All that hard work just after Mother's Day is now paying off for many gardeners. And Terry and Vicki Kolton say their LaSalle, Mich., garden is bursting with flowers and vegetables.
Their 14-by-eight-foot garden is packed with broccoli, cauliflower, beans, cucumbers, cabbage, cantaloupe, zucchini, green peppers, chili peppers, Brussels sprouts, Romaine lettuce, celery, and okra.
And, tucked into a corner of the plot are a few Beefmaster and Big Boy tomato plants. But the plants are bursting with a bit more foliage than the Koltons would like, and Mr. Kolton asked if the heavy foliage would hurt the tomato crop.
Tomatoes belong to the nightshade family and are related to eggplant, peppers, and potatoes. They don't require direct sun to ripen. The foliage allows the tomatoes to receive indirect sunlight, and shields the fruit from too much sun that could be harmful.
If the foliage is too dense, though, too many nutrients may be going to the plant's leaves, and the fruit may be smaller than desired. Some tomato varieties just grow more foliage than others do. You may also be able to tweak your fertilizer program to include more phosphorus and potassium, which will help the roots and fruit to grow stronger. Look for fertilizers with a smaller amount of nitrogen and more potassium.
The three numbers on a bag of fertilizer represent nitrogen (for leaves), phosphorus (for roots), and potassium (for fruit), respectively.
The Koltons' organic garden is in full sun with sandy Lake Erie soil. "Our soil also has a touch of zebra mussel shells in it," Mr. Kolton says. "We're not real happy with the soil, but plan on doing something about it next year."
He says he adds compost and soil conditioner to help the garden.
Attaching the plants to a cage or stake will help keep the tomatoes off the ground, keeping the fruit cleaner and healthier.
For the best-tasting tomatoes, let them ripen on the vine. Pick tomatoes when they are bright red and firm. Temperatures higher than 90 degrees can make tomatoes rot quicker, so pick them every day or two, even if they are a bit green. Hot weather can give tomatoes a sunburn and will turn them white.
Pluck them off the vine early if there is a threat of frost, too. They can finish ripening on a sunny windowsill, safe from extreme high or low temperatures. At the end of the season when the first killing frost is expected, pick all of the remaining tomatoes and bring them inside, or dig up the plant, shake the soil from the roots, and hang it in a shed to let the green tomatoes ripen.