In any vote for the most popular food crop, tomatoes would win every time - and if you can keep their foliage dry and give them warmth, food, water, and sun, they're easy to grow and very productive.
But it's not easy to juggle all the variables. Raised beds in greenhouses give tomatoes the smoothest ride: they develop quickly when their roots are in deep soil: a vigorous shake is all the pollination they need, and heat builds up in the glass (or polyethylene) surround.
The moist winds that spread tomato blight don't enter greenhouses, and watering and feeding are controlled by the gardener. Foliage can stay dry, and the gardener can provide compost, well-rotted manure, fish fertilizers, or organic fertilizer with high phosphorous (middle number) that tomatoes love.
People who grow tomatoes in the same spot year after year should change the soil before each new batch is planted. That and careful attention to watering, rich feeding, and dry foliage stops many troubles from starting.
Scatterbrained watering can cause problems. Small fruit or fruit-drop are responses to inadequate water. Irregular watering can produce split tomatoes and leaf curl. In hot weather, watering should be done at least once daily.
More people grow tomatoes in containers these days. A good location is against a south or west wall to benefit from reflected heat. The roof overhang will protect to some degree against rain.
Containers dry out, and may need water twice on hot days.
Tomatoes, like 'Tumbler' and its long, dangling branches, can be grown in hanging baskets.
Big containers produce bigger crops. But some dwarf cherry tomatoes are bred for small containers.
The 'Tiny Tim' bush tomato grows about 30 centimetres, and the miniscule 'Micro Tom' grows about 20cm tall, and may produce fruit in a 4" pot.
In a garden bed, tomatoes are a gamble that can pay off big under a plastic hoop house - or uncovered, in an unusually dry, hot summer. In a wet summer, an uncovered crop will be lost to blight.
But blight-resistant tomatoes are becoming easier to find. 'Defiant' is large-fruited, 'Mountain Magic' is a large cherry type, and both produced many tomatoes for me in the long, hot summer last year. I don't yet know how they would do in a cold, wet summer.
'Legend' has also produced well for me.
Try to avoid planting tomatoes anywhere potatoes have been grown in the past few years, or use mulch to keep from splashing up blight spores while watering. If your mulch is plastic, you'll need to run a soaker hose underneath it.
Bush tomatoes (determinate types) seldom need to be pruned, because they produce short branches with the fruit truss only at the tip.
But indeterminate (vine) tomatoes grow into huge bushes unless you prune out most of the suckers that sprout from leaf axils. The first three or four suckers can be kept, because they may have time to produce fruit. The later ones won't.
Anne Marrison is happy to answer garden questions. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
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