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Monday, May 14, 2018

How Can I Get Tomatoes Bigger?

Q. I have a tomato garden 4 ft x8 ft x 1 foot deep. Every year I put three new plants of Early Girl, Champion, and Roma varieties of tomato in this bed. I redo the soil every year and plants get very big with lots of flowers and tomatoes. My tomatoes only get about 2 inches in diameter. What am I doing wrong?
Tomatoes produced in the Mojave Desert including Celebrity and Beefmaster
A. All three varieties of tomatoes are solid producers for the desert. Other varieties that should perform well for you include Patio, Jet Star, most of the smaller cherry and grape tomatoes. None of these varieties are “beefsteak” type tomatoes but smaller in size and have been solid performers here for many years.
            Small fruit is not necessarily a bad thing. Smaller fruit are frequently more intensely flavored than larger fruit coming from the same variety. However, we are conditioned to think that bigger is better.
Celebrity tomato in a winter garden


            Provide enough water so that plants are not stressed. Water is an extremely important, limiting factor when it comes to fruit size. If plants are water stressed when fruit is gaining size, the result will be smaller fruit.
            Schedule watering before the heat of the day begins. Soil moisture monitoring is important but what can be more important is the use of mulch on the soil surface when air temperatures reach about 80° F.
            The soil should stay evenly moist and not widely fluctuate between excessively dry and sopping wet. Surface mulch helps do this. It doesn’t have to be thick. ½ inch covering the soil is deep enough, like dusting with powdered sugar. Renew it as soon as you see the soil surface again.
            Straw is recommended a lot. I don't like it much because it's hard to work into the soil at the end of the growing season and it’s no longer inexpensive. I like things that dissolve easily into the soil like shredded newspaper, rice hulls, pine shavings used for animal bedding, etc. Yes, these types of mulches can rob the soil of nitrogen but if you're constantly feeding your vegetables it won't make any difference.
Pepper growing in 5 gallon nursery container with surface mulch of animal bedding (pine shavings)

Soil Improvement

            Encourage deeper rooting through soil improvement. Make sure the soil is amended, biologically active and easy to work before planting. A good quality compost mixed in the upper 8 inches goes a long way toward better rooting. A garden trowel should slip easily into a properly amended soil.

Soil Pro Compost from Viragrow


            Fertilizers improve fruit production. Use a pre-plant, high phosphorus fertilizer when planting. One phosphorus application at the beginning of the growing season is enough to boost flowering and fruiting.
            Don't forget the easily forgotten last number on the bag, potassium. Potassium has never been linked to fruiting but is very important in general health and well-being.
            Apply light, monthly applications of nitrogen to the soil to keep plant performance at its peak.
            This has nothing to do with the size of the fruit. You have to start rotating your tomatoes into new growing spots or you're going to have problems. Please read about rotating vegetable crops.

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