Tomato

I plant 1/3 to 1/2 of the tomato into the ground. A tomato is a vine and it will root from the stem. I just dig the hole deep enough to drop in about 1/2 of the tomato. I remove any leaves that will be buried and fill in the hole. There is no need to plant the tomato shallow. Water it in nicely once planted.

Ongoing Feeding of Fertilizer and Epsom Salt or Magnesium Sulfate

You can pick the liquid fertilizer you want.  When the plant gets to about two feet tall start the feedings. Every 10-14 days, it should get a gallon of liquid fertilizer poured on it's leaves and around the base. Continue this through the summer until you are done wanting the plant to produce. One time each month, give it 1 tablespoon of  Epsom Salt in 1 gallon of water. You can just pour it around the base. Some people say to stop the feedings at some point to reduce leaf growth or change fertilizer to less nitrogen and more phosphorus. It probably has truth to it but it is just too much extra work for me. Maybe if I go after the three pounder one day, I will follow that suggestion.

Side Dressing Fertilizing

I side dress my tomatoes about 2-3 times over the summer. That means putting some slow release granular fertilizer on the topsoil about 6 inches from the base of the tomato.  Don't get to close or you will burn the plant. Scatter it evenly around the plants base. I use 1 or 2 tablespoons. Don't pile it, make sure you scatter it. I do this once, when the first green tomato is seen. And one more time in the beginning of July. I am in Maryland Zone 7. If things are going well (disease hasn't killed them) I might do it again around August first. The slow release side dressing will let the rain and waterings wash fertilizer into the soil for the plant.

My Side Dressing Video:

Garden Lime for Blossom End Rot Prevention

As a precaution I mix in a handful of garden lime into the planting hole. Any kind is fine. Most lime is made up of varying types of calcium. You only need like 2% of what you are using to be in a form for the plant to use. When I side dress my plants, I scatter a handful of lime around the plant.

Watering: Less When Little and More When Bigger

You have to keep the soil moist at all times. When the plant gets to three feet tall and the heat of your summer comes that probably means watering it every other day. The key to watering is to have a routine. I will leave this up to you in your design. Regular watering is the best way to go. Each of our areas varies so I can't give you an exact routine.

My Pruning Video:

Pruning Leave and Tomatoes for Growth and Disease Management

Here is what I do and it is open to variation. I prune the bottom leaves off slowly over time to create a splash barrier so soil born diseases can't splash on the leaves. I also thin my plants and remove suckers. You get to decide how much to thin and how many suckers you remove. There are so many methods. Some say keep a single stem. I don't. Some say remove tomatoes above the second flower cluster. I don't. Some say remove all but 1 or 2 tomatoes from the first flower cluster. I don't. This is where I say I prefer just getting more 1 pound tomatoes and 1 or 2 two pound tomatoes. If I was going for record sizes or the three pound tomato, I would prune more suckers and remove more tomatoes. Maybe next year.

Removing tomatoes is tricky. Each variety varies, for instance, the Brandywines often don't produce a lot of tomatoes and therefore the tomatoes on the vine get quite large. How many to remove is the question and that is up to you. After the tomatoes are forming on the first two flower clusters, the tomatoes after that will take size away. You can experiment with removing the smaller upper tomatoes and learn how they affect overal size of the lower tomatoes for that variety. Each variety of tomato plant is different.

You will notice the largest tomatoes tend to be the first ones to form on the first and second flower clusters. That makes sense. Removing upper tomatoes will allow more resources to go to the lower tomatoes.

This video shows you what my general technique got this year. And yes I got a 2 pounder!

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