Timely tips on growing tomatoes 4-14-2016

Celebrity tomatoes from last September.
Celebrity tomatoes from last September. Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record

The older I get the more I’m convinced that almost no one cares that I have become wise. If I’m going to look the part — crow’s feet and wisps of gray — it would be nice if it seemed like society appreciated that there was some learnin’ that took place before I became this way.

You can’t blame the younger generation for not caring what elders know and think. We were exactly the same way.

I was intent on learning things my own way, thank you very much, which more often than not was the hard way.

My parents would share a thought or two. Yet, the gesture of offering advice was proof to my young self that they clearly did not understand me. Even now, I’m more likely to take their thoughts into consideration rather than taking their word for it.

How did I get rolling down this glum road? For starters, it’s my birth month.

Also, my family is still reeling from the death of my mother’s partner. He was one of those guys who built his own airplane, knew electrical wiring and used many machines that started with the word “skill”.

I won’t say that all of this knowledge is “lost.” I’m sure he was mentor to more than a few along the way. However, he’s no longer here to share his expertise.

Perhaps the best thing my generation can do is disguise our knowledge in forms where the next generation will actually seek answers.

This means people with gray hair should be creating blog posts, writing Facebook self-help quizzes and creating YouTube how-to videos.


This brings me to the topic of tomatoes. I’ve had the pleasure of asking local nursery legend Jerry Mendon, of Mendon’s Nursery in Paradise, for advice. He’s an advocate of waiting just a bit longer before putting warm-season vegetables in the ground. The reason is that a cold snap could cause plants to go back into a slumber. He prefers to plant them in early May.

The problem is that there are great sales on tomatoes and other vegetables starting in early April. They’re cheap. Buy just one.

In my experience, it’s more fun to take three shopping trips and buy plants three separate times. This way, if you plant too early, you’re only stunting the growth of one or a few plants.


While I’m on a roll, I might as well make myself feel useful and share more tomato tips I have amassed.

• Tickling tomatoes works: We think bees are needed for tomatoes. Bees help, but tomato flowers have both male and female parts. When the temperatures are right, and the humidity is right, and there is a breeze, the pollen will shift around and do the job.

We can help if we tickle the flowers gently in the morning while it is still about 60 degrees. In larger greenhouses, people are known to use electric toothbrushes. I like to tickle about 3-4 inches below the blossoms, giving the stems a gentle jiggle. You can read a more scientific description from the University of California:http://tinyurl.com/gp98pwa


Tomatoes actually benefit by being transplanted more deeply than the original container. If you look at plants you buy in the store, sometimes they are lanky. If you bury some or even most of the stem, the tomato plant will send out new roots from the main stem.

You can also propagate new tomato plants from a cutting from an existing plant. You can try this with sucker stems, and simply place the stem in a glass of water. After the stem creates roots, you have a new plant.

A tomato how-to from Bonnie Plants recommends putting the plant 2/3 under the ground, with only 1/3 of the foliage above the soil, http://tinyurl.com/hypamzw. This seems so extreme, however I think I’ll try it this year, if only to put someone else’s knowledge to good use.

Some folks will also lay the plant on its side, burying the majority of the plan and allowing just the top above the soil.


While looking online for fresh tomato tips, I came across one of my own articles from 2009,http://tinyurl.com/gv48rzl. I was quoting Jerry Mendon again back then, who reminded us that tomatoes actually perform less if they are given too much fertilizer. He recommended a 5-5-5 fertilizer, which provides just a mild dose of what tomatoes need.


Here’s another gem from the Santa Clara Master Gardeners, https://mastergardeners.org/growing-great-tomatoes: Don’t be shy to trim back your tomato plants. If they grow more than a foot over the cage, snip off that extra growth so the leaves don’t flop over and shade the rest of the plant.

But wait, I realize that I know even more about growing tomatoes, but have run out of room in this column. Isn’t that just like life, we learn all that we learn, and then run out of time or space.

Contact reporter Heather Hacking at 896-7758.

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