Tomato flowers against brown fence

Growing Tomatoes Part 3

I have heard of gardeners who manage to harvest their first ripe tomato by the Fourth of July. All I can say is these folks must have optimal conditions and superb techniques to achieve this feat. Either that or they’re lying.

I’m happy if any of my plants have visible tomatoes by the beginning of July.

Tomato plants half grown in June

My plants spend most of June just growing to the maximum size their pots allow. I encourage this by making sure they never dry out. I also remove any unwanted side-shoots that appear in the leaf axils. This gets tricky once the plants are a foot or two in height, because the stems inevitably bend a bit. A couple of mine managed to do some sneaky branching.

At some point the plants start blooming.

Tomato flowers close-up

No one grows tomatoes for their flowers, but viewed closely, they are bright and cheery. Their purpose is to turn into tomatoes, however, so I hope they are visited by pollinators. The wait is agonizingly slow, especially if the weather is cool (not a problem this summer!) I’ve even been known to fluff around with a little paintbrush to help things along.

Tomato plants with flowers and small green fruits in July
Small green tomatoes on plants in July

This plant’s flowers have obviously been visited by bees or other insects. Those golf-ball sized tomatoes will expand over the next couple of months and eventually turn into luscious red globes (and salsa!)

Not yet, but eventually!

The only jobs for the gardener now are to keep watering, remove side shoots, and maybe apply some sort of fertilizer. Not a high nitrogen type, however; no need to encourage more leaf growth. I’ve heard that when it rains, it’s a good idea to cover the plants with a tarp or something of the sort to prevent blight. We haven’t had a drop of rain in nearly a month, and none in sight, so I guess I don’t have to worry about blight, either early or late.

Other posts in this series:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 4


      1. They love that prairie sun. Sometimes I had to bring them in not quite ripe because of an early frost but they ripened well in newspaper and we had fresh tomatoes in the winter.

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  1. My daddy was an expert at growing tomatoes. I sure miss him. We planted his garden without him this year. Rachel and I cried, but we got it done. It is beautiful. We are carrying on.

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  2. The family Solanaceae — nightshade — is fascinating. So many plants that we enjoy belonging to that group. I knew the tomato, potato and chili were all nightshades, but eggplant, petunias and tobacco?
    I think, of all the food cultures that are disingenuous, the Italians are at the top. Without tomatoes & maize & potatoes from the Americas, pasta and chickens from Asia, all they’d have is onions, garlic, sardines and olives.
    Imagine limiting all locations to the native, prior to humanity, foods they had available. That would be an eye opener. Who would fare the worst/best, do you think?

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  3. I know so little about growing things so I always appreciate the education. I agree. The flowers are pretty. And yes, homegrown tomatoes are wonderful. I’ll be right there…

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  4. I wonder if your more northern latitude and comparative lack of humidity might make a difference from people in the southeast United States that have an earlier growing season and a ton of humidity..

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    1. I think our cool spring weather, which sometimes lasts through June (not this year, though!) is the thing. I was lugging the tomato plants inside until late May, when the nighttime temps were reliably around 50F. I remember a few years that were chilly until the middle of July! Not any more, though.

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  5. We won’t be able to plant out tomatoes until October, but until then I have spinach and parsley in abundance, plus the snow peas have just poked tiny heads out of the soil. Home grown food is a delight to all the senses. 🙂

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  6. I do appreciate the beauty and stalwartness of weeds. I read a poem (I wish I remembered it’s name) written from God’s perspective, that he planted beautiful flowering plants that nourished the soil and protected it and man simply pulled them up and threw them away (that of course is what we call weeds).

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    1. Yes, those 3 red tomatoes got eaten a long time ago because they’re from a previous year. Photo probably taken in September. This year’s tomatoes are still little green dudes, but there are a lot of them, so I’m hoping I’ll have some nice red ones in a month or so. BLTs are great, but sadly I don’t bake bread. Tomatoes make great salsa, and sauce for pasta too.


  7. This was such a neat little series, Audrey. Lots of detailed and clear information on growing tomatoes. I’ve been gardening since 1971 ( except for the one year my husband lived in an apartment complex in NY). Lots of failures but thanks for the successes that keep me going. You might like this blog about gardening on:
    Look for the title: spring(TIME!)
    I’m following you!!

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