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The top things that leave tomato lovers quizzical in the garden

Steve Goto is a third generation nurseryman. With an education in banking he never thought he would be selling tomato seedlings let alone be one of the most experienced and sought after lecturer of tomatoes in California. He recently let us in on one of his secrets for growing the best tomatoes: John and Bob's Soil Solution.

 John and Bob’s products help me grow tomatoes with stronger stems, flourishing canopies and sweeter fruit! -Steve Goto

Once we started talking with the "Tomato King," we soon realized he was full of tomato-growing knowledge. We were lucky enough to get some advice for our own gardens....we are sharing it with you today.

by Steve Goto

With the long weekend coming up, many of us anticipate getting our gardens in the ground. Many of us enthusiastically plant a variety of tomatoes so that we can enjoy the vast bounties of the summer. There is nothing like a fresh beefsteak tomato sandwich on a hot summer day, a fresh heirloom tomato salad with balsamic vinegar in the fall, or a hearty winter marinara canned from some sweet Amish paste tomatoes with peppers and onions from the garden.

To enjoy these fruits (yes, tomatoes are technically a fruit ;) ) many gardeners have some common questions:

1. Watering, How much? How often?

I found that a deep watering at intervals is the best way to water. A rule of thumb is to water deeply once every 7 days for the first 4 weeks. Watch the foliage in the coolest part of the morning after sunrise and check to see if the foliage is drooping. Do not be fooled by a plant’s foliage drooping as needing water. This is natural when the foliage is drooping in the mid-morning or afternoon heat. If the foliage is drooping in the cool morning air, then the plant requires a watering. That’s the best time to water. Deep watering is the key. A slow drip from the hose for at least 45 minutes is advised. Apply water again when the foliage is drooping only in the cool early morning. Count the intervals between waterings. That will determine your interval. You will know about when the plant will need water again.

2. How important is it to rotate your tomato crops?

By using organic gardening methods it is no longer necessary to rotate crops. However, it is generally a good idea to switch things up every few years. This gives the soil a chance to rest and deters both insects and diseases that prey on tomatoes from establishing firmly in a particular spot in the garden.

3. What are suckers and is it important to remove them?

Tomato suckers, or side shoots, are the growth that appears in the plant crotch between the stem and a branch. This extraneous growth takes away from blooming, fruit producing branches. It is important to remove these suckers because this allows the tomato plant to produce the best quality tomatoes and encourages stronger stems to support the fruit. Trimming the suckers redistributes the plant’s sugar stores to the place where you want it the most: in that big, delicious red orb!

4. Is it a good practice to remove the foliage before you plant and why do you plant tomatoes deeply?

Prepare the plant by removing all the foliage on the stem, leaving only the top three leaves, or 4 to 6 inches of foliage at the tip. Bury the plants stem in the soil only exposing all the way except the top three exposed leaves, or 4 to 6 inches above the soil line. Tomatoes plants are amazing this way, in that the buried portions of stems will produce roots in 5 days. This process creates a much more organized system where your plant will be able to absorb more nutrients than from the larger established root system alone. Remember to always remove the flowers and any forming fruit!!!!!!

5. How do you prevent the dreaded Tomato Hornworm?

Tomato hornworms can best be controlled by picking them off your plant with a pair of tongs, but it is best to spray first, then hand control them. Hornworms with the white egg cases of parasitic wasps should not be destroyed because the wasps will hatch out and destroy other hornworms in the garden. Organic controls such as Spinosad or B.T. are safe for people, but deadly for insects.

6. How do I prune my plants to get the biggest sized tomato plant or squeeze out the best flavor?

Pruning is a method of removing side branches from the main stem. Most times tomato plants can get out of hand and should be pruned to keep the plant orderly. Another reason is to enhance the growth of the remaining fruit by channeling the plants growth energy to only the fruit on main stem. This causes the fruit to grow to its maximum flavor and size. This method also produces less fruit – but better fruit. All side branches on the plant will produce fruit. Many are confused about the need to prune or even what to prune. I find that this answer lies with the grower. Pruning is directly related to what the grower wants to accomplish.The rule of thumb is: Do you want maximum size and flavor? Yes, prune all side branches. Do you want a large crop of fruit but don’t especially care about size? No, do not prune.

Hopefully these answer your “big” tomato questions. What concerns do you have about getting the best tomato harvest?


  • Ron Says:

    I have Earth Boxes and Topsy Turveys. Do these products work well with Tomatoes? If I want to use the John & Bobs in them how do I use it?

  • Steve Goto Says:

    Yes, Earthbox and Topsy Turvy works well under some rules. One indeterminate variety or two determinate varieties for Earthbox. One Determinate variety for Topsy Turvy. Many make a mistake and plant indeterminate varieties and find less than successful results. Mainly because of the low volume of soil a Topsy Turvy holds, I reccommmend the container hold 2 cu ft of soil or equal to one bag of potting soil, Earthbox is just that size.

    In my Earthbox i use:
    2 cups of Nourish Bio-Sol mix.
    4 tablespoons of Optimize
    2 cups of Maximize
    Fill Earthbox with half of potting mix then layer all three products then finish filling Earhtbox. Leave soil mounding so the soil can settle.

    This process is done once a season. (every six month or so) I would recommend to change out the soil every crop. But compose the old soil and reuse it again the following


  • Hank Says:

    Steve - I want to grow tomatoes and other vegetables in a new garden space in my yard. The space is new as I had a Spruce tree removed recently. Is there anything special I should do to the soil prior or after planting?

  • Steve Goto Says:

    In the Topsy Turvy:

    Use 3 gallons of your favorite Potting soil. In California it's Black Gold Water Hold with Coir.
    Mix 2 cups Nourish Bio-sol
    2 cups Maximize
    4 Tablespoons Optimize

    Mix together and fill planting bag.

    Use Determinate varieties only and water as necessary. Do not over water.


  • Steve Goto Says:

    Before I start, How long ago were the Spruce removed? Were wood chips left mix in the soil and above ground near the removal area.

  • San Marzano Tomatoes Says:

    My passion is paste tomatoes including San Marzano but I have yet to find a tomato caging or staking sytem I am completely happy with for SM's. As you know, they are very vigorous plants with thick stems and branches and thick broad leaves. This year, I am growing them out of large containers but will have my raised bed garden built and ready to go next year. What do you recommend for both types of gardening when it comes to these tall, indeterminate plants? - Thanks.

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