Top 15 Questions About Growing Peppers Answered…

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Answers to your pepper questions from the experts at the National Garden Bureau.

With so many different varieties, shapes, sizes, colors, and degrees of hotness, you can imagine why peppers (Capsicum annum) are a very popular and desired vegetable to add to any Victory Garden 2.0.

Did you know the pepper is a nutritional powerhouse? 

A serving of the most popular type—the sweet bell—contains more vitamin C than the average orange, a generous amount of vitamin E and many antioxidants … all that with only 29 calories! Peppers have high nutrient levels at any stage, but are the most beneficial when eaten fully ripe. The few colors of bell peppers in the average supermarket are only the beginning—blocky shaped bell peppers can ripen to many colors; ivory, pink, purple, red, yellow, orange, and chocolate.

Peppers come in a wide range of colors shapes and colors.

Sweet peppers come in many shapes as well; the elongated banana, the blocky bell, the oblong or “half-long” bells, flat “cheese” shapes and smooth cherry types. And then there are all those hot peppers!

15 Questions About Growing Peppers

1.   Should I sow peppers indoors or directly in the garden?

Start peppers indoors. Photo: AgroSuede Backyard Gardening

Peppers are warm weather crops and slow to mature. In all but the mildest climates with long summers, you’ll need to start peppers indoors about indoors 8–10 weeks before the last frost date. You can also purchase plants from a garden center.

2. I started bell pepper seeds indoors and they looked great, then hardened them off. Still great, just zero growth in 3 weeks. Is that normal? 

Peppers thrive in warm weather and really struggle under cool, wet conditions. If the soil temperatures are too cool and/or too wet when you plant them out, peppers grow very slowly. The shock of being exposed can slow them down for weeks. However, when the weather warms up, the pepper will eventually start grow more quickly. 

Next year, don’t plant them out until nights regularly reach 55˚F (13˚C). That way, you’ll obtain an earlier and larger crop.

3. My peppers were nipped by frost, I cut the damaged leaves off and they are showing new growth. Will they be stunted?

Seedling touched by frost. Photo: Tom Creswell, Purdue Plant & Pest Diagnostic Lab

The amount of re-growth will depend on the severity at which they were damaged. If only slight damage, then they will recover. If more severely injured, remove and start with fresh plants as it is most likely still early in the season. Plants that are damaged and experiencing slowed growth are more susceptible to plant diseases.

4. I think I started my pepper plants too early: they’re big and starting to bloom, yet it’s still too cool to plant them out. Should I chance it and plant them? Should I remove the blossoms?

Do not plant them out too early: that will just slow down your harvest. However, it would be best pinch off any blossoms produced indoors. Also, if your plants are too tall and lanky, pinch back the terminal bud on top and let it grow out from the side nodes. And next year, remember that no good comes from starting your plants too early indoors: sowing them 8–10 weeks before planting out time is just fine.

5. How do I plant my pepper plant in the garden?

Plant out peppers when the soil and air have warmed up. Photo: harvesttotable.com

Bury them a bit deeper than the root ball to encourage additional root growth that will make them sturdier.

6. Can I plant the seeds from a store-bought Bell Pepper?

Yes, but the crop will be a surprise. If your pepper was open-pollinated, the seeds will give peppers identical to the one you bought. If it was a hybrid, they will look and taste different. Also, supermarket peppers are often slow maturing varieties and may not have time to mature in all climates (some require up to 150 days of warm to hot temperatures after planting out to produce harvestable fruit). Garden varieties sold in your local area or sold by seed companies dealing with temperate climate gardeners are likely to be fast-maturing ones (60 to 90 days).

7. Do I need pollinators like bees to fertilize my pepper flowers?

Peppers will self-pollinate, so bees are not necessary. Photo: http://www.garden.eco

Peppers have perfect flowers, meaning each flower has both male and female parts. Also, the plants self-pollinate under most conditions. Bees and other pollinators are not absolutely necessary for fertilization and fruit production. 

8. My pepper plants do not produce a lot of peppers and the ones I get are small. What am I doing wrong?

Remember peppers, in general, like a lot of sun and heat. Don’t plant out too early. Make sure they are getting at least 8 hours of sun per day. A generous use of garden fertilizer is helpful to the plant’s health and can help keep the plant producing all season. Also, peppers can handle a little stress, so let them dry out just a bit before watering again. Never overwater.

Of course, genetics are also involved: some peppers are naturally small; others quite large. The smaller the fruits, the more peppers per plant. You can expect 8–12 large bell peppers on a healthy plant if your growing season is long enough, about 25–30 smaller peppers and about 50–75 of the tiniest “bird’s eye” peppers. Newer varieties, like AAS Winners, are bred for productivity, taste and disease resistance, so you can count on more fruits per plant.

9. I was thinking about growing peppers in a flower box this year, but they’re not very deep. Would I do better to choose a deeper pot?

Deep containers give best results. Photo: http://www.starkinsider.com

Definitely! Deeper pots are always preferable. Peppers do grow fairly deep roots, down to 18″—24″ (45–60 cm) where soil conditions permit it. Pepper plants grown in shallow containers often remain a bit stunted, but at least usually mature earlier. Ideally, each plant should have a 2-gallon (7.5 L) or larger container, deeper than it is wide. The baby plant will look a little lonely at first but will grow to fill the container quickly.

A benefit of container growing is that the plant can be introduced to cool nights or hot days gradually to avoid shock. In the spring, bring plants indoors when nighttime temps are below 55˚F (13˚C). And in hot weather, move the plants temporarily to a cooler spot, even if that means shade. Introduce the plants to heat (days over 85˚F/30˚C) a few hours at a time until they are acclimatized to their final location. Fruit set will be low at such temperatures (and nil when day temperatures soar to over 90˚F/35˚C), but at least fruits already forming will continue to mature.

Once plants are established, water every few days (or when soil is dry and pulling away from the side of the pot). Fully soak the soil and avoid spraying water on the leaves. Follow the instructions on the fertilizer package or add mature compost as flowers are setting. Taper off on fertilizer, especially nitrogen, after plants flower. Nitrogen encourages the plant to put its energy into the leaves and not setting fruit.

You can plant peppers with other vegetables. Photo: http://www.growveg.com

10. Can you plant peppers in a garden with other vegetables?

Yes, you can mix them with other plants as you see fit. The belief that pepper plants should not be planted near beans, Brassicas or fennel, a tenet of companion planting, has been thoroughly debunked. True enough, peppers are slightly allelopathic, that is, they produce compounds to prevent other plants from taking over their garden space, but these are not at a level where they impact other vegetables in the garden as long as normal spacing is applied. 

11. Do I have to worry about pests and diseases on peppers?

Pepper plants are fairly tough plants and not as attractive to insects as other vegetables in the garden. Diseases too are fairly rare. To avoid those spread by watering, it’s best to keep the leaves as dry as possible by using a soaker hose or drip irrigation or giving the plants time to dry in the sun if they are watered from overhead.

12. My pepper leaves look a bit pale. Why is that?

Pale leaves can indicate that the plants need fertilizer. Big, healthy plants that fail to bloom can indicate over-fertilization. Space plants as instructed on the plant tag or seed packet. Plants that are planted too close together will lack air circulation. Proper air circulation improves pollen release, needed for good fruit set. Crowded plants are disease-prone and do not set as well as those that have been properly spaced.

13. When should I harvest my peppers?

You can harvest peppers green or mater. Photo: http://www.almanac.com

Sweet peppers can be harvested at any stage of maturity. Less mature green peppers will generally be green or pale yellow, smaller, crunchy, and have thin walls and a slightly tart flavor. A benefit of harvesting early is that it triggers the plants to produce more fruit. Mature peppers will, at full maturity, change color, have thicker walls and a mild sweet flavor.

Hot peppers too can be harvested and used in both mature and immature phases. 

No matter the stage of harvest, cut the peppers from the plant with clean pruners or kitchen shears to avoid damaging the plant.

14. Is it possible to grow green bell peppers in cool summer areas? Or do peppers need a warmer climate? Sun or shade? Do they need a trellis for support? 

Bell peppers can be grown in many areas where summers are fairly cool. Plant peppers in full sun as they need at least 8 hours of sunlight per day. Some peppers may require light staking as the fruit matures. 

In areas where summer temperatures remain below 55˚F (13˚C) at night in summer, it’s best to grow peppers inside a greenhouse, opening it during the day if the weather is warm, but closing it at night.

15. If I plant bell peppers beside hot peppers, will the sweet pepper produce hot fruit? 

Bell peppers won’t turn hot if planted near chili peppers. Photo: http://www.chowhound.com

No. Pepper flowers are self-pollinated and rarely cross-pollinate naturally. However, the result of a crossing will appear only if seed is saved from this year’s crop and planted next year. It will not result in off flavor or differences in fruit characteristics of this year’s crop.


For the best tasting, most nutritious peppers, grow your own and eat them fresh from your own Victory Garden 2.0.

Unless otherwise mentioned, photos and illustrations
are from the National Garden Bureau.

Can You Grow Vegetables in Shade?

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Photo: http://www.pennlive.com

Question: I have a beautiful garden with only four and a half hours of sunshine a day and that’s calculated by totaling up pretty much every single ray that hits it. What vegetables can I grow there effectively?

Allie122

Answer: I won’t beat around the bush. Deep shade is simply not conducive to vegetable gardening. No regular vegetable will grow well in the shade, but you’re lucky. Your garden sounds more to me like it’s in partial shade rather than full shade and that gives you a chance.

What little sunshine you have is probably still enough to grow most leafy greens. Many of them, like spinach and lettuce don’t actually like the intense heat of full summer sun and will do best, at that season at least, with at least a little cooling shade. 

However, don’t expect to grow prize vegetables. Under partial shade, leafy vegetables will grow more slowly than normal and may not reach their full size. And vegetables that normally form a dense head, like Iceberg lettuce, endive and head cabbage will likely instead produce loose leaves you’ll be able to harvest one by one. But then, aren’t baby leaves just as tasty as full-size ones?

When onions grow in partial shade, you’ll mostly be harvesting the leaves as green onions. Photo: http://www.town-farming.com

You can also grow root vegetables in partial shade. Again, they’ll grow more slowly and may never reach their full size, but will still be delicious. In the case of garlic and onions, you’ll be able to produce edible leaves (as in green onions), but not really a bulb worth harvesting.

Most fruiting vegetables, on the other hand, require a lot of sunshine to produce a worthwhile crop and I wouldn’t waste space on them if I were you. However, there are exceptions. Peas don’t do so badly in partial shade and, while strawberries aren’t vegetables per se, they are usually grown in vegetable gardens and produce reasonably well in partial shade.

Vegetables That Tolerate Partial Shade

While you can’t exactly call them shade-loving, the following vegetables are tolerant of partial shade. The plants marked with an asterisk (*) are the most shade tolerant of all and can be grown successfully in surprisingly deep shade.

  1. Arugula
  2. Asparagus
  3. Beet (beetroot)
  4. Bok choy
  5. Broccoli
  6. Cabbage
  7. Carrot
  8. Cauliflower
  9. Celery
  10. Chicory
  11. Chinese cabbage
  12. Endive
  13. Garlic (for its leaves only)
  14. Green onion
  15. Kale (kale)
  16. Kohlrabi
  17. Leek
  18. Lettuce
  19. Mache (corn salad)
  20. Mesclun
  21. Mizuna
  22. Mustard
  23. New Zealand spinach
  24. Ostrich fern*
  25. Parsnip
  26. Pea
  27. Potato
  28. Radish
  29. Rhubarb
  30. Rutabaga
  31. Salsify
  32. Sorrel
  33. Spinach
  34. Strawberry
  35. Swiss chard
  36. Turnip
  37. Watercress*

What’s Eating My Barberries?

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Barberry geometer caterpillars feasting on barberry leaves. Photo: ask.extension.org

Question: Help! My barberries are being eaten by little caterpillars. I’m sure there must be a thousand of them and they’re chewing all the leaves. What should I do? 

LilyLady12

Answer: They’re under attack from the barberry geometer caterpillar or barberry looper (Coryphista meadii), found throughout the United States and southern Canada. It’s a small black caterpillar with a white lateral stripe dotted with orange and an orange head. It’s one of the “inchworms” and moves with a characteristic looping movement. It has a voracious appetite for barberry (Berberis spp.) and mahonia (Mahonia spp.) leaves and dozens are found on each shrub (though definitely not thousands), often defoliating the plant entirely. 

The adult is a rather nondescript brown moth that is active from April to October. There can be several generations per year, although usually only one in the northern part of its range.

BTK insecticide. Photo: Woodstream Brands

Typically, barberry geometer caterpillar attacks suddenly, strips the shrub of most of its leaves within days, then disappears never to be seen again. The plant then puts out new leaves and recovers fully. Given the rapidity with which it strikes, its quick disappearance and its sporadic nature, you may not need to treat it. 

If you want to, try knocking the little guys into a bucket of soapy water or spraying them with BT (Bacillus thuringiensis kurstakii), an organic insecticide sometimes sold as “caterpillar killer.” (That has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?) This product is only effective against caterpillars, so won’t harm other insects, including bees. 

Root Depth for Vegetables

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Ill.: Park Seed

I receive a lot of email from readers putting in raised bed gardens, but who seem doubtful that you really need to fill the whole thing from the base to the summit with top-quality soil. They don’t seem to realize just how deep vegetable roots can go. I have beds 2 feet (60 cm) high filled with the best soil I could buy locally and I find that scarcely enough, at least, not when you want productive vegetables rather than a wimpy crop.

In a raised bed, you want rich, well-draining soil from bottom to top. Photo: The Gardening Channel With James Prigioni

Some people even want to put a layer of gravel in the bottom. Gravel! Can you believe that? Or fill it with so-called “black earth” (actually black peat): inexpensive, for sure, but just about the worst soil amendment on the market. Yikes!

I think it might help to see just how deep some vegetable roots grow, as the chart below shows. Maybe you can skimp when it comes to herbs (most are shallow-rooted and not particularly needy of rich soil), but when it comes to vegetable gardening, you always want the best soil you can get and as deep as possible.

Soil Depth Requirements for Common Garden Vegetables

Shallow Rooting
12″–18″ (30–45 cm)
Medium Rooting
18″–24″ (45–60 cm)
Deep Rooting
24″–36″+ (60–90 cm+)
ArugulaBean, dry Artichoke
Basil Bean, fava Asparagus
Bok Choy Bean, pole Bean, lima
Broccoli Bean, snap Comfrey
Brussels sprouts Beet Horseradish
Cabbage CarrotOkra
Cauliflower ChardParsnip
Celery CucumberPumpkin
Chinese cabbage Eggplant (aubergine)Rhubarb
ChivesKaleSquash, winter
Cilantro (coriander) MelonSweet potato
Collards PeaTomato
Corn Pepper Watermelon
Endive Rosemary
Fennel Rutabaga
Garlic Squash, summer
Jerusalem artichoke Turnip 
Kohlrabi  
Leek   
Lettuce   
Mache   
Mint   
Onion   
Oregano   
Parsley  
Potato   
Sage  
Savory   
Spinach   
Strawberry   
Tarragon   
Thyme  

You still want to fill your raised bed with third-quality soil? Or black earth? Or gravel? Go ahead, but don’t say I didn’t warn you!

New Stamps Feature American Gardens

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If you’re a stamp collector who also gardens, you might want to take notice that the U.S. Postal Service has just issued a series stamps featuring the natural beauty of American gardens. The series of 10 stamps is called American Gardens Forever and features gardens ranging from botanical gardens to country estates and municipal gardens. All the gardens featured are normally open to the public throughout the year, although this year, several are presently closed to the public because of the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak.

The stamps were launched on May 13, 2020.

The featured gardens are: Brooklyn Botanic Garden (Brooklyn, N.Y.), Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens (Akron, Ohio), Dumbarton Oaks Garden (Washington, D.C.), Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens (Boothbay, Maine), Chicago Botanic Garden (Glencoe, Ill.), Winterthur Garden (Winterthur, Del.), Biltmore Estate Gardens (Asheville, N.C.), Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park (Tallahassee, Fla.), the Huntington Botanical Gardens (San Marino, Calif.), and Norfolk Botanical Garden (Norfolk, Va.).

Life List

I’ve been able to visit seven of the featured gardens and was originally planning to visit Norfolk Botanical Garden in April, but the trip was canceled because of—you guessed it!—the coronavirus outbreak. I’ll certainly go next year. 

How many have you visited?

Purchase

You can purchase stamps through The Postal Store at usps.com/shopstamps, by calling 800-782-6724, by mail through USA Philatelic or at Post Office locations across the USA.

Definitely stamps you’ll want to add to your collection!

A Window Well Raised Bed

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Raised beds made of window wells. Photo: Deborah McColley, pinterest.com

If you’re looking for a quick-to-install yet long-lasting raised bed, how about fixing two galvanized window wells together with a few nuts and bolts and filling them with soil? You’ll find there is a wide variety of lengths, widths and heights of window well and also various shapes, so you could have a rectangular bed with rounded corners if you used standard window wells or an oval bed if you used semicircular wells. 

Reader Carl Curadeau of Orford, Quebec, has 42 window-well beds He adds more every year. Photo: Carl Curadeau

Galvanized steel is covered with zinc to make it weather resistant and zinc, a natural element, doesn’t leach into surrounding soil to any degree, its use is accepted in organic gardening. That means you can grow vegetables in your window well bed without worrying about contamination. A galvanized steel bed will last for decades (the usual guarantee is 30 years, but many window wells are still functional 80 or 90 years after their installation). It will, though, eventually lose its original shiny appearance and take on a dull gray color, but won’t rust to any great degree, other than possibly the nuts and bolts.

A window well garden 12 inches (30 cm) high would be enough for most annuals and small vegetables, although 22 inches (56 cm), a standard size and therefore easy to find, would be better for root vegetables like carrots and parsnips as well as large vegetables, perennials and shrubs. Raised beds with even taller sides will require more soil, but they are easier on your back because you don’t have to bend down to reach the plants. Many people find 3 feet (90 cm), about waist height, to be very practical.

Fill ’Er Up!

Just assemble and fill with good gardening soil. Photo: Debi Fuell, pinterest.com

If you’ll be growing vegetables, you’ll want the best, richest soil you can get, at least for the top 12 inches (30 cm). Below, you could always fill in with cheaper grade of topsoil. Other plantings (flowers, shrubs, etc.) would be fine with ordinary topsoil at all levels.

Don’t make the mistake of filling in with gravel or other so-called “drainage materials”: they simply lead to stressful growing conditions for the plants you cultivate and why would you want that? For long-term gardening, and certainly if you might ever want to grow plants with deep roots, you’ll want soil from top to bottom.

Prepared Garden Beds

Galvanised raised beds especially designed for gardening. Photo: birdiesgardenproducts.com.au

Manufacturers of window wells have seen the interest in this kind of product and some now offer raised beds specifically developed for gardening, notably wider beds in a convenient array of sizes. For example, Conquest Steel in Canada offers a whole range of models.

Tree surround. Photo: http://www.gardeners.com

Or you may see another galvanized steel product called a tree surround (designed as edging for trees to keep lawn grasses out) that would also make a great garden bed.

Check out the prices and see. Maybe a galvanized steel raised bed is exactly what you’re looking for!

Top 15 Questions About Growing Tomatoes Answered…

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Answers to your tomato questions from the experts at the National Garden Bureau.

1. What’s the difference between indeterminate and determinate tomatoes?

Ill.: organicsoiltechnoloogy.com

Basically, an indeterminate tomato will continue to grow vegetatively (leaves and stems) all season long, and they will also flower and produce fruit all season long. Indeterminate tomatoes typically perform best when grown in the ground rather than a container, and can get quite large/tall. Determinate tomatoes, on the other hand, will grow vegetatively to a certain point and then produce a flush of flowers, which then form fruits. Most determinate tomatoes tend to have a bush habit and can grow well in a container or in the ground. They also tend to produce a large amount of fruit over a relatively short period (approximately 3–5 weeks depending on variety and growing conditions).

There is a third type called semi-determinate which is bushy, like a determinate, but will set and ripen fruit over a longer period of time. The 2020 AAS Award Winner ‘Celano’ is a semi-determinate. The best way to grow determinate or semi-determinate plants is to place a cage around the tomato while still small and not prune. Indeterminate tomatoes will need a larger cage.

2. Can your tomatoes survive if you planted them too early in the season?

Cloches can help tomatoes survive early planting. Photo: snarkyvegan.wordpress.com

They might survive if you keep the young plants warm with a cloche or other protective cover. Tomatoes are not frost hardy and will die if exposed to 32 ˚F (0˚C) without protection. It depends on what sort of temps you are experiencing. Tomatoes can tolerate temperatures down to near freezing, but their growth can be seriously hampered and fruiting delayed if they even suffer temperatures below 50˚C (10˚C), especially if the cold lasts more than a few hours.

3. If I have started my tomatoes from seed indoors, do I need to gradually prepare them for outdoor temperatures?

It is important to harden off any tender plants before placing them in the garden by exposing them gradually to the harsh outdoor conditions. Put young plants outside where they will receive morning sun but be protected from wind, and move them inside at night. Continue this for about a week, and then begin to leave them outside on nights when the temperature does not drop below 55˚C (13˚C). After a week or two, the plants should be ready to transplant.

4. How do I plant my tomatoes properly?

For stronger plants, bury the lower stems of tomatoes at planting time. Ill.: Claire Tourigny, from the book Les 1500 trucs du jardinier paresseux

Remove the lower leaves from the stem and bury the stem about two-thirds deep. The portion of the stem that is buried will form roots, which will allow more water and nutrient uptake, making the plant stronger and sturdier. Tomatoes are one of the easiest garden plants to grow. They need as much direct sunlight as possible to produce the highest yield. Native to the tropics, tomatoes require warm temperatures for good growth, so wait until the nighttime air has warmed to about 55˚F (13˚C) before transplanting them. Planting tomatoes too soon will only slow them down.

5. How often should I water my tomato plants?

Continue watering regularly for about two weeks until the plants are established. Throughout the growing season remember to water the plants deeply during dry periods for as long as they are setting fruit. Established tomato plants need at least 1 inch (2.5 cm) of precipitation per week.

6. Which growing method gives the largest tomato harvest?

A large, sturdy cage is needed for indeterminate tomatoes. Photo: http://www.mymydiy.com

Growing tomatoes in a tomato cage has been shown over and over again to produce the largest crop of tomatoes with the least amount of effort. With caging, no pruning is required (the so-called suckers some gardeners remove are actually fruiting stems!) and, since pruning spreads diseases, plants are generally healthier. The technique is simple enough: just set the cage solidly over the plant at transplanting time. There is more information on caging tomatoes at How to Cage Your Tomatoes.

7. I’d prefer not to cage my tomatoes, is there another way to support my plant?

The Florida weave method of staking tomatoes. Photo: thegreenthumb20.wordpress.com

There are lots of different ways to support your tomato. The first thing to check is whether the variety is determinate (more bush-type) or indeterminate (more of a vining, larger plant). If you get a thick stake and put it in the ground near the base of the tomato stem, you could tie up the plant along the stake as it continues to grow. Using fencing to support the plant is another option, but there are also lots of attractive supports available from retailers. Another option is called the Florida Weave and works well if you are growing a number of tomato plants in a row.

8. Is there any way to prevent blossom end rot on the first tomatoes that produce? Is there one variety over another that is better preventing that?

Blossom end rot. Photo: http://www.smallfootprintfamily.com

Blossom end rot on tomatoes typically occurs when there is uneven watering, which can often be out of our control depending on the amount of precipitation. The recommendation is to evenly water as well as you can. Roma tomatoes tend to show the most amount of blossom end rot and cherry tomatoes tend to show the least amount.

9. Should I fertilize during the growing season or just at the beginning?

Tomatoes need phosphorus, nitrogen, potash and minor elements. Starting your plants off with an ample shovelful or two of compost will go a long way toward making sure the soil will provide for their needs. It will also aid the soil in holding on to moisture, which will prevent problems such as blossom-end rot. Many gardeners also add a synthetic or organic fertilizer. Some types, such as water-soluble granules or fish emulsion, can be applied when watering. There are also granular forms that can be mixed with the soil before planting or used as a side dressing, and time-release fertilizers, which can be added to the soil at planting time.

No matter what kind of fertilizer you use always follow the directions on the label. Do not over-fertilize because this will cause lush plants with little fruit set. 

10. What causes catfacing on my tomatoes?

Catfacing is less serious than blossom end rot. Just cut away the damaged parts. Photo: http://www.gardeninginla.net

Catfacing, caused by incomplete pollination in cold weather, is a malformation of the fruit, usually on the blossom end, and is more common in larger tomatoes such as beefsteaks. To prevent this disorder, choose from among the many varieties that are resistant.

11. How do I grow a tomato plant in a container?

For best results, select a tomato variety with a compact or determinate habit—compact cherry tomatoes are particularly good for container culture. The container needs to be deep, at least a foot (30 cm), with drainage holes on the bottom. Use a sterile growing mix, keep the plants evenly watered, and place them so that they receive as much direct sunlight as possible. Feed plants regularly with a water-soluble fertilizer, keeping in mind that nutrients will leach out of the pots faster than garden soil. During periods of hot weather, full-grown plants may need to be watered daily.

12. How do I know when to harvest my tomatoes?

For best taste, harvest tomatoes at peak maturity. Photo: ravallirepublic.com

For the best tomato flavor, allow the fruit to fully ripen on the plant. Wait until it is deep red, yellow, or whatever final color the tomato is to be, because once it is removed from the vine, the supply of sugars is cut off. To harvest, gently twist the fruit so that the stem separates from the vine. Tomatoes are best kept at room temperature and will store on a kitchen counter for several days. At the end of the season, when frost is predicted, green tomatoes can be harvested and placed on a windowsill or counter. Most will gradually turn red and have some degree of tomato flavor. Placing unripe tomatoes in a paper bag will hasten the ripening process.

13. What is the best tomato to plant for home canning?

The best canning tomato is a determinate Roma type. Determinate tomatoes produce a large amount of ripe fruit in a relatively short window of time, so you would have more tomatoes to can at one time. Romas also have a less watery texture, preferable in canning.

14. What’s the best tomato for salsa?

Roma tomato. Photo: specialtyproduce.com

While any tomato will work well in salsa, again Roma types are preferable, because they are less juicy and more “meaty,” which can mean that the salsa will not be as watery. If you want to make large batches of salsa, choose a determinate variety, because you will get a larger concentration of ripe fruit at one time. 

15. What are the benefits of growing tomatoes?

Tomatoes provide abundant vitamins and minerals. One cup of cherry tomatoes will provide 25% of daily recommended Vitamin A, 32% of Vitamin C, and a substantial amount of Vitamin K and potassium. Tomatoes are also an excellent source of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that has been linked to a reduced risk of cancers. 


For the best tasting, most nutritious tomatoes, grow your own and eat them fresh from your own Victory Garden 2.0.