The Q&A Archives: Tomato plants produce few fruits

Question: I've been growing Early Girl tomatoes in a partly sunny spot. They produce well, but few fruits ripen before the first frost. What can I do to speed up the ripening process? Henry Tanzer Plymouth, VT

Answer: Even though Early Girl is an early variety, other varieties such as Stupice and Kotlas grow and set fruit better in the colder weather you get in Vermont, says Rob Johnston, owner of Johnny's Selected Seeds, who grows more than 300 varieties of tomatoes in Albion, Maine. Tomatoes are one of the most demanding vegetables in terms of sun. If they don't get enough, they won't produce many fruits. You'll need to grow your tomatoes in the sunniest spot in your garden. Extend the growing season and try cold-tolerant, early-maturing varieties, says Johnston. Extend the season by putting plants out two to three weeks earlier and protecting them with floating row covers. If you can lengthen your growing season in spring, you'll have better success getting ripe tomatoes before frost, says Johnston. Leave covers on until the plants outgrow them. To help the ripening process in late summer, cover the tomato plants during cool periods. Cold temperatures (below 70 F) slow the ripening process and temperatures below 50 F can cause injury to ripening fruits. You may also want to remove some of the top foliage of your plant to allow sunshine to warm the fruits. Sunscald injury shouldn't be a problem at that time of year in Vermont.

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