Grower’s Library

Read our Growers Library to learn basic to advanced gardening techniques and tips!

How to Prune Tomatoes for Production

To fully understand how or if you should prune your tomatoes, you need to understand the three types of tomatoes.

Determinate tomatoes are tomatoes that are sometimes called “bush” tomatoes. They tend to be bushy, more compact and will yield tomatoes all at once. Common tomato varieties that are considered determinate are most canning tomatoes like Romas and similar paste tomatoes. The  main reason why people make sauces out of determinate tomatoes is that they tend to give all their fruit at once, making it perfect for sauce recipes. Determinate tomatoes make great tomatoes for those with little space like patio growers.

Indeterminate Tomatoes are tomatoes that are sometimes called “pole” tomatoes. That is because they grow long vine-like stems and tend to need a structure to keep them up off the ground. These tomatoes will yield over a long period of time instead of all at once. Popular varieties are yellow pear and green zebra. On our farm, we have seen these varieties get nine feet or taller with support. The benefit of growing this kind of tomato is that you have tomatoes all season long in small batches that are easy to handle. A potential negative is that they require a generous amount of staking if you want to keep them tidy. For a patio grower, we recommend determinate tomatoes because they are better suited for pots.

Semi-determinate Tomatoes are a mix of the two. They tend to be much more compact than a indeterminate variety of tomato but will yield over a long period of time.

Keep in mind for the southern California grower, all of this information is a bit strange because our mild climate can allow for tomato production year-round in many places. When we speak about setting fruit all at once, it is the difference of a plant ripening one tomato at a time or in the case of something like a San Marzano tomato, ripening handfuls of fruit all at once. Either an indeterminate or determinate tomato variety, in a mild climate, can yield for long periods of time.

Now that you know the various kinds of tomatoes, you can make better decisions on how to prune your tomatoes.

If you are growing indeterminate tomatoes, pruning is essential for maximized fruit production. An indeterminate tomato plant will grow copious amounts of foliage and very little fruit if not pruned in a way that tells them where to put their energy.  For indeterminate tomatoes, it is important to cut off the suckers. The suckers are the stems that grow between the main stock and a branch. They grow right in the crotch of these two parts and will suck energy from the tomatoes setting above it if not trimmed away.  In the photo below we show two types of pruning of the suckers. One is simple pruning which is recommended in mild areas or coastal areas that have more moisture. This pruning allows for better airflow and fewer disease pressures. In areas that get very hot, tomatoes can suffer from sun scald and because of this we recommend the Missouri pruning method. This allows for some foliage to be left to shade tomatoes.

Why do you prune off suckers? On Indeterminate plants, the suckers are growing new sets of shoots, flowers and eventually tomatoes. However, these tomatoes are going to take essential energy away from the already formed flowers and future tomatoes. By curving the plant ’s innate desire to grower more foliage, you can be sure the energy goes into forming tomatoes.

On determinate tomatoes, this practice is not as essential but still advised. The reason is that determinate tomatoes have a set number of tomatoes they are going to produce and pruning has little influence on that. However, you still want to prune to minimize the pest issues that are common with tomatoes, like whiteflies.  Increased air flow is vital for any healthy tomato plant.

How to Become Water Efficient in Your Garden

Growing a garden in Southern California can be expensive due to the high cost of water. This is appropriate given the fact that Southern California gets such little rainfall.  Even with many areas of Southern California being semi-arid, it does not mean you cannot grow a stunning and productive garden that will feed you and your family. There are a few tips we have to help you become more water efficient in your garden.

Tip #1

Install drip irrigation systems. For the small cost and time that it takes for you to install a drip irrigation system, you will benefit from huge savings on your water bill and healthier plants. Drip irrigation was invented in Israel in response for the need to irrigate precisely and efficiently. This modern-day invention has vastly improved the ability of home gardeners to do the same. Drip irrigation also will help to prevent disease issues like powdery mildew that comes from foliage being wet.  This type of irrigation also can help with garden management as you will be weeding less if the drip irrigation is getting the water right at the plant’s roots and not elsewhere. You can purchase drip irrigation supplies online or at a local nursery. If you go to a local nursery, you will most likely be able to be shown how to use the parts.

Tip # 2

Mulching is an essential farm chore for us. This is because we understand and value the water savings we get by heavily mulching our plants. We use straw to keep the surface of the soil cool in our hot summers and keep evaporation rates down. The straw also helps with weed control.  After Halloween, try your local pumpkin patches for free Straw bales. Be careful when using straw in your walkways for it can get quite slippery. You can also use mulch for your garden walkways and other plantings, like trees. Programs like Chip Drop will drop off several yards of mulch for free that you can use your garden.

Tip # 3

Add as much compost as you can to your garden beds. Compost can hold several times more water than regular soil. The particles in the compost act like little sponges and keep moisture in the soil for a long time.  

Tip # 4

When you do water your plants, it is generally a good idea to water deeply and infrequently. This rule does not apply to small transplants that can dry out quickly. However, plants planted in the ground, benefit from longer soaks that allow for the soil to become moist several inches or even a foot or more down. This allows for a longer period of moisture before drying out.

By using all these methods, you will see a significantly reduced usage of water in your garden. On our farm, our water bill is less than most people who own pools.  We are proud to be scrupulous about our water usage. Water is a precious resource in San Diego and beyond.

School Garden Tips

Are you a parent of a student who has a garden at school? Are you a teacher in a classroom that cares for a garden? If so, you may know the challenges that come along with growing a garden in a school setting.  With divided responsibilities, school breaks and hectic schedules, it can be hard to get a school garden thriving. We have worked with many school gardens in San Diego county and beyond to help establish guidelines that help teachers, students and parents create and maintain a thriving school garden. Here are our top tips.

Tip #1

The most critical advice we can give a school garden is to install drip irrigation. The reasons why this is so important are numerous.  Drip irrigation allows for consistent and direct watering of the plants. With school breaks, the drip irrigation will continue to water the plants even when school is not in session. This also helps with holidays, long weeks and other periods where students or teachers are not physically on campus. Why drip irrigation?  The benefits of drip irrigation are countless. For the small cost and time that it takes for you to install a drip irrigation system, you will benefit from huge water savings and healthier plants. Drip irrigation was invented in Israel in response to the need to irrigate precisely and efficiently. This modern-day invention has vastly improved the ability of home gardeners to do the same. Drip irrigation also will help to prevent disease issues like powdery mildew that comes from foliage being wet.  This type of irrigation can also help with garden management as you will be weeding less if the drip irrigation is getting the water right at the plant’s roots and not elsewhere. You can purchase drip irrigation supplies online or at a local nursery. If you go to a local nursery, you will most likely be able to be shown how to use the parts.

Tip # 2

Mulch your garden bed to keep moisture in the soil. In most school gardens, raised beds are installed. These are great ways to grow but come with some issues. Raised beds dry out much quicker than in-ground beds because there is more surface area for the dry wind to suck moisture out of the soil. By mulching, you can keep the soil moist for longer. Mulching is an essential farm chore for us. This is because we understand and value the water savings we get by heavily mulching our plants. We use straw to keep the surface of the soil cool in our hot summers and keep evaporation rates down. The straw also helps with weed control. After Halloween, try your local pumpkin patches for free Straw bales. Be careful when using straw in your walkways for it can get quite slippery. You can also use mulch for in your garden beds and for other plantings, like trees. Programs like Chip Drop will drop off several yards of mulch for free that you can use for your school garden.

Tip # 3

Add as much compost as you can to your raised garden beds. Compost can hold several more times the water than regular soil. The particles in the compost act like little sponges and keep moisture in the soil for a long time.  Compost not only creates excellent soil structure it also plays an integral part in how plants take up nutrients. By adding compost, your plants and soil will be happier and healthier.