Almost all Texas gardeners expect to harvest some delicious tomatoes, but tomatoes are probably one of the most difficult vegetables to grow in the Brazos Valley. Gardeners must consider the requirements to grow healthy, productive and delicious homegrown tomatoes.
Transplants set: March 5-April 20 or Aug. 1-Sept. 15; transplants apart 24 inches and rows apart 48 inches.
Tomato size and variety: (Greater than 12 ounces): Better Boy, Big Beef, Black Krim, Bush Goliath; (smaller than 11 ounces): Better Bush, Bush Celebrity, Bush Champion II, Health Kick, Solar Fire, Tycoon; (smaller than 3 ounces): Dwarf Cherry Surprise-BHN968, Jolly, Sungold, Sunsugar, Viva Italla Plum and Tumbler.
Gardeners can provide mulch during the month of May to reduce hot temperatures, prevent many weeds and conserve moisture.
Gardeners can apply a growth stimulant as soon as the plants are set in the garden soil, raised bed, large container or 1-gallon plastic pots. There are commercial kinds, but I use the home one developed by Montana State University that is five weekly treatments to be applied on the potting mix or soil. The stimulant includes 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 teaspoons of milk mixed with 1 cup of water each week. The tomato plants should mature about 1 month earlier. I harvested one 4-ounce tomato last week and expect to pick one slightly larger this week and another one next week. I have two Bush Champion tomato plants in a raised bed, and one in a self-watering container on our east balcony.
Gardeners should provide some kind of support for the plants that will prevent the tomato fruits from touching the soil and allow air circulation under them.
Many kinds of cages are available at garden centers.
A trellis can be placed on cinderblocks and over the tomato plants, then the bottom limbs pruned off. Trellis should be only 2 to 4 feet wide over the plants. The tomato fruits grow on top of the trellis or hang down in the shade of the foliage. Cords were used instead of a trellis in The Queens Garden in Scotland.
When equal or larger amount of nitrogen is applied around young tomato plants, it causes the plants to grow extra fast and large, with fewer fruit that are smaller than normal. I have visited a few gardens with tomato plants that were more than 6 feet tall without fruit.
Last year, a gardener in Brazos County harvested an 18-ounce tomato.