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Gardeners weigh in on tomatoes

Posted: June 17, 2012 - 12:13am
Julianne Roberson checks her tomatoes at her Grimaud Place residence. There is no definitive rule for when to pick a tomato, but many gardeners offer suggestions about how ripe they should be when picked.  Photo by Jim Blaylock
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Julianne Roberson checks her tomatoes at her Grimaud Place residence. There is no definitive rule for when to pick a tomato, but many gardeners offer suggestions about how ripe they should be when picked.

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There seems to be a debate brewing on just when tomatoes should be plucked from the vine and exactly what to do to produce the healthiest plants. Several local tomato growers have weighed in on the subject.

Richmond County Extension Agent Sid Mullis contends that the intended use of the tomato should really be the determining factor in deciding when to pick it.

“They should at least start turning before you pick them,” he said. “I say pick them based on when you expect to use them, as picking them will slow down the ripening. They will ripen faster on the vine. So that is why most people, me included, pick them when they first start turning.”

Mullis said picking them at the first signs of ripening also lowers the chances
that a worm, bird or squirrel will get into them.

Master Gardener Ginny Allen agrees.

“Pick when the shoulders of the fruit start to turn pink and let it finish ripening inside to decrease some of the bug problems,” she said.

Getting to ripened fruit, however, must first be achieved. And though many people have their theories on how best to have a successful tomato crop, there are some tried and true ways to make the most of the harvest.

Selecting a disease resistant variety tops Allen’s list when preparing the garden. She also rotates her planting beds once every three years to decrease the disease problems that might occur.

Mulching under the plant so that water will not hit the soil and splash back into the lower leaves is recommended as this will decrease the chances of disease.

Augusta Council of Garden Clubs President Judy Kirkland suggests mixing tomato plants throughout the garden to confuse bugs and minimize disease.

If a diseased plant makes it into the garden, immediately pull it.

“Destroy any plants showing signs of stunting, wilt or other weakness and replace them,” suggests Harlem gardener Tom Blalock. “Healthy plants help a lot in controlling pests.”

Blalock also suggests planting the
tomatoes in an area that receives a lot of sunshine.

“The bush with the most rays will bear the most fruit, sometimes twice as much as others,” he said.

Water is another key element to keeping a plant healthy and thriving.

“It is hard to have a hard and fast rule (about watering), because factors involved include the soil type and the age and size of the plants,” said Mullis. “For example, when I first planted mine, I watered them every day for the first week because they don’t have much of a root system. As they got older and bigger, I didn’t have to water them as often.”

Plants in pots are more susceptible to blossom end rot, a calcium deficiency, which can be caused by insufficient watering.

“Most often they are not keeping them watered enough to move calcium up to the tomato,” said Mullis. “But in pots with 100 degree temperatures, they may need it as much as twice a day since the pots dry out so quickly.”

On the average, mature plants should only need watering twice each week with normal summer temperatures.

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