Do you dream of growing State Fair blue-ribbon worthy tomatoes? Here are some considerations to help you achieve that goal. How do judges evaluate State Fair produce entries?
Ten Tips to Growing Prize Winning Tomatoes
1. Choosing the right plants or seeds
• There are advantages to purchasing tomato plants vs. starting them from seed. It is much easier and less time intensive to purchase plants that are ready to transplant into your garden space. If you purchase smaller plants a couple of weeks prior to planting-you will likely need to transplant them one or two times into larger pots for optimal growth. When choosing a plant, look for a dark green leafy plant with a sturdy stem that is free from yellowing or wilting. Choose a variety that does well in your growing zone and fits your desired use-for example Cherry Tomatoes for salad, Beefsteaks for slicing, or Romas for canning, etc. Many garden centers are now carrying Heirloom varieties-our favorite.
• There are also advantages to starting your tomatoes from seeds. Most garden stores sell only a few different varieties of tomato plants. With over 6000 varieties of tomato seeds available, growing your tomatoes from seed will afford you greater choice. Many people enjoy growing plants from seed, finding great satisfaction in the process and successful harvest.
• Finding plants or seeds can be as simple as visiting your local nursery, garden store, hardware store, or our favorite-your local farmers market. There are also many online suppliers. Our favorite for heirloom seeds includes Baker Creek and Annie’s Heirlooms.
2. Start seedlings indoors 6-8 weeks before planting outdoors, if you are growing your plants from seeds.
3. Frequent re-potting to larger pots, as necessary, is an important step to allow for optimum growth. Tomatoes grow quickly. While you are waiting for the soil to warm enough to place your plants outside, watch the bottom of the pots for roots. It is important to give a tomato plant’s roots room to grow and spread. Re-potting them to larger pots when their roots begin to peek out of the bottom holes of the pot will result in larger and stronger plants.
4. Soil preparation is crucial to growing blue ribbon winning tomatoes. The optimum soil for growing tomatoes is a sandy loam amended with organic material (compost, manure, or mulch). It should have a slightly acidic PH of 5.5-6.8. The most important soil consideration is good drainage. Tomatoes hate to get their feet wet!
5. Wait until night-time temps are consistently 50 degrees or above to plant your tomatoes. If you place your tomatoes outdoors to early, your plants will be stunted or may even die.
6. Consistent watering without water-logging the soil is critical. Tomatoes require a significant amount of water, but do not do well with inconsistent watering or having their roots sit in standing water.
7. Plant them deep. When transplanting your tomato plants into larger pots and/or when planting them in your garden-plant them a couple of inches deeper than they came in the pot. This will help the plants create a larger and stronger root system. If necessary, pinch off the bottom leaves of the plant.
8. Tomatoes love full sun so place them in the sunniest spot in your garden. To prevent sunburning their leaves, be sure to harden off your plants before planting them outdoors. First place the potted tomatoes outside in the shade for several hours each day. Then gradually increase sun exposure. Within two weeks they should be ready to accept full sun.
9. Fertilize your tomatoes with an organic fertilizer. Organic fertilizers can be applied to the soil a few days prior to planting and again when the fruit begin to form. Fertilize once or twice a month throughout the rest of the growing season. Organic fertilizers are better for your soil, your health and the environment. Common organic fertilizers include manure, fish fertilizer (such as Alaska), blood meal, bone meal and compost.
10. Provide good support for your plants. I prefer tomato cages, but you can also tie your tomato plants to stakes. Make sure the stakes are tall and sturdy enough to support your plants throughout the growing season. Of course there are creative gardeners who use nontraditional methods of supporting their tomatoes plants. The most important consideration is how the chosen support will function with the weight of your BLUE-RIBBON WORTHY TOMATOES.