tomato plant experimentWe’ve done the tomato suckers experiment a few times, and the results are always interesting. In fact, we challenge other tomato growers to take part in this experiment here.

Last season I participated in the sucker vs. no sucker experiment by growing two rows of Better Boy tomatoes (indeterminate tomato plants) in 5 gallon buckets.

I planted in the earlier part of April since we had past the danger of frost, for the most part, here in the Atlanta area.

The plants that I removed the suckers from (experiment plants) produced 15 more tomatoes, almost 5 more pounds than the plants that grew with the suckers (control plants). All of this surplus came at the beginning of the season because the experiment plants began producing earlier than the control plants – about 16 days earlier.

Experiment plants produced on 45 days; control plants on 34 days. In all, experiment plants produced 11 more days than the control plants.

Now I’ve almost concluded that for Better Boy tomato plants grown in pots, I can increase yield by removing suckers, but here are the things that concern me about this conclusion after just one experiment season.

In June, one of the control plants lost a number of tomatoes to blossom end rot and another control plant suffered temporarily from an aphids attack.

In July, squirrels attacked many plants that either lost tomatoes or they fell off green. After the first fruits, tomatoes come in smaller so I added fertilizers to try to keep the nutrients up as at the beginning.

I noticed that squirrels, chipmunks and animals “steal” tomatoes during long periods of no rain and insects tend to attack right after a good rain.

There are so many pests to deal with when summer arrives that it’s better to harvest in spring, plus the high temperatures seem to cause fewer blossoms to set fruit.

At the end of the season I emptied out the soil from the buckets/pots where I grew my tomato plants, one bucket had about a dozen large grub worms. I noticed that this plant did not produce as many tomatoes as other plants; it also was a control plant.

The control plants (those with suckers) had to deal with a few more pests than the experiment plants (those without suckers) and if I did this experiment again, it would turn out differently. But this is what I learned about growing Better Boy tomatoes in pots:

  1. Plant as early in the Spring as possible but after the threat of frost is over (or indoors) so you can begin harvesting tomatoes before the pests come out in force.
  2. Removing suckers was a type of catalyst to get more blooms that set tomatoes for harvest – in my case, 16 days before the plants with suckers.
  3. When the control plants began producing tomatoes, the production was at about the same rate as the experiment plants – they did not produce more in number or weight than the experiment tomatoes.
  4. The difference was 11 more days of harvesting tomatoes from the experiment plants that came at the beginning of the season.

We want to know what you have discovered in your tomato growing experiments so that we might help others all over the world. Learn about taking part in this experiment.

Sign up for a free membership in Ernie’s Homegrown Tomatoes.

Question: Will removing suckers from tomato plants cause them to produce more tomatoes?


Participate in the tomato sucker experiment with us…

Download the Excel spreadsheet or the PDF doc to record your tomato harvest

Email your results to and I’ll report them to everyone at the end of the season.

Summer Update: Tomato Growing Q&A

Ernie shares his comments about this growing season so far and answers a number of tomato gardening questions:

“I had to stop my gardening due to persistent pests such as deer skunks raccoonswhiteflies and cutworms! The white flies lay their eggs but they fall on the concrete and die and no more cut worms. My main problem is the condition of my plants, the leaves are small and they seem to be curled and skinny.”

“I am a beginner gardener and last year was my very first time trying my hand at gardening. My problem was two things, first I had some kind of worm entering my tomatoes which looked so unattractive and the second problem was at the bottom of the tomato was soggy looking and eaten out. How can I correct this problem so I won’t repeat this again?”

“I have grown tomatoes for 15 or 20 years. I would like to increase my yield in my containers and am hoping you can help me with that.”

Plus other questions were asked during the call. Listen to this edition of Ernie’s Homegrown Tomatoes:

This is the method I’ve been using for several years now to get rid of yellow jacket nests from my yard and garden that does not contaminate the soil.

It works every time; it’s safe and easy to do as long as you follow the plan.

I learned this method from a homesteading group I was part of a few years ago who helped me with organic gardening. You don’t need to buy anything to do this.

chipmunk-with-tomatoThere are many different types of animals that can invade your garden and each requires a unique way to keep them out. The first step to take when you first notice that your garden has been invaded is to identify the creature. Common garden thieves include: deer, squirrel, rabbits, raccoons, birds, gophers, and skunks. Once you identify which creature is ruining your beautiful garden, research a little bit about the animal species. Learn about the animals habits. This knowledge will be crucial in discovering a way to keep the animal out. The next thing to do is to try and make your garden as unappealing as possible to the nearby wildlife.

How To Make Your Garden Less Appealing to the Animals

  • Get rid of nearby hiding places such as brush, tall grass, and possible crawl/burrowing space underneath decks

  • Cover compost piles; raccoons are extremely drawn to compost piles

  • Clean spilled bird seed; squirrels flock to bird seed

  • Tie aluminum cans to tree branches above gardens: the shininess and noise have been known to scare off animals

  • Spray vegetables with a water and hot sauce mixture: it will deter certain animals. Keep in mind that you will need to wash these veggies thoroughly when picked, if you do not like spicy foods. Also, keep in mind that the rain will wash off this hot sauce mixture and will need to be reapplied.

If these techniques do not work there are many other options on keeping animals out of your garden.

Ways to Keep Animals Out Of Your Garden

  • Place physical barriers up that animals cannot enter. It is encouraged that a fence be placed around the garden. Placing mesh or netting over the garden has also been known to help in some cases. This can be found at local hardware stores. This product allows for the plants to still receive the amount of sunlight and water that they need without impeding their growth.

  • Eradication: These are the more gruesome ways of removal, but are effective nonetheless. Types of eradication include:

    • smoke bombs

    • poison

    • scissor traps

    • shooting

  • Scent repellants can be used to keep animals out. Simple research can be done to find out which scents the type of animal avoids, and these can be purchased at gardening stores or can be found at local groceries (ex. lemons, coffee grounds, etc.).

  • Pets can also help keep unwanted animals out of gardens. Cats and dogs have been known to chase off intruding animals.

  • Live traps: are the more humane removal technique. Pest control can be called to help aid the removal, or these traps can be purchased for personal use. These traps catch the animal live, and allow you release the animal a safe distance from your home and garden.

Though vegetable gardens are extremely prone to animal invasion, it usually does not take much to remove these vegetable thieves and the problems that they pose.

Lindsay is a writer for Kyle Law Firm, a personal injury and criminal defense attorney firm in Austin, Texas. Lindsay enjoys gardening very much and does not allow any animal steal her home grown veggies. 

Your First Vegetable Garden: Tips For Success

Starting your own vegetable garden can seem like an overwhelming task. There is a lot of preparation and trial-and-error involved. What are you going to plant? Where are you going to plant it? How big does the plot need to be? How do I care for vegetable plants? What do I do after the harvest season ends? The list of questions and concerns can seem endless.

Planning Your Garden

No one has ever looked back and thought “Wow, I wish I had prepared less for that.” Outside of gardening, careful planning and preparation is a skill that has contributed to many successes and victories. In the preliminary stages of your first vegetable garden, decide what you’ll plant. Tomatoes are common, as are herbs. Researching what can grow best in your area can help, too. Also find out how much space they will need to thrive. Corn, for example, will need more space than carrots. How many plants do you want? This depends on the amount of space you have available. Can you sacrifice several yards or a few feet? Even a small herb garden can fit on a windowsill. If you’re having trouble visualizing how much you want or need, start smaller than larger. You don’t want to bite off more than you can chew. Plus, you can always make your garden a little bigger next year.

Prepping the Yard

You’ll want to put your vegetable garden in a spot that has at least 6-8 hours of sun per day, as required by most plants. A shady spot can limit their yield and make them more susceptible to disease. If you are having trouble finding a spot in your yard with full sun, you’ll have to adjust which plants you want accordingly. Veggies like lettuce and kale actually grow nicely in partial shade. Preparing your soil for a vegetable garden is fairly foolproof. Vegetables grow best in soil that has high amounts of organic matter and good drainage. To test the drainage capabilities of your soil, water your target area and wait for a day. After a day has passed, dig up a chunk of soil and squeeze it in your hands. If water flows out, your drainage capabilities are lacking a bit. You can improve drainage of the soil by adding compost or consider installing raised beds. Before you plant anything, till the area to loosen the soil and water is thoroughly. It should be ready for plants after several days.

Planting and Caring for Your Veggies

Plant your veggies according to directions. Some varieties you can plant from seed (like carrots or peas), while others may do better planted when they are already young plants (like tomatoes). After you plant them, give them a nice drink of water, about 1 inch. Don’t water again until the top inch of soil is dry. Typical gardens don’t need to be watered more than once per week, but you may need to supplement that during times of droughts. Remove weeds as soon as they appear, because they are going to be competing with your plants for water and nutrients. You can also keep weeds from rooting by carefully tilling the surface of the soil with a hand tiller. Make sure you have proper lattices in place for vining plants like tomatoes and peas. When your plants start bearing fruit, you are free to pick it whenever you like. The general rule is if it looks good enough to eat, then it probably is.

Emily Kaltman writes for The Grass Outlet in Austin, Texas. She enjoys writing about nature and eating from her family’s vegetable garden. 

Tomato Review Summer 2013 and What To Do Next

An interview with Ernie Shiversveggiesharvest

What have been the challenges of this season?

“This has been the most unusual season in the 40 years I’ve been here. We’ve had more rain, all kind of problems with the tomatoes, blooms come on and fall off, low temperatures. Finally in the latter part of August the rain subsided and now I’m getting some tomatoes.”

“Ordinarily this time of year, I’m picking tomatoes by the bucket full and sharing them with neighbors, even selling a few, but not this year.”

What are some tips to extend the growing season?

“Continue watering and fertilizing a little along. When the temperatures drop put some plastic around the cages of the tomato plant. This keeps the cold wind off of the plant.”

“When frost is predicted for your area, go and pick all your green tomatoes, bring them inside and they’ll ripen.”

What should people do now to prepare for next season?

“This is cleanup time in the garden. Pull up the dead plants and either burn them or put them on the compost pile. If you have a diseased plant, burn them don’t put those in your compost pile.”

“Leafy vegetables are planted in the fall: lettuce, mustard, spinach, collards, beets, carrots, onions, etc.”

What about tomato seeds?

“Heirloom tomatoes can be good to collect the seeds from. Hybrid tomato seeds typically don’t produce fruit when the plant grows. When you buy plants or seeds it will tell you whether it’s a hybrid or not.”

Tomato pests come in all sizes, in this video we’ll show you how to identify the type of pest or animal that is doing the robbery and how to get rid of them: slugs, squirrels, birds, chipmunks, and rats.

This video is members only access, apply for a free membership

Read the rest of this entry

Deal with more tomato problems with a membership in Ernie’s Homegrown Tomatoes

Tomato Fertilizer Tips – Part 2

Tomato fertilizer always comes in bags with three numbers to show the percentage of Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium, but what do those elements do exactly? How should fertilizer be added to the soil? What are the recommended fertilizers?

Get Part 1 with a membership in Ernie’s Homegrown Tomatoes

Tomato Suckers Experiment – Part 1

To cut and remove tomato suckers or to leave them? That is the experiment!

Ernie is experimenting with two rows of tomatoes this year to solve the riddle of the tomato sucker. Take a look and leave a comment…

How To Identify Tomato Plant Suckers

Tomato suckers are easy to identify as Ernie shows in this video. The question is what to do with them…

Tomato Cages & Stakes Tips – Part 2

Ernie shows how to setup tomato cages and use them to cultivate tomato plant growth in this video.

Get Part 1 with a membership in Ernie’s Homegrown Tomatoes

tomato-plantQ&A call with Ernie Shivers

Tomato fertilizer used in proper amounts does result in nice sized and better tasting tomatoes, but fertilizing too much can cause problems as we’ll see in this Q&A session.

Q: I quit trying to grow tomatoes a few years ago because, I can grow lovely, tall, healthy looking plants but, no tomatoes? Is there something I can do to grow great tasting tomatoes? I always planted them where they would have full sun all day. Can they grow and produce in shady areas?

A: I haven’t experienced that but I suspect he is using too much fertilizer. He’s getting a nice healthy plant but no tomatoes, this can happen when too much fertilizer is added.

Q: What am I doing wrong? Last year I had one grow so high that I attached it to my porch and it went as tall as the roof, but I could not get any tomatoes. This year I thought I would be slick and try several different varieties of plants… They all grew, but NO tomatoes. What am I doing wrong?

A: Again, it sounds like he should cut back on the fertilizer.

Q: Every Friday, I go outside and fill my 1 1/2 gallon container with 1 scoop of miracle-gro for tomatoes and 1 1/2 gallon of water and sprinkle it on my 4 tomato plants. They are so big, they vining on to each other. I think its probably ok to stop fertilizing now. Whats your opinoin. Will this make huge tomatoes?

A: Yes, I think she’s right. Good idea about using Miracle-Gro and watering, but cut back on the fertilizer. Miracle-Gro can help with getting bigger tomatoes in proper amounts.

Q: I’m going to try to grow a tomato plant in a pot on my back deck. My pot is about 12 ” deep, and 14″ around. Will this be big enough? I filled it with potting soil, now do I need to add a fertilizer before or when I plant the actual plant? I live in Iowa, so I figure I’ll plant this thing about Mothers day.

A: Fertilizer can be added at the time of planting or afterward, both with great results. The size of the pot is adequate.

Q: What can I use to grow my tomato plants stronger and faster?

A: Most tomato plants begin bearing fruit between 75 and 90 days. Get plenty of sun light and make sure the soil is moist.

Q: We have had rain for two days, especially heavy late yesterday. Purple and Black Prince all have a lot of cracking and some of it seems to be healing. I’ve never had this problem before as I usually pick them after blushing. I was hoping to ripen some of them on the vine. Can this fruit be eaten if it heals? How will I know if it is OK?

A: When the tomato grows fast, the skin will split. When that happens pick those off the vine and let them ripen inside. Sometimes flies will lay eggs in the crack, if this happens you should discard the tomato.

More tips and jokes in the podcast. Listen to the Q&A session:

Free Compost For Your Garden

Some city and county parks and recreation departments in the US make compost and provide it free of charge for their citizens, you just need to go pick it up.

Some counties and companies also provide raised beds for people who don’t have the space. They rent the space and provide everything you need to start a raised bed vegetable garden.

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