The Q&A Archives: Tomato Production

Question: With fall approaching, how do I maximize tomato production? Here in the Northwest tomatoes ripen later than in other parts of the country. Should I start clipping blossoms in a couple weeks? I've heard that "stressing" the plants by reducing watering and fertilizer can force ripening. I also heard I should strip the leaves to expose the fruit and hasten ripening. Can you advise?

Answer: I've heard lots of stories about forcing fruits to ripen, but I can't promise they will work. In cool summer seasons such as we experience in the Pacific Northwest, it's important to choose cool-season varieties, then provide the ultimate growing conditions. I use black plastic mulch to help keep the roots warm, plant in the sunniest spot available, and cover my tomato cages with clear plastic early in the season to help the plants reach maturity a few weeks earlier. It's true that if you remove late-season blossoms the plants will redirect their energy into ripening the remaining fruits. It's also true that withholding water will stress the plants into ripening fruit (since the last thing a plant does before it dies is to set seed), but the stress can also affect the quality and flavor of the fruit. I wouldn't remove the leaves to expose the fruits to more sunshine, however. You may end up with sunburned tomatoes! Warm weather, especially warm nights, will have more effect on ripening than exposing the fruits to direct sunshine. Additional fertilizer will encourage additional growth, sometimes at the expense of fruit.

For the best possible performance next year, start your tomato plants indoors, then put them out in the garden when nighttime temperatures are consistently 50F. Lay black plastic over the soil to trap and retain heat, and put your transplants in the sunniest garden spot you can find. Combining these techniques with a cool-season variety of tomatoes will produce the highest yield possible. Hope you have a terrific harvest!

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