Even self-proclaimed tomato haters still love cherry tomatoes. After all, they taste like candy. I can pop 20 in my mouth in one sitting. Sometimes cherry tomatoes are dinner.
But no one wants to grow a couple of scraggly cherry tomato plants and reap only a few wimpy tomatoes.
Each year my goal is to grow huge plants because I know those bigger sized plants are going to yield more crop. More stems equal more yellow flowers for more fruit.
And don’t think just because cherry tomatoes are smaller than other commonly grown varieties such as the big boy, brandywine, or beefsteak tomato that the actual plant won’t get as big or need as much support.
Follow the below instructions and your cherry tomato plants will get humongous like mine and yield an incredible crop of the sweetest and best tasting cherry tomatoes you’ve ever had.
But how does one grow huge plants for a super surplus of cherry tomatoes?
Here’s my winning secret formula.
It begins with the seed or starter plant….
I’ve successfully grown humongous cherry tomato plants from both starter plants and from seed.
But inferior plants will underperform. I bought plants from a garden nursery unfamiliar to me one year. Big mistake. The plants never grew.
No matter how much fertilizer I added, they just sat in the ground and did nothing. I only got a handful of cherry tomatoes per plant.
If you use starter plants, choose wisely. It’s better to buy plants that are smaller with no defects than bigger plants that have become scraggly.
You also don’t want any yellow or orange discoloring on the leaves or stem, especially the lower leaves. Spot black dots on the leaves? Run.
Even better is starting your own cherry tomato plants from seed. I agree~ seeds are more effort but worth it.
Not only do you get more control and can choose seeds specifically designed for your gardening zone, but they almost always overtake starter plants in size and volume, even ones planted months before!
Cherry tomato plants started from good, quality seed quickly turn into big, beefy plants with lots of flowers. Flowers that turn into scrumptious cherry tomatoes.
Insider tip: Cherry tomatoes are the first thing most garden centers sell out of in the spring ~ get yours before they are gone!
The fish heads….they’re back!
I do see the irony here. Using fish heads (of all things….gasp) for tastier and bigger tomatoes.
When I starting burying fish heads with my tomatoes, not only were my cherry tomatoes a good size, but the taste was out of this world. A super sweet party in your mouth.
Fish heads are your secret weapon for growing the sweetest and tastiest cherry tomatoes on the block. Fresh or frozen work equally well. But I like to freeze them first because it cuts down on smell.
Fish heads are for real. They’ve been used as natural fertilizer for centuries all over the world. As a matter of fact, the American Indian Squanto taught the Pilgrims how to sow seeds with a small fish.
Raw fish decays quickly in the ground, releasing nitrogen, phosphorus, calcium, and trace minerals to roots that quickly get absorbed. Tomatoes are heavy feeders and especially thrive on phosphorus and calcium.
So fish heads are a quick release fertilizer that feed the soil that feeds your plants encouraging massive plant growth and fruit production.
Now Tom loves fishing on Lake Ontario for king salmon or heading to Lake Erie for Walleye. When he’s done filleting them, there’s plenty of fish heads and fish remains to bury in our garden. All the parts are put to good use.
Fish heads, guts and bones all work well as an organic fertilizer. All should go right in your planting hole with the other amendments for the sweetest and best tasting cherry tomatoes.
Plant those fish heads deep for the sweetest and best tasting tomatoes….
If you’ve already planted your crop, it’s not too late as you still bury fish heads and other parts in between crop rows to fertilize the soil.
Don’t fish? Have a friend who does? After a few weird looks, any fisherman would be happy to provide you with their fish heads and other fishy remains for your garden. Take a trip to the local dock and see what the days catch is.
Or call your favorite local mom and pop restaurant or grocery store to ask for their fish head parts. Farmers markets are a great place to inquire as well.
If you are burying your fish heads with your plants make sure that hole is extra deep to make room for that thick fish head. Depending on the size of your plants, you may have to plant them 2-3 feet deep.
Your hole might have to be dug 3-3.5 feet deep to fit in the fish head first depending on how big your starter plants are.
Deep is also vital since you want to avoid having your fish heads dug up by the local rat, raccoon, fox or feral cat. It’s never happened to me and I live in a subdivision on a 1/2 acre lot. Plenty of wildlife out there.
But as frugal and organic gardeners, we value resourcefulness, and free fish heads are key!
Other amendments to consider to rev up your tomatoes
I can’t say it enough. Tomatoes are heavy feeders. They want it all!
So after my fish heads are settled in I add roughly 1/2 cup of fertilizer specially formulated for tomatoes. I Use Dr. Earth because it’s safe for people and pets.
For an extra nitrogen splurge I sprinkle in a bit of blood meal. A little goes a long way.
I also add bone meal for an organic source of phosphorus and calcium. Double the amount of bone meal to blood meal. Bone is another excellent source of calcium.
A scoop of worm casings (yes we are referring to worm poop) is always thrown into the hole or used as a topdressing because worm poop is the gardeners gold.
Whenever I have coffee grounds, I also toss those in. Worms love coffee grounds and your garden loves worms. See how this works?
While adding organic nutrients isn’t an exact recipe, you do want to be careful not to add too much. Too much of anything is bad and you could burn your plants, or worse, kill them.
For this reason, cheap measuring cups from the Dollar Store are ideal for adding your amendments and I toss in roughly 1/2 cup of each.
Last, for a last big calcium boost I sprinkle crushed eggshells in the hole and also as a topdressing after I’ve filled my holes with soil.
Eggshells also help tomato plants fight blossom-end rot. Be mindful that eggshells don’t break down well on their own so using your hands to crumble them first is smart.
Crushed eggshells also act as a mechanical barrier to soft-bodied pests like slugs.
How to position your tomato plant ~ always in full sun!
After all my amendments are added, I pour one gallon of water directly into the hole.
I snag my first plant and pinch off all the lower leaves, those tend to get buried anyhow and sap strength from the plant.
Gently, I loosen the root ball by untangling the roots giving them a headstart in life. This can be an especially vital step if you are using nursery starter plants which tend to be slightly root-bound.
It might sound silly, but double check that your plant is upright as you don’t want your plant growing crooked.
Then I backfill the whole with soil and water again.
The soil line should be right at the last set of leaves; the rest of the stem gets buried, as new roots will grow from any part of the stem below ground.
Finally, full sun is essential. In my experience, you can’t get sweet tomatoes without full fun. I’m talking about at least 8 hours of full sun and longer if possible.
That’s how much tomatoes love sun as the sun brings out their natural sugars for the sweetest and best tasting cherry tomatoes.
Plant those tomatoes deep & stake all plants
Just because cherry tomatoes are small doesn’t means that the plants don’t need to be as deeply rooted as any bigger variety. Cherry tomatoes plants will get just as beefy and tall as full-sized slicing tomato plants.
But when you grow big and beefy plants, they’ll need ample support so that plant doesn’t plop over before you can harvest. Heavy stems loaded with tomatoes can also break off the plant if you neglect to stake.
It’s vital to stake or cage all plants in full sun far enough apart so they can’t grow into each other. Not only is it easier to harvest, but vital to avoid disease.
Solid air circulation and plenty of light encourage more disease-resistant plants that have the energy to produce more flowers.
So as a bare minimum, you’ll need 2 feet in between plants. But my plants get so tall (as in 5 feet and taller in size) that they require 3-4 feet spacing to provide adequate air circulation.
Starter plants or the ones you planted from seed seem so small, but I assure you, they each need their own cage or stake and plenty of room to roam.
Soil density and composition is vital for the sweetest & best tasting cherry tomatoes
Nothing is more important for gardening success than the soil, so choose carefully. Tomatoes like a light, well-drained soil.
The perfect soil will stick together when you squeeze it in a fist and then easily crumble away when you open your hand.
Clay soil like the kind we have in Western New York can restrict water and air circulation to tomato roots which can lead to blossom end rot.
We order topsoil and add amendments to adjust it. Keep in mind that tomatoes prefer slightly acidic soil but will tolerate a pH of up to 7.5.
Buying garden soil is complicated. Be wary. Many product labeled “topsoil” are poor quality, heavy, or weedy.
Go to a professional, local, trusted source rather than the corner store with a pop-up stand of soil bags. Ask experts in respected garden centers.
You can use professional potting mixes- ideal for container planting but less so in the garden. Potting mixes are almost always too light for most raised bed gardening.
One option is to mix in some compost-rich garden soil to thicken it up.
Compost is also very important
After the previous years plants have been raked under we start by adding compost to the empty garden bed. I like 4-5 inches of well-aged compost for each of my three raised beds.
Compost is cheap enough to buy bagged. We order locally by the trailer and it’s only about $40 a big load.
We also add a few bags of rotted manure. (Doesn’t that sound and smell so pleasant?) We pass a horse farm on the way to the lake and they are always advertising free horse poop. Rescue horse poop at that! Tom got me a trailer.
Also, if we have any chopped and decomposing leaves from the fall we also add those to the top.
Last, on top of the compost, manure and leaf mold, I apply a granular, organic, all-purpose fertilizer that includes N-P-K, or nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
On the very top I sprinkle kelp meal to help the beds retain moisture and crab and lobster shells to top dress for a magnesium and calcium boost. I mix the top dressed amendments into the soil as best I can with my hands or a small rake.
Speaking of fertilizer ~ strike the right balance…
It’s all about balance. Nitrogen feeds foliage growth but at the expense of flowers. Phosphorus encourages flowering. So you need a fertilizer that targets tomatoes specifically and apply as directed.
Tomatoes are called heavy feeders; that is, they require a lot of nutrients to flourish. They’re wild about fertilizer and before you even think about growing tomatoes, you should think about “growing” your soil first.
Tomatoes like rich, amended soil teeming with worms and microbes.
Two key nutrients must be present for tomatoes to thrive: phosphorus, which promotes the growth of flowers and fruit, and calcium, which prevents blossom end rot (that dreaded black sunken hole on the flower end of your calcium-deficient tomatoes).
Providing these nutrients right from the start ensures you’ll grow tall, beautiful, healthy plants laden with juicy tomatoes that are sure to be the envy of all your neighbors.
To a lesser extent, tomato plants also need nitrogen, but too much nitrogen could result in a big, bushy, and green tomato plant with no flowers.
Don’t hold back on the water for the sweetest & best tasting cherry tomatoes
I grew up working on a produce farm all through my teenage years. And we were told daily to never neglect watering the corn. Corn that doesn’t get enough water won’t be sweet.
The same rule applies to tomatoes. You must water thoroughly and deeply, especially that first month. And you can accuse me of many things, but I have never overwatered a tomato!
Tomatoes are like sponges, they soak up water. Deep waterings are best where even the lowest roots get to absorb all the water they require.
To make sure my plants get a good soak to start their new life, when I plant, I pour a gallon of water right in the hole to ensure those roots have a solid sendoff. Then I backfill the hole with the soil and say a little prayer!
Be mindful, you might have to water every day, morning and night to make sure the plants are getting enough water that first month. A drip irrigation system on a timer makes sense.
Drip irrigation is also convenient because while tomato roots require tons of water, their leaves dislike getting wet. So it keeps the water at the base of the plant where needed.
Water in the cool of the morning and at dusk to avoid evaporation from the suns rays.
Use aspirin to ward off disease in tomato plants
When we feel symptomatic, we might take elderberry or zinc to fend off the infection.
But what does a tomato plant do to ward off bad microbes? I’m talking about leaf spot and blight and possibly even the dreaded blossom-end rot. The tomato plant takes an aspirin. It’s true!
Aspirin contains salicylic acid, a chemical compound that’s naturally present in most plants. And yes, we’re talking about the same aspirin you or I would buy and at the local pharmacy.
Studies have found that in a tomato plant, salicylic acid (a plant hormone) is produced at high levels in response to a microbial attack on the plant.
Since salicylic acid triggers the plant’s defense system, I like to give my plants a little immunity boost prior by putting two aspirin in my planting hole with the other amendments to ward off fungi, bacteria and viruses.
If you wish, you can also make a foliar spray, by dissolving a regular-strength aspirin tablet (325 mg) in a gallon-size sprayer or watering can. Spray all the leaves two times a month making sure you don’t miss the undersides.
Uncoated aspirin dissolves easier. Go for the cheapest aspirin, brand names are unnecessary.
Tomato testimony for my sweetest & best tasting cherry tomatoes
I gave one of my neighbors last year a sample of my excess cherry tomato crop. Literally every time she drove past my house she had to stop me to tell me how they were the sweetest and best tasting cherry tomatoes ever.
She went on to say how different they were from grocery store tomatoes. Night and day different. Those bland, lackluster grocery store tomatoes. Zero flavor.
Tomatoes as they surely would have tasted in the Garden of Eden. My head was getting a little big from all the praise!
It goes without saying that the riper the tomato is, the sweeter the taste. The ripening process brings out the natural sugars.
This is why I leave my green peppers on the vine until they turn red. Oh so sweet! Ditto for tomatoes. Leave them on the vine until they are a deep red hue.
A note on tomato variety
For me, this isn’t the time to take a risk on a tomato you aren’t familiar with. Go with the tried and true.
Whether purchasing starter plants or starting from seed, go with something traditional like the Super Sweet 100 for a foolproof garden.
Tandy | Lavender and Lime says
Fantastic advice Laura. My tomato plant gave us an abundance this year but it’s planted too far forward. When it dies back I will trim it and replant. And use this post to guide me.
Betsy Pauzauskie says
I love your research, directions, soil amendment recommendations, and anecdotes. Plus, I’ll put Super Sweet 100s on my husband’s list of favored cherry tomato varieties! Thank you for the suggestions for successfully growing tomatoes! 🙂
Sandra Weiss says
I love cherry tomatoes and great tips for a great garden
Kari Judd says
How-to grow the sweetest and best tasting cherry tomatoes using fish heads sounds wonderful and Amazing!! Thank You for the tips!
Phyllis Skoglund says
Flowers are endless delights.
Nancy Thompson says
A lot of different ideas I was not aware of.
Chad Boyd says
I always have plenty of fish heads available! Thank you for sharing this. Now..just gotta keep the cast from digging them up! Lol
Cindy Vincent says
thanks for the awesome advice!
Janet K says
Sandra McFadden says
Yes I use fish heads and entrails in my garden. The Native Americans use them when they plant their corn for years.
Liz Kilcher says
great info, thank you
Elissa Hammond says
Thank you for all of the tips. Purchased my 1st home a month ago and get to do some gardening this year!
Martin Strait says
Peggy Nunn says
This is great information will share it with my DIL. She starting a garden
kathleen kaliszewski says
Janis C says
Fish heads in the garden?! I would never have guess. Thanks for the info.
Dianne Phillips says
Thank you for so much information. Can’t wait to try this 😍
Donna C says
There is nothing better tasting and more rewarding than growing your own tomatos!
Michael Coovert says
Plant biology and chemistry is absolutely amazing. And I LOVE me some cherry tomatoes. Due to health problems, it doesn’t look like ai am going to be able to plant much of anything this year. But I still love reading here about all of your garden success.
Katherine Leo says
No offense but yuck fish heads and we don’t like tomatoes 🍅 but good luck to everyone and enjoy your cherry tomatoes
Brittany Gilley says
my grandma does this and her tomatoes are the best
nancy fiorenza says
I need all the growth information I can find thanks
dennis case says
Tami Lewis says
Reminds me of Squanto from my history book!!