Waiting for the first tomato is almost like waiting for Christmas. Well, not quite, because we are never sure exactly when the first tomato will ripen and be ready to eat.
I follow certain guidelines on what qualifies as the first tomato here at May Dreams Gardens.
First, it can't be a cherry tomato. Those are like garden candy, and technically, I've had a few cherry tomatoes already, from a variety called 'Micro Tom', which is a very small container grown variety.
Second, it can't ripen off the vine in the windowsill. I know this guideline will cause some controversy, as many gardeners pick their tomatoes a few days before the tomatoes are really ripe to make sure they get them before some bird or rabbit does.
Maybe it's just me, but I like to have a least one good tomato, vine-ripened, warmed by the sun, that I can pick and eat without leaving the garden.
Then I am ready for a deluge of tomatoes of all kinds, shapes, and sizes.
I follow a few simple practices to ensure that my tomato plants stay healthy so I have a chance at having too many tomatoes, weather permitting.
These practices include:
Try to give tomato plants an even and consistent amount of water. This is not always easy when there is a lot of rain, but, well, do your best.
Pinch off the suckers so the plant spends its energy on the tomatoes and not on a lot of foliage growth. Here's a sucker on this plant ready to be pinched out. 'Suckering' is especially helpful on the indeterminate varieties of tomatoes. These varieties continue to grow taller as the season progresses, where as the determinate varieties form more of a small bush.
If a sucker gets to be too big, use your pruners to cut it off. Go ahead, it won't hurt the tomato plant.
Continue to tie your tomatoes to the stakes that you placed in the ground before you planted the tomatoes. I know some gardeners are just now putting stakes in for their tomatoes, and I wonder why they don't put the stakes in before they plant, and then plant the tomatoes right there by the stakes. That seems so simple to do, so logical...
I've written before about staking tomatoes, not caging them, so I won't lecture on that further.
Trim off any brown or diseased looking foliage. Diseased foliage should go in the trash, not the compost bin.
Look for tomato hornworms or the damage they cause. Those hornworms are like the Grinch who (tried) to steal Christmas. They will try to rob you of your tomato harvest, and no, they want have a change of heart the morning you find the first ripe tomato. They'll just eat it if they find it.
This morning, I found evidence that a tomato hornworm was on this tomato plant, a 'Yellow Mortgage Lifter'.Even if I hadn't noticed the foliage eaten off, I would have noticed the hornworm's 'droppings' which are big enough to be noticeable.
It takes a few minutes and some patience to find the hornworm because they are good at hiding. I finally found this one.Once you find the hornworm, you must remove it and destroy it.
Some gardeners put the hornworms out away from the tomatoes for the birds to find and eat, other gardeners have other methods for killing them. Send me an email if you want the gory details of what I do. (Hint: it involves cutting off the branch with the hornworm on it, then throwing it to the ground in a disgusted manner, covering it with dirt and stepping on it. Cursing is optional!)
I spent some time this morning pinching out suckers, tying up the tomatoes to the stakes that were set in the ground before I planted the tomatoes, finding and destroying a hornworm and then looking over the tomatoes to see if I can figure out which one will be the first tomato, the ONE, the chosen, deserving of a ritual of some kind to commerate its ripening.
Will it be these one of these 'Early Girl' tomatoes?I don't think so. The earliest I've ever picked a good tomato was July 19th, back in 2001, and this won't beat that so I might disqualify it for not living up to the 'early' part of its name.
Maybe it will be this 'German Johnson'.I hope so, because this one reminds me of my paternal grandmother.
Or maybe it will be this 'German Red Strawberry' variety?This is borderline big enough for consideration. You want your offical first tomato to be a nice big tomato and this one might not be quite big enough.
And will there be a tomato contest this year?
Last year was a disappointing year for tomato growing around here so I started a ritual for the smallest tomato and it turned into a contest of sorts, which Chigiy won with a 'Red Currant' tomato. I planted some of those these year, just in case I want to repeat that ritual but I don't think that will be the contest.
I'll come up with something else for a tomato contest, something that I can win, or think I can win. Or maybe I'll get a real company to offer up a real prize, and then I'll be a judge. Hear that companies out there? Do you want to sponsor my tomato contest and offer up a free prize to the winner? Just send me an email to let me know.
In the meantime, how are everyone else's tomatoes doing this summer?