Few things evoke summertime like red ripe tomatoes, fresh from the garden. Most experienced gardeners in the Willamette Valley have already planted their crops, but for those of you a little behind the curve, there are a few tips and tricks that we wanted to pass along to you to help get the most out of your garden this summer. We asked our resident garden experts here at Lane Forest Products to give us a few tips and tricks including different ways to increase your yield and have the healthiest plants all season long.

Here are a few tips that they agree are tried and true:

Bury Eggshells/Bone Meal/Milk Powder

This is a long time tip that people have been using for many years to help their tomato plants grow. All you do is crush egg shells and add them to the hold before planting their tomatoes! Our MikeZentzTomato3experts have both verified that they use these on a regular basis to help with their plants. Calcium can help prevent end rot with regular watering. Other ways to add calcium to your soil include bone meal and even milk powder. We have also found that crushed egg shells placed around your plants will help with pests, especially slugs that are all too common in the Pacific Northwest. Start saving those egg shells!

Add Red Mulch Below Your Plants

While our experts don’t have any personal experience regarding this tip, one of them has worked in a garden center for 15+ years and has sold a lot of red plastic and mulch for this very reason. Why does this work? The theory is that the mulch or ground covering reflect red wavelength rays back into the plants leaves and can increase yield by up to 20%! Yes, we know, that’s a whole lot! This can also be attributed to faster ripening and sweeter fruit. The technique is mostly notable known to work with peppers, strawberries and melons.

Bury Compost Below Your Plants

Burying compost below your plants makes for a fantastic growing experience. You can do this in a couple of different ways. If you have items like egg shells, coffee grounds, plant trimmings and/or produce scraps available to you, bury those 3-4 weeks before planting your tomatoes. . Once you are ready to plant your tomatoes, just be sure to plant them a little shallower than you dug in the compost materials. Alternatively, you can try burying some of our blended mint, veggie boost, or barnyard compost below your tomato plants.

Remove Lower Leaves & Plant DeeperMikeZentzTomato1

Our experts said that removing lower leaves is up to the gardener. Some will pick them; others will only remove if they turn yellow. You can plant your starters so that the lower stems are covered which will help with growing more roots. Leggy stems produce a large number of roots helping for a healthy and sturdy plant. It’s up to you either way, but we’ve heard our customers boasting of great results after removing their lower leaves.

Remove Suckers

This can be left up to each individual. Suckers are where the fruit is grown, so by removing them, you may have a lower yield for each plant. That being said, the fruit you will harvest should be larger. Some people will only remove suckers if they become damaged or unruly. Think about what you are going for in your plants: do you want a high yield, or competitively large sizes? In regions with shorter growing seasons, a good compromise is to leave the older, more established suckers towards the bottom of the plant and remove the newer ones towards the top.

Dig & Plant Deep

The deeper you plant your starters, the more roots will develop and your plants will grow better and be sturdier. The stronger your plants will become! All of our experts were in emphatic agreement that this is one of the best ways to have healthy strong plants. Trench planting is also a widely proven planting method. With trench planting, simply dig a longer, shallower trench than you would dig for a standard hole. Place your starter lying down in the trench, and bend the tip up towards the sky. Fill in the trench so that only the tip of the plant is above ground. This is MikeZentzTomato5especially useful in planter beds that are not as deep.

Fish Fertilizer

In the Pacific Northwest, we have an abundance of fish and fish byproducts. Why not put the “leftovers” to good use? Fish as a fertilizer is a great way to add nitrogen, calcium and other trace nutrients to the soil. One of our staff mentioned how her grandfather would store fish heads in the freezer and, when it time came to planting time, he would pop a head in with the seedling. Gross, but effective. “His tomatoes were always the biggest and his corn always the sweetest…but that could just be the nostalgia talking!” A word to the wise however, another of or experts here did this once and unfortunately her golden retriever dog discovered the additions, and dug them up and ate them, resulting in a life threatening poisoning for her. For people with pets, you might want to consider fish meal as an option.

Last Word on Blossom End Rot

Since Blossom End Rot tends to be an issue in the Willamette Valley, it is important to make sure that tomatoes get the calcium they need. Fluctuations in the plant’s water supply can contribute to the problem. Tomatoes need a consistent watering schedule to insure that they never dry out or get over-watered. Sometimes in Oregon this is unavoidable given our heavy rainfall. Some tomato varieties are more sensitive to Blossom End Rot than others. Check with your local garden center or seed company to help you find a variety that best suits your situation.

Do you have any gardening tips we forgot to mention? Leave your ideas in the comment sections below!