It's tomato time at the Eureka Library on May 23rd

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Time to Learn how to produce Tip Top Tasty Tomatoes

Fresh sun ripened tomatoes are an essential ingredient in many garden inspired recipes: Pico de Gallo, Caprese salad, and salsa. In these dishes, a store purchased tomato simply will not do. These tomatoes have been chilled, thawed, stored, handled, and potentially sprayed with chemicals. For this reason, most of you have not only opted to grow tomatoes but make them the star of the garden.

Join Woodford County Master Gardener Gretchen Strauch and learn how to grow tomatoes at home in the garden or on your patio in containers! Gretchen will discuss how to plant, stake and harvest this bright tasty fruit. You'll also learn about the pests and diseases that impact tomato health.

The program is May 23rd at 6:30pm at Eureka Library. Call 309-467-2922 to register. You may be the lucky attendee to leave with a tomato container to grow at home!

University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Educator, Kelly Allsup, shares just a few tips before you attend Gretchen's program.

Trending in the gardening world is heirloom tomatoes. Many homeowners are opting for the better tasting heirlooms. However, these have less disease resistance. Regardless of heirlooms like 'Cherokee Purple' or modern day variety like 'Better Boy' planted a few extra tips from a fellow tomato enthusiast will help bring a bounty of tasty rock stars.

Tip #1 Disease Prevention

Tomatoes (heirlooms and modern varieties) suffer from disease problems especially when the humidity remains high for an extended period. Diseases usually start as random spots on the leaves and progressively get worst causing dieback and major fruit loss. Diseases must be prevented rather than cured by implementing the following steps

Alternating spots where tomatoes are grown

Plant Spacing (2-3')

Using mulch or straw

Never work in wet garden

Using soaker hoses instead of sprinklers

Watering in the morning to prevent leaf wetness during night hours

Staking and Pruning Tomatoes

Tip #2 Caging Tomatoes

Plant new tomato plants up to the top leaves. Tomatoes are vines and will produce roots along the entire stems.

Staking tomato plants helps get them off the ground which puts the leaves up in the sunlight, allows for good air flow (disease prevention), and prevents insect infestations. It is best to cage early in season with cages that are reinforced by garden posts or rebar. The tomato stakes bought in garden centers are usually too small and not able to withstand the weight. Homeowners can make their own cages out of rolled wire fencing and stake branches with plastic plant tines. Indeterminate tomatoes produce all season long and need 5' tall cages. Determinate tomatoes produce all at once and need 3' tall cages.

Tip #3 Pruning Tomatoes

Pruning suckering shoots allows energy to be channeled into producing larger, earlier fruit rather than foliage. Suckering shoots are located at the nodes. A node is where the branch attaches to the main stem. Suckers will try to produce two branches from one node. Remove suckering shoots when they are small with fingers rather than tools by bending and snapping. Early in the growing season, identify the main stem, up to 4-5 flowering braches, and remove all other suckers as they grow. Our Local Food System Educator, Bill Davison, says he typically prunes out around 60% of the suckering growth.