Tomato season! Get those toms growing now!

A friend told me this morning that he had a couple of tomato plants that successfully survived our mild California winter. They were full of flowers, but no fruits. “I’m concerned the flowers are not getting pollinated,” he said.

Rattling the cages

I reminded him that tomatoes self-pollinate. This means that both male and female organs are present in a single tomato flower. The stamen produces the pollen, and that pollen needs to land in the stigma if you’re going to grow a tomato fruit. But because the stamen can pollinate the stigma in the same flower (unlike other veggies, such as squashes), the distance between the two is so short that you don’t need a pollinator to move the pollen.

“Just give the plant a little shake whenever you walk by,” I told him. The wind will do most of the work for your tomato flowers, but you can help them along by rattling the cage occasionally.

The moral?

“I guess I just need to be patient,” he concluded. Good advice for any gardener.

When tomato season really starts

For me, tomato season actually starts in early February, because this is when I start my seeds.

When starting seeds indoors, I take a cue from nature. If I want half a dozen plants, I’ll start 60 seeds. I like to start them in egg cartons. Once they get their first set of true leaves, I’ll quickly transplant the most robust into 4-inch pots. This usually winnows the count down to a third of the original plants, or about 20.

After a month or so, I’ll again take the best 6–10 and transplant them into half-gallon pots. I usually give away the remainders.

Once the plants in the half-gallon pots reach seven or eight inches , I put them into their final beds or pots. By this time, we’re somewhere near the end of April or early May. If the garden gods smile, and weather behaves, I’ll start picking tomatoes sometime in mid- or late-June. I’ll keep on picking right into September. Or if I have tomatoes like my friend’s, I might just pick them all winter long!


– Su Falcon, Editor in Chief
The Dirt on Organic Gardening Magazine