Beginners Guide Archives

Keep vs. Prune Tomato Suckers Experiment Results

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.

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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:

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.”

How To Deal With Animals That Steal Your Tomatoes

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.

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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

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

How To Plant Raised Bed Vegetable Gardens

In this video Ernie shows how to plant vegetables in your raised bed gardens:

  • Soil for the raised bed
  • Mixing up the soil so it’s ready for planting
  • Marking your rows before planting
  • Strategy for capturing the most sunlight
  • Demonstrations

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How To Build Raised Bed Vegetable Gardens

In this video Ernie shows how to get started with raised bed gardening:

  • Choosing a spot for your raised bed vegetable garden
  • Materials to use to build the raised bed
  • Size and spacing between raised beds
  • Soil for your raised bed
  • Vegetables to grow in a raised bed (and what to avoid growing)
  • Advantages of raised bed gardens
  • Watering options
  • Soil depth depending on what you will plant
  • Examples of vegetable plants for different soil depths

Planting Tomatoes in Pots – Part 2 (Video)

In this part 2 video Ernies shows you step by step how to plant tomatoes in pots:

  • How deep to plant your tomatoes
  • Watering and watering schedule tips
  • Indeterminate vs. determinate tomato plants and caring for each
  • Stakes, cages or neither depending on your plant
  • Tips, comments and jokes along the way

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

Planting Tomatoes in Pots – Part 1 (Video)

In this video Ernie demonstrates step by step his method of preparing and planting tomatoes in pots or containers:

  • Advantages of planting tomatoes in pots
  • What you need to get started
  • Preparing your soil – Ernie’s recipe for success
  • Random tips, comments and jokes along the way

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In this podcast Ernie outlines how to get started growing tomatoes and explains the important initial decisions you need to make before you plant:

  • Benefits of growing tomatoes
  • The best time to plant
  • Tips on watering plants
  • Mulching tips
  • Detering pests
  • Controlling weeds
  • Extending the growing season
  • Fertilizing the growing plants
  • Decisions to make before planting
  • Q&A with Ernie

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8 Steps to Homegrown Tomatoes – Part 1

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When Is The Best Time to Plant Tomatoes?

In this video we provide guidance to help you pinpoint the optimal time for you to plant tomatoes in your region:

  • Planting from seed indoors
  • Planting outdoors
  • USDA Hardiness Zone Map
  • Answers to common questions
  • The primary factor to determine when to plant in your area

Here are related videos if you missed them:

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