Thursday, September 11, 2014

How to grow tomatoes in a part sun garden

As last year, I started all my vegetables and herbs from seed. Some of them indoor under the lights as you may remember from my spring post HERE and some directly in the garden.  The most prized seedlings that cause me the most attention are the tomatoes seedlings. That is because my husband will not have it without fresh organic tomatoes. Out of my veggie garden, all that interests him is that I grow tomatoes and basil.  Everything else is a fill in or a bonus. So now you understand the pressure.

I have a small garden and I used to crowd the tomato plants (at his request) planting them so close that I had no tomatoes growing on half of the vines.  He wants me to grow more and more and more every single year. I told him that with 5 hour of sun in the garden, we are very lucky if we get some, and that "a lot" is out of the question.  Our tomato plants stretch for the sun and become trees that are hard to support with the current supports I have.  I care for them from seed to end so I know what I am talking about.
This year I pushed the spacing again and planted three rows of 4 tomato plants,  three different varieties in a bed 8' by 8' large that already has a lot of onions, leaks, garlic, swiss chard,marigolds and lettuce on the edges.

By mid-season I noticed that the central plant in this crowd was getting sick from all the shade and lack of air flow so I pulled it out. Other practices that keep my tomato plants healthy in only a part sun garden (5 hrs of sun per day)  are as following:
1. Turn the soil in the fall or early spring before planting and do not allow any previous year's debris to mix in. Make sure you have soil with good drainage or build raised beds as we did.
2. Add some bagged manure and bone meal that increases the phosphor content of the soil and makes plants more resistant to disease.
3. Plant deeply by burying the first set of leaves of the seedling.
4. Place supports when plants reach 1.5'-2' and place a tie loop around the plant immediately for support.
5.  Allow only one main stem to develop and remove all side shoots that are trying to grow. Break the top of the plant after the plant exceeded the height of the support or minimum  5 clusters of tomatoes per plant.
6. Continue to tie the plant to the support in two different ways with soft cloth strips: for light support against the wind and tight support against collapsing under the heavy weight of tomato clusters.
7. Remove the bottom 12" of leaves immediately after I see the first bottom cluster of tomatoes develop, to delay leaf diseases from starting.
8. Apply one time slow release fertilizer a couple weeks after planting.
9. Pick tomatoes as they ripe so the plant focuses the energy on the remaining ones.
10. Remove and trash all leaves that show disease as long as they don't provide shade to a cluster of tomatoes.
11. Make sure your plants get at least 1' of water a week.  Tomatoes love water but keep the foliage dry as much as possible. Water in the morning or evening but not when the sun is on the plants.
12. I don't know how important is this one, but adding flowers to the vegetable garden beds attracts pollinators. Orange and yellows are visible from far away and may help.  It is especially important when we have a wet summer like this one we just had.

I can say with confidence that we had a bountiful year in tomatoes and thanks to all the rain we've had I didn't have to water much.
That means no spraying all over the foliage of the plants and that kept my plants healthier and the diseases started only later in August.

We started eating the fresh early tomato varieties mid-July. We like the hybrid variety "4th of July"

We then started to pick the Romanian Ox-Heart early August.

We are finishing with a late large variety started from my own saved seed extracted from tomatoes bought last year at the Farmers Market and grown by an Amish family.

We are probably be "eating fresh tomatoes until the end of September.  My kids also grow one tomato plant each in their garden beds. Today they will pick their first tomatoes.  They have even less sun in their beds reason why they have them picked so late. Alexis grows a Romanian Ox Heart variety and Luca grows a small purple cherry size variety from a friend of ours.
Two tomatoes were tested in a plastic tub and grown in a moisture retaining Miracle Grow medium.

We placed the tub on the driveway on the garage side, the south side where we have sun for more than 6 hrs per day.
These are two different varieties and are very healthy looking even at this late time, which shows that shade, crowding and previously grown diseased plants in an area will be always trouble for growing tomatoes.  I wished that I tied these plants as early as I preached but I did't and one storm was enough to bend the stems.

So all in all, a great year for tomatoes. My husband is very pleased and probably starting to get a little tired of eating tomatoes. I am prepared for that situation reason why I am also growing cucumbers.


  1. Hmmm, one of those times that it seems like my comment disappeared into cyber space so forgive me if I end up appearing twice. Anyway...great tips, Daniela and nothing like first hand experience and a little trial and error to give your suggestions extra value.