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10-Minute Gardening – Got 10 Minutes? Do This to Your Tomatoes!

Tomatoes and text, "Got 10 Minutes?"

Gardening is great! But it’s also time-consuming. How do you keep your garden going strong, the weeds under control and vegetables producing all season long? 10-minute gardening, that’s how.

Rather than trying to play catch up once or twice a week, spending hours tending to your garden, take ten minutes each day to focus on one part of your garden or specific plants or chores.

You can easily knock out your gardening chores in that amount of time, leaving your schedule open for all the activities that make summer so busy in the first place.

Let’s start with tomatoes, everyone’s favorite vegetable to grow in home gardens.

10-Minute Tomato Gardening Checklist

Visit each tomato plant and check off each of these mini-chores on your list. You can easily knock these out in around ten minutes. (I usually grow between 8-12 tomato plants, and I can do this in ten minutes.)

1. Prune a Little Bit

Overgrown tomatoes
Ummmm…Aunt Doris, are you in there?

If you aren’t paying attention, indeterminate tomatoes have a sneaky habit of taking over the garden. One minute, they’re all neatly growing in your preferred tomato support, and the next thing you know, compact cars and smaller relatives are getting lost in them.

Whether you’re using the Florida Weave, string-training them or some other method of supporting tomatoes, they’re much easier to maintain if you prune them a little bit every week. You’ll also get more fruit this way, as light and air can move freely within the plant, leading to better pollination.

Gloved hand holding tomato sucker

While you don’t want to prune determinate varieties, you should still keep an eye on their growth.

You can manipulate branches to entwine within your support structure much easier when they are still small. Once the branches get bigger, they’re more inclined to snap.

2. Pick Any Tomatoes That Are at Breaker Stage

There’s this romantic notion of “sun-ripened” or “vine-ripened” tomatoes out there that prevents many tomato gardeners from picking tomatoes until they are 100% red. But this is nothing more than good marketing by tinned tomato companies, not to mention it’s completely unnecessary and can even slow down tomato production.

Once the tomato begins to ripen, lycopene is produced within; this is when the tomato starts changing color.

The cells where the tomato connects to the stem start to harden, closing the tomato off from the rest of the plant. At this point – known as the breaker stage – the tomato no longer receives anything from the plant. It’s walled off from it by these hard cells. This happens when the tomato is roughly 50% ripe.

At this point, you can pick the tomato from the vine, and it will continue to ripen.

Tomatoes growing in various stages of ripeness

Many gardeners are unaware that it’s heat that causes tomatoes to ripen rather than sunlight. You can place tomatoes in a warm room in the dark, and they will still turn that lovely “sun-ripened” red.

Picking tomatoes at the breaker stage encourages the plant to put out new blossoms. Too much fruit left hanging on the vine actually causes the plant to slow down and stop putting out new blossoms.

Once a week, pick your breaker stage tomatoes and let them continue to ripen on a sunny windowsill if you can’t let go of the hole “sun-ripened” thing or place them somewhere warm.

3. Check For Pest & Disease Symptoms

Tomato leaves with flea beetle damage
Something is definitely snacking on my tomato leaves.

This is probably the most important chore on this list. Catching pests and diseases early is the key to saving your tomato plants and preventing the issue from spreading.

Something I started doing a few years ago is removing stems and leaves from the bottom of the plant once the plant reaches two feet tall. Leaving the lower 8”-10” of the plant bare prevents soil-borne diseases from splashing up on leaves or stems growing too close to the ground.

Checking for pests is easier if you look for the signs that they’ve been there rather than looking for them.

Look for caterpillar poop on the ground (tomato hornworms) and leaves being defoliated. Check under leaves and where stems meet the main stem for evidence of pests.

Tomato leaf with dark brown circles
Hmm, that’s not a good sign.

For disease, check leaves close to the ground and randomly throughout the plant. Look for splotchy coloring, browning edges or brown circles. Remove damaged leaves and use them to identify the issue so you can figure out next steps.

Check developing fruit for cracks or blemishes.

13 Common Tomato Problems & How To Fix Them

Tomato Blight: How to Spot, Treat & Prevent 3 Types of Blight

Doing this quickly once a week means you’re more likely to spot something before it becomes a major issue.

4. Water Deeply & Fertilize if Needed

Tomato plant being watered.
(Just not like this. Water at the base of the plant.)

Watering plants every day or two can make more work for you. Plants searching for water send down roots deep into the soil. If you hold off on watering and only water deeply once a week, your tomatoes will grow deep root systems that make them more resistant to drought. Let them do the work to find water in the ground.

This is especially true if you buried your tomatoes at the beginning of the year. (You did bury your tomatoes, right?)

Too often, we see tomatoes with drooping leaves, and we immediately water them.

Give them another day or two before you give them a good soaking. Drooping leaves, while a sign that the plant needs water, doesn’t always mean you have to do it right away. This is when those roots reach further down.

Now is also the time to fertilize if your plants need it. You should always test your soil at the beginning and end of the season so you can amend it appropriately. Randomly fertilizing without knowing if your soil needs it can be wasteful and harmful to our waterways.

Watering a potted tomato plant

Of course, if you’re growing container tomatoes or you use raised beds with a fixed bottom, then you’ll need to water much more often than tomatoes grown in the ground. You’ll also need to fertilize more often in this scenario, too.

Optional – Hand Pollinate New Flowers

hand holding tomato stem covered in blossoms

Whether you’re having trouble attracting pollinators (If you are, read here.), or you’re a diehard and want every single blossom to end up as a ripe and juicy tomato, then it’s time to add a small paintbrush to your gardening tools.

Use a small, clean and dry paintbrush and gently brush the inside of each tomato blossom. You’ll want to do this around midday when the blossoms are open to their fullest. It’s important to use a different paintbrush for each variety, otherwise you’ll end up with cross-pollinated tomatoes. Although, that could be fun.

Or you can do it my way – the lazy way – I grab the stem that has the blossoms and gently shake it for a few seconds. That’s usually more than enough to pollinate the blossoms.

hand holding tomato stem with tiny tomatoes

Optional – Weed

Wait, why is weeding optional, Tracey?

Because I’m assuming you were a smart cookie and mulched well around your tomatoes at the beginning of the season. Mulching keeps soil in place, holds moisture in and, most importantly, keeps weeds to a minimum.

Weeds growing up out of the ground

If you didn’t mulch, perhaps you should once you’ve finished weeding. A few minutes spent mulching now will ensure you have to spend less time weeding for the rest of the gardening season.

That’s It, You’re All Finished

To recap, here’s a handy list:

  1. Prune
  2. Pick
  3. Pests & Disease
  4. Water
  5. Pollinate
  6. Weed

And there you go, it’s such a short list and likely won’t even take you the full ten minutes. But the time you save adds up, and we could all use a bit more time these days.


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Tracey Besemer

Hey there, my name is Tracey. I’m the editor-in-chief here at Rural Sprout.

Many of our readers already know me from our popular Sunday newsletters. (You are signed up for our newsletters, right?) Each Sunday, I send a friendly missive from my neck of the woods in Pennsylvania. It’s a bit like sitting on the front porch with a friend, discussing our gardens over a cup of tea.

Originally from upstate NY, I’m now an honorary Pennsylvanian, having lived here for the past 18 years.

I grew up spending weekends on my dad’s off-the-grid homestead, where I spent much of my childhood roaming the woods and getting my hands dirty.

I learned how to do things most little kids haven’t done in over a century.

Whether it was pressing apples in the fall for homemade cider, trudging through the early spring snows of upstate NY to tap trees for maple syrup, or canning everything that grew in the garden in the summer - there were always new adventures with each season.

As an adult, I continue to draw on the skills I learned as a kid. I love my Wi-Fi and knowing pizza is only a phone call away. And I’m okay with never revisiting the adventure that is using an outhouse in the middle of January.

These days, I tend to be almost a homesteader.

I take an eclectic approach to homesteading, utilizing modern convenience where I want and choosing the rustic ways of my childhood as they suit me.

I’m a firm believer in self-sufficiency, no matter where you live, and the power and pride that comes from doing something for yourself.

I’ve always had a garden, even when the only space available was the roof of my apartment building. I’ve been knitting since age seven, and I spin and dye my own wool as well. If you can ferment it, it’s probably in my pantry or on my kitchen counter. And I can’t go more than a few days without a trip into the woods looking for mushrooms, edible plants, or the sound of the wind in the trees.

You can follow my personal (crazy) homesteading adventures on Almost a Homesteader and Instagram as @aahomesteader.

Peace, love, and dirt under your nails,

Tracey
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