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How To Grow The Best Tomatoes On The Block – Episode 102

SHOW NOTES / TRANSCRIPTS : How To Grow The Best Tomatoes On The Block

JIM : Tomatoes, and more specifically, heirloom tomatoes have really become popular in the last few years. And when you’re talking about growing tomatoes, everybody wants one thing, and that is to grow the best and biggest tomato in their neighborhood or in their family. They want bragging rights.

MARY : Absolutely, it becomes a competition between neighbors, friends and and family about who can grow the most beautiful or the largest tomato in town.

JIM: I remember growing up and when I had my first garden, my brother-in-law Carlton and I would compete and compare tomatoes. We would try to say mine is bigger or no mine was. Mary, I also remember you telling me stories of your father, he would go right out in your garden and eat them right as he picked them – no need to bring them inside at all.

MARY : Absolutely, in fact, he still comes here today to our garden and will do the same. But even if you don’t like tomatoes, most people like tomato products. I know some of our own kids aren’t big fans of just tomatoes, but they love salsa, they love catsup, pizza sauce and more. But to us, there is just nothing better than the taste of a home-grown tomato right out of your garden . That’s all there is to it!

Crop Rotation

JIM: Right. And you know what, we grow quite a few here in our Old World Garden Farms trial gardens. Gosh, probably over 20 types of heirlooms every year. So today we’re gonna tackle how to grow the best tomatoes on your block. And I think we have to start off right away with one of the most popular topics, where to plant tomatoes.

What people don’t realize and can really affect their crop is where they plant them. You need to find a new spot for your tomatoes every year from the previous year. It’s so important, if you don’t do that and you don’t start out with that, a lot of problems can happen. For one, you lose a lot of nutrients in the soil.

Tomatoes are a big feeder, they take a lot of nitrogen for the soil, they take a lot of calcium from the soil, so you want to move those tomatoes around every year. And that’s a very, very important part of growing. It is important to plant them in fresh soil.

MARY: Absolutely, and I think we need to get away from the old garden theory of that I plant my tomatoes in these rows every year because otherwise the crops are not gonna do well.

JIM: No, and you know, there’s a lot of other things that go along with that. Tomato blight, which is one of the biggest problems of tomatoes that’s a soil-borne disease. If you’re not moving those to other spots in the garden, it can get invested in the soil. And the disease can come back every single year to destroy your crop. And the other part, as we talked about is the nutrients. Nitrogen is taken up by the tomatoes so that they really grow well.

They also absorb calcium. Calcium deficiency is the cause of blossom end rot. You wanna move those tomatoes around but the question is how often.I think the biggest part of that is you really don’t wanna grow tomatoes in the same space for more than three to four years. So every three to four years, you wanna move them around, and then that fourth year you can come back in the same space.

And you know, we talk about containers, that’s really important when you’re growing in raised beds or containers that soil needs to be changed or moved around every year.

Companion Plants

MARY: A great point too. And I have a quick question for you. When you’re planning tomatoes, does it matter what other vegetables are planned around in the area that tomatoes are planted?

JIM: It’s funny you say that it really does. You don’t wanna plant broccoli, cabbage or corn around them. They can really bring a lot of predators to tomatoes and cause a lot of problems. On the other hand, planting garlic or parsley is always good. But the best, and this is what we do in our own rows, we sow basal seed early in the year, right within our tomatoes. That does two things; number one, basil really helps with pest control. They keep a lot of the things that cause issues for tomatoes away, but there’s a lot of people and us included, that feel like when you grow basil near your tomatoes, it actually improves their flavor.

MARY: Absolutely basil and tomatoes go hand-in hand, and it’s a great companion planting method that we use every year in our garden.

Tomato Supports

JIM: Without a doubt, without a doubt. So obviously, first you want to really move those tomato plants around. And you want to think about companion planting in there. But then the most important thing, and I think this is what mostt people don’t think about is putting your tomato supports in before you plat. People don’t think about this a lot, but it’s so important. Tomato roots need to expand, and one of the ways that they can expand is through loose soil. So before you ever plant a tomato that is one of the most important things to do is to think ahead and put your tomato supports in first.

MARY: And you’re talking about tomatoes cages, right?

JIM: Absolutely. Tomato cages or stakes. We kind of created a hybrid version here that we call a stake a cage. You can find that on the blog, but what we do is we take a stake and a piece of fence, we put them together so that we can really protect our tomato as they grow. But it’s so important to put those stakes in before you plant. Why you might ask? It’s because if you’re putting them in after your tomatoes have started to grow and you’re pounding the stakes or cages in the ground, you can do two things. One, your foot traffic is right around the soil and it’s gonna compact those roots, which is gonna impact the growth of the tomato. But second of all, and very importantly, you can damage those roots as you’re driving that stake or the tomato through. So no matter what, you want to definitely put those supports in first.

MARY: Real quick question, Jim. How far apart do you plant tomatoes?

JIM: That’s a great question. It really does somewhat depend on the variety and where you’re planting them. In raised beds you can plant them a little closer. What you really want is to allow enough air and space between plants to allow for circulation and sunlight. Those are the two things that really play an important part of tomatoes ripening and keeping disease down. For most tomatoes, 24 inches between each plant to 36 inches is fine. If you’re in a raised bed setting or container setting, you can obviously plant them a little bit closer. But you don’t want them to grow together where they can start to form a moisture barrier and the sunlight can’t get through.

MARY: I think an important point here is talking about our stake a cage. We developed this system early on in our gardening. We used to have the round tomato cages that you would put in the ground. But the problem with that is, is that the tomatoes got so big that they would just rise the cage right out of the ground. And then it was impossible to pick the tomatoes through the holes. So we started using surveyor stakes that had a pencil end point that you could easily drive into the ground. And then we cut down cattle panels to support the tomatoes. They kind of looked like a radar but it worked. It really does, The panels weren’t a complete circle, it’s just a system where we can tie up or tomato plants easily pick them when it is time to harvest. And it’s really worked well for us and we’ve even developed improvements of this system over the years.

Planting Tomatoes

JIM: It’s open ended, and I think you said it best, those cages really make it hard to reach through. I for one, have never been able to effectively tie up on just a stake as my tomatoes end up falling down. So whatever you choose you want it to be something that is really strong for your tomatoes and can provide a lot of support for them. So now that we’ve talked about where to plant and to make sure you get those stakes in, we’re gonna talk about that when and how to plant. And let me tell you right now, getting your tomatoes off to a good start is of huge, huge importance. When you talk about having a good crop, deep roots develop strong plants that are less likely to dry out and they can really handle the stress of summer, so how you plant is important. We dig with a post hole digger. We found this to be the most effective way to dig planting holes for our entire garden. But we’ll dig down 6 to 8 inches deep, and when we do that, we plant those tomatoes down right up to the first two sets of leaves.

MARY: We do, we take a look at our plants and depending how big they are. Then we look at where the first two branches are located, and most times we bury those branches when we plant. That gives the tomato plant a nice deep root structure. The plant is sturdy and it’s ready to grow.

JIM: It is important to realize that all those little tiny hairs you see on the STEM or the main area of a tomato, are potential roots. So when you bury those under the soil, they branch out and become roots, and roots are important because they absorb water and moisture, which is important for tomatoes. But they also absorb the nutrients that are so important for tomato growth. So you really want to put those down in the ground and Mary is right, you gotta know the size of your tomato plants. If you have a foot tall tomatoes plant three-quarters of it, go 8 inches, 9 inches down in the soil. If you have a six-inch tomato plant, you know you may want to go three inches or half the plant. But you want to get them as deep as possible to really develop those roots and that it’s really important of what you put in that planting hole.

Fertilizing When Planting

MARY: Well, what would you recommend putting in the hole of each tomato plant?

JIM: I know that the last few years, we’ve really kind of settled upon what we call the magical formula. So we dig our hole six to 8 inches deep with our post hole digger. And then we take equal amounts of compost, worm castings, crush up a few egg shells, and then we also put in coffee grounds in each hole. About a few table spoons of coffee grounds is all you need. So what we do there and why we do that is most important because all of those ingredients really provide something for the tomato. So let’s kind of go through them. The coffee grounds are a great source of nitrogen for the young tomato plant growing, the nutrients are slowly released.

MARY: Real quick question now. Are those used coffee grounds or are they fresh coffee grounds that you get from the can of Folgers?

JIM: You know, we get that question every year, and it always kind of makes me chuckle, but it is a really good question. We use used coffee grounds, that’s an inexpensive way, it’s a by-product of breakfast as are the egg shells that you can use to power your garden. Can you use new coffee grounds? Yes, you can, that’s an awfully expensive way and to me, a waste of good coffee. But you can do that and put them in there. So that’s a great question, but getting back to what we put in that hole, we also crush up two to three egg shells in each hole, and why we do that is blossom rot is caused by a lack of calcium in the soil. So those egg shells are full of calcium and by crushing them and putting them in the hole, that’s giving those plants a little bit of slow release calcium over time that can help prevent blossom rot. We have never had an issue here with blossom rot, but we’ve also always used those crushed, egg shells in each hole.

MARY: And I think it’s important to note that we will start saving our egg shells and our coffee grounds in the first part of March. What we do is we take a different container for each and leave it to air dry. We get the coffee grounds nice and dry so that they don’t mold. And after they air dry we put them in a container and then come mid-May when we’re ready to plant, we use them in each hole and we have no issues.

JIM: Yeah, we get that question a lot especially from people in warmer climates. You can also freeze them. You can crush them up and put them in your freezer and keep them that way, and it’s a really good way to keep them and save them for long term. So there you have it. The other thing that we put in the hole is worm castings. Now people ask us about it, it is our go-to Miracle source of everything we grow here. Putting a quarter cup of worm castings, and that is whole worm castings which are the ultimate organic substance. They are a very, very low and slow release of nutrients, and every time we use them, good things happen. Between the coffee grounds, the egg shells, the worm castings, and then of course, compost, which is by far the most amazing substance around, you’re really giving slow nutrients to those tomatoes to grow over time. People too often just put those plants right in the ground and they don’t think of anything else. You’ve got to start them off with great materials around them.

MARY: So a lot of people don’t know what worm castings are or where to get them. What’s your suggestion?

JIM: I think the most important thing is to always make sure when you purchase them, if you do not have your own, which is very difficult, you have to have worms, you have to have screens, but worm castings are basically the excrement of worms. So what the worm eats comes out the other end and is finally ground, perfectly balanced nutrition, nutrition for the soil, and more importantly, nutrition for your plants. You can find them online, you can find them in a lot of local big box stores or even landscaping stores. We have a place right down the road from us, a locally owned green house and they carry them. But it has really made the difference, not just in our tomato plants, but in a lot of other plants for us and really good to use.

MARY: And I think we’ll put an affiliate link in our show notes after this on where you can get worm castings, if you go to, you’d be able to find where you can purchase those – Purchase Worm Castings Here

JIM: And the show notes will always put that just to kind of help people just to know more about what we’re talking about and also find maybe a source to find them. So now that we have that, we’re planting this in the deep hole, we’re filling that back in with the compost and mixing soil. I use about an equal mix of compost and soil in addition to those other ingredients to fill that hole. Here’s the thing, you don’t want to press that hole at the top really hard down. Just likely tamp that soil. Keeping the soil free from compaction is the key to big root growth. Whether it’s tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers or any vegetable or flower, lightly tamp it in. Don’t pound that soil in to pack it in. So you want to make sure that it’s nice and loose, your tomatoes are firm, but they’re not squashed down in that soil. So then, I guess after that, we talk about what do we do once we’ve completed planting, and that all comes down to mulching.


JIM: When your plants are in the ground, what you need to do is put muLch around each plant to make sure that they retain the moisture, repel weeds and weed seeds. And it prevents soil from actually getting splashed on when it rains or during watering.

MARY: And that’s really important because when you talk about diseases like the blight, spores are in the soil. When you water plants, that soil cannot splash right up on the bottom of your leaves.

JIM: So mulch is so key to the healthy and critical growth in any garden, especially when we talk about Raised Row gardens. But for tomatoes, which are a moisture lovers and a nutrient lovers, that mulch really helps keep the soil temperatures regulated, keeps moisture in the soil, and if you use the right kind of mulch can actually power plants.

MARY: Well, this is a great time to interject the question of the week. So every week we ask our listeners to send us either a question, comment or garden tip, and this one comes from Monica from Wisconsin. And her email states, Hi, Jim and Mary, I love your website. And I’ve found so much helpful information that has made my garden so much better over the last few years. My question is, what do you recommend as the best mulch for tomato plants?

JIM: That’s kind of a perfect question for what we’re talking about One of the ways to grow the best tomatoes on the block, in addition to all that power we put down in the planting hole, we put a little more power on top and we call it powering the top of the hole. So we mulch all of our plants with a heavy dose of straw and about 4 to 6 inches deep at the base of the plant and that keeps the moisture near the roots. But before we do that, we put about a one to two inch thick layer of fresh compost in about an 18-inch diameter around each plant, right up to the plant. We also sprinkle in another quarter cup of worm castings on that, and if we have them, when we even crush the egg shells there. And you can put some coffee grounds too. Then we will mulch over top of that with the straw. So what does that do? Well, there’s power in all those ingredients. We’ve already talked about that, but think of it this way, every time it rains, every time you water your garden, every time moisture drains down through that soil, it is leaching valuable, slow released nutrients into that soil, and let me tell you something, your plants will thank you for it.

MARY: And I have to interject real quick. Please make sure you use straw and not hay. This is a common mistake that a lot of people do. They will use hay, which has a ton of weed seeds in it. We are talking about using straw which is a by product as the mulch around our plants.

JIM: Absolutely, and there are other choices too. If you live in an area where straw is not prevalent or it’s ridiculously expensive, you can use grass clippings, green grass clippings that are full of nitrogen. Put them around those plants or use shredded leaves, you don’t want to use whole leaves. It can really kind of weave together and keep moisture and nutrients from getting through, but shredded leaves are a great option. Whatever you use, get those plants mulched because it really helps the plant retain its moisture, it keeps the soil temperature from soaring during hot days, or from getting too cold on cold nights, and then also it keeps weeds out. Mary talked about preventing weeds, but weeds steal nutrients so by keeping weeds out your plants get all the nutrients they need. No we’ll go ahead and head to how to fertilize plants that are starting to grow throughout the season.

Fertilizing Tomatoes

JIM: We get a lot of questions about fertilizing. Do I fertilize every week, or do I fertilize once every two months? What’s the best way? I really think it comes down to what you use to fertilize plants, and also when you fertilize tomato plants really will respond to slow and trickle type fertilizers. Let’s just say you put a 10, 10, 10 fertilizer on, and you put a lot of it on, it’s gonna all grow into a bunch of foliage. And with tomatoes you want a slow, strong, steady growth. And the way we do that, we use two of our favorites, which are compost and liquid organic fertilizer. You can make your own compost but there are also have some products on line, you can find bu searching organic fertilizers. So how do you make compost or a worm casting tea? We have a complete recipe on the site and you can always search compost at But let me tell you right now, it’s basically pretty easy. We take a five-gallon bucket, we fill it about half full of our compost out of our compost pile, then we fill the bucket with water. We stir it for a few days, the longer you wait, maybe four to five days, all those nutrients leach into the water and then you water your plants with that compost tea. It is an incredible fertilizer, and it’s important to realize that that’s a systemic fertilizer. So when you’re hitting your leaves and it’s going in the soil, it’s absorbed through the foliage and through the roots. And that’s what really powers plant. You can also make the same type of fertilizer with worm castings or off-the-shelf organic fertilizers that are liquid.

MARY: I think it’s important to interject here that when you do fertilize your plants and you’re actually pouring it on the foliage, that you do it early morning or late evening.

JIM: Great call right there because if you fertilize during the heat of the day and that sun hits that fertilizer when it’s on your leaves, it can really burn your tomato plants. And if you’re worried about that, you may want to wash it off it if you’ve done it in the middle of the day. But Mary is absolutely right. Best absolute time to ever water or fertilize is early morning and the second best time is early evening. Why morning is better is because if you water at night or you fertilize at night, it can lead to mold and other issues. Where if you fertilize in the morning, plants get to dry off slowly without burning. But try to avoid ever watering during mid-day, or fertilized during day, for that very reason.

MARY: And I think the next big question is, Jim how often should you fertilize?

JIM: It’s the million dollar question. Actually, fertilize too much and too often, and your plants will all grow leaves. Fertilize too little and they don’t grow the harvest they need. So for us, we’ve used a simple formula, we will fertilize once we put our plants in the ground but then you have to let them establish a little bit. So we’ve planted them, we put our compost around and now we’re gonna wait a few weeks, normally 14 to 21 days which allows the plants to really settle in at that point. We then hit them with our first dose of fertilizer, and then what we’ll do is about every two to four weeks, just depending on how your plants look and how they’re growing, we’ll hit them with fertilizer, but only for about the first two months. And I’ll tell you how to know this, when your plant start developing tomatoes, the small tomatoes or when they’re big and they’re growing, either back off right away completely, or just back off slightly of your fertilizer. And then within a few more weeks you want to stop, if you continue to fertilize, let’s say come August, when your plants are really starting to try to ripen their fruit and produce, it sends a signal to the plant that it’s done and to stop producing fruit and to start producing more foliage. So once you get the plants off to a great start, it’s really important then to cut back on the fertilizer come late summer when the harvest starts to come and end it all and just start picking fruit.

MARY: That’s a good point, because we get emails every year, come late July, early August saying, I’ve got great-looking tomato plants are really big, they have tons of bright green foliage, but I have zero fruit on them. And that’s one of the things that we first consider and ask the person that’s emailing us is, how often are you fertilizing? And they typically come back and tell us that they fertilize once a week. So you really have to have a nice balance of when to fertilize and when to stop fertilizing.


JIM: Yeah, and using those Liquid fertilizers, they’re so important. You can use granular fertilizers, they’re just slower to react and liquid gives the plants a nice boost. Over the run of the tomato plants life, it’s going to give it a more steady growth and opposed to this massive quick growth that can cause exactly what you’re talking about there, which is the foliage. So we’ve talked about fertilizing, now comes the watering, and I think this is where a lot of people struggle with their Tomato plants. How much water do my plants need, how often should I be watering? That really depends on how you’re growing your tomatoes. Are you growing it in a container, a raised bed where the soil is more apt to dry out, or are you growing them in a traditional Garden setting? For us, we grow them everywhere, so we can kind of cover all these subjects in our garden. Early watering is very important. When you first put your transplants in May, we probably hit our plants every two or three days, if it’s a dry time. We do that to help them with the shock of the transplant, but after that, we start backing off. And the reason we back off is if you keep watering your tomato plants every day, those roots never dive deep into the soil, and that’s so important because if they’re not deep in the soil, they can’t hold up well against drought or times of extreme heat, the deeper the roots, the stronger your plants. We always talk about this with adult kids living in the basement. When we used to travel and give talks on the road, we would say, it’s like if you keep giving your children everything and they’re staying in the basement, they’re not leaving that basement. Well, guess what, same with the tomato plants. If they’re at the soil and they’re getting that water, they’re not leaving there either, they’re gonna stay there, and the problem is the minute you stop that, those roots stay at the top. It’s a weak plant that wind can topple it and they can dry out very quickly. So when you do water you wanna water deeply.

MARY: And what do you mean by deeply Jim, like with ow much water? How do you water deeply?

JIM: A good rule of thumb for most tomato plants is when you go to water, a decent size plant, so I’m talking about a plant that is 8 to 10 weeks old, a quarter to a half a gallon per plant is probably needed that gets the water to soak down in. And don’t just pour it on for half of it. Rather let it soak in and pour a little more. That allows that water to go deep in the soil and develop those deep roots. But you only have to do that unless we’re talking about a desert climate where you may have to water more often, once, maybe a week, maybe twice, if it’s exceptionally hot. I mean for us we don’t water our tomato plants here, really past, I’d say June. But it is really important to build those strong roots.

MARY: I think it’s also important to note that we water our plants at the base of the plant where them stem is. We do not use a sprinkler, we do not use a big hose that sprays over all the foliage. Instead, we take a gallon jug and we take a quarter to a half a gallon right at the base, right towards the roots. We want to use our resources effectively, and if we water there, it goes right to the roots themselves and can soak down in. And that is in our garden, and that’s also in our five-gallon bucket planters and our raised beds, whatever we use we do it right at the base of the plant.

JIM: That’s also important to avoid any issues with disease or mildew or sun, cool, if you’re watering with a big sprinkler and it’s hitting the entire garden, people think that’s awesome, and it’s great. But it’s not because all those leaves are getting wet, the sun can really damage them. Or if it’s a cool day, they can lay on there and cause disease later on, so watering is important. If you have container gardens, try to always water in the morning. Most container plants need watering every day, just because that they have limited soil. But water early, water in through, but if you start to see yellow leaves stop watering. That’s usually the first sign that the plants are being over-watered, and they’re getting water logged. So those are the things to look for. But yes, definitely watering is important, so I guess the next important thing is now that your tomatoes are growing, this is the one thing we talk about all the time, if you really wanna have those great tomatoes, it’s so absolutely necessary to prune your tomato plants.


MARY: Absolutely taking those extra branches and leaves off your tomato plants that are not necessary or could cause damage throughout the season, really is super important.

JIM: We start early on with pruning at the bottom of our tomato plants. That opens up the plant to air flow, and air flow is so critical for tomato plants health and longevity during the season. So we’ll take off a few inches in the beginning, but most of our heirloom tomato plants, I’m talking tomatoes that reach four to five feet in height, we have a full 12 to 18 inches of the bottom trimmed out. That keeps those leaves once again from being near the soil and disease, but it also allows that air through. And then Mary, I know when you go through every year, I always kinda laugh like it’s like a bad hair cut, I see all these limbs laying out and some of them have tomatoes on them, but tell them what you do, it’s very important to keep the plant shaped up.

MARY: It is it is. And in the early season, I take anywhere from six inches to 12 inches off the bottom of the plant, so that way when it rains or on the waters, the soil does not splash up on the leaves themselves. And honestly, it’s terrifying for me because I feel like I’m destroying the plant. But it’s super important, and in the end I know that it’s important to do that to get good tomato growth later on. So I am not only pruning the bottom. As the season continues I then go through the tomatoes themselves and prune off extra branches, criss cross branches, anything that prevents air flow or sunlight to come through. And like I said, I feel like sometimes that I’m destroying the whole plant. But within the next week, it doesn’t even look like I pruned them.

JIM: Exactly, and we get a lot of questions about sucker branches. We don’t worry so much about suckers on our plants. What we do worry about are wild branches and keeping the middle cleared out a little bit, we’ll take a few, if they are in the way. I joke because she’s always kind of been the one that does that pruning and as I walk in the garden, even last summer and all the years we’ve been doing this and I see this gigantic pile to me to and I literally think she’s taken our whole plants out. But not within a week or two later, those tomatoes were that much healthier because of what she’s done. And it really is a key. We have an article and we’ll have all these resources on our notes on the website that you can go to from this podcast to take a look at. (Pruning Tomato Plants Article). So now that we’ve done that with a few minutes remaining in the show, I guess we need to talk about harvesting and this is another area are where people sometimes get confused of. Should I wait until my tomatoes are bright red to pick them? And we all wait, all gardeners wait for harvests. This is the most exciting part of garden season, is when your tomatoes are on the vine and they start to turn red or pink or yellow, whatever tomatoes that you plant. And when do I pick? When is the prime time to pick the tomatoes?

Harvesting Tomatoes

JIM: It might surprise a lot of people, but you know, you always hear the vine ripened tomato, that’s actually not the best way to pick your tomatoes, and we’ll kinda get into why. So first of all, when your tomato first starts to blush, so when it goes from that solid green to get into that pink stage, that is the perfect time to pluck it away. Now, why is that? Because here’s what happens. A couple of things, if you let all of your tomatoes ripe into fullness on the vine, it’s another signal to the plants that, hey, I need to stop production. I’m done, I’m filled up. So you want to pull those off to continue production, especially with indeterminate plants that are going to grow all season long. Determinants are a little different. Determinate tomatoes obviously grow all their produce in a few weeks period. But those indeterminate heiroom tomatoes, they’re gonna keep growing. So you wanna pick them. But more importantly, allowing them to stay on the vine to ripen, allows pests, allows bruising, allows all of those things that don’t make a pretty tomato.

MARY: And here’s the most frustrating part for me as a Gardener is when you see the most beautiful tomato just turning red, just turning pink, and you let it go for a few days, and three days later you go to pick it and you’d put your hand in a bunch of mush in the bottom of the tomato or now there are several cracks at the top. You had the perfect tomato, and if you would have picked it a couple of days earlier, it would have stayed at great tomato. So it’s very important to pick a tomato right when they turn that blush color.

JIM: Yeah, we use the statement, pick them early, pick them often. And that keeps things going. So we’re picking them at that blush stage and what do we do with them? Well, we have a rack, you can have anything to have some open air, don’t put them in your refrigerator. That’s the worst thing you can do. They’ll stop ripening all together. But we put them in a cool place, we use our back porch, it could be anywhere. Put them there so they get some air and you’ll be amazed, they start turning within days to perfection.

MARY: Right, we start off with what we used to call a harvest rack, and it was a simple 2 x 4 rack with mesh wire on top. Last year, we actually built a four-rack shelf with a wire mesh and the frame built with 2x4s, and it worked out perfectly. Just remember to keep them in the shade, let them ripen, don’t bring them inside until they’re nice and ripe, and don’t put them in the fridge to ripen at all.

What To Do With Dying Tomato Plants

JIM: That’s right. So really the last part is really what will help next year’s harvest more than anything, this is critical to keeping your garden in good health, and that’s what do I do with my tomato plants after the harvest? Well, what you don’t do is you don’t leave them up all winter. Tomato plants are notorious for harboring pest disease and everything else, and for that reason alone, we never take our tomato plants and put them in our compost pile. It’s just a big no, no. You’re running that risk because most home compost piles don’t get warm enough to cut out this pathogens or disease.

MARY: So Jim, when you clear out the garden at the end of the year, if you don’t compose your tomato plans, What do you do with them?

JIM: I know this sounds so counter-productive, but it’s so productive for the long-term success of your garden. In your tomato plants, tomatoes alone, when we take those out of our garden, we actually will let them dry off a little bit by our firepit and we’ll burn them. We don’t even take the ashes to our compost pile. We usually bury those. You can also, if you have a place and you live in a big enough area, you can dig a hole and bury them where you’re never gonna play in anything. You can also (even though I hate it) put them in your garbage. But you can’t put them in your compost pile, it just is too much of a problem down the road.

MARY: And if your community supplies a composting option for you, that’s perfectly fine to throw those in there because they do have the power to get it hot enough so that the tomato plants will properly decompose without a worry. So that’s a good option as well.

JIM: Absolutely, so just to recap, as we talk about everything here, you want to get those plants in the ground, you want to make sure that you’re rotating your crops, you want to make sure that you’re putting those stakes and those cages or whatever you use to support your tomatoes in early, you want to plant deep, you want to put some nutrients in that hole with some compost and maybe even worm castings, egg shells and some coffee grounds, you want to water those tomatoes, you want to prune those tomatoes and you want to fertilize them on a regular basis, but with a light fertilizer. We say it all the time, but compost is the king of organic fertilizers, and that’s what we rely on. Then you want to keep them pruned and you wanna pick them often. If you do those things I’m gonna tell you right now, you’re gonna have the best tomatoes on your block.

MARY: I think that we did a great job explaining in a quick podcast about how to plant, take care and maintain your tomatoes throughout the year. But for our next episode, we will showcase another email of the week. This could be a question, comment or even a garden tip that we share for our next podcast, so feel free to subscribe to our simple garden Podcast on iTunes or Spotify, and you can even sign up on our newest website, And you can listen and read the show notes to every episode, but feel free to email us any questions, topics or ideas to, submit your questions and maybe you’ll be featured next week.

JIM: That’s right in next week’s episode will all be about composting and how to make great compost, so we’re gonna try to continue to tackle the subjects of flower gardens, vegetable gardens, trees, shrubs, you name it, in the landscape with simple gardening techniques. And I hope to continue to bring you some good solid advice to make gardening fund and make it simple.

MARY: Until next week, happy gardening.


Thursday 4th of February 2021

what about put 1 T. of Epson salt in the planting hole?