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Harvesting your own homegrown tomatoes easily makes the top of the list of reasons to grow your own vegetable garden. They really do taste better than what you will find in a grocery store, partly due to the fact that they are allowed to fully ripen on the vine before they are used. Most large farms harvest when tomatoes are still a little under-ripe, so they don't spoil during transport. Aside from that, there is a great sense of pride in knowing that the fresh salsa you bring to a summer barbecue is made from tomatoes that you grew yourself, or that the tomatoes in the marinara sauce you toss your pasta in tonight were growing in your garden only hours ago! If you are crafty and resourceful, you can even can them in large quantities for a taste of summer in the cold, winter months.
Every year, in addition to the classic varieties that we are all familiar with, there are more and more new varieties of tomatoes available, including exotic heirloom cultivars to choose from, spanning all the colors of the rainbow, each with their own unique texture and flavor. Filling your garden with some of these varieties can be quite pricey if you are purchasing many full-sized plants or larger starts, and growing from seed, while rewarding, is a much more labor-intensive and lengthy process. This is why I recommend starting with one large, healthy, full-sized plant of each variety you wish to grow and taking multiple cutting from each one.
The easiest way to clone tomatoes is to take cuttings from a large, healthy, established plant. This plant is called the mother plant. The idea here is that if you find a variety of tomato that you like and grows well in your climate and suits your cooking purposes, you need only purchase one plant and let it get grow large, not doing any pruning until you are ready to take your cuttings for clones. It is best to buy a plant from a local nursery that grows varieties with a proven track record of success in your area.
You will ideally want to take “suckers” as cuttings, although any branch can be used. These are the new shoots that develop between branch unions and form new flowering tops. These are usually pruned down to a few branches to allow the plant to focus it's energy and nutrients to a smaller number of flowers, to assure that they turn into larger, better-developed fruits.
I know, it sounds like a daunting task, and surely you must have an advanced degree and tons of cutting edge equipment to accomplish this, right? It can actually be as simple as taking a cutting and placing it in some fresh water and waiting a week or two. Although unnecessary, using a rooting hormone (available at most plant nurseries) can expedite the process. Indole-3-butyric acid is the hormone that plants naturally use to form roots and this is usually the key ingredient in rooting formulas.
With this process, you simply let the suckers or branches grow until they are about 18-24 inches tall and about the diameter of a pencil, then cut them with a clean, sharp blade at an angle. You will then remove the two lowest leaf sets to allow roots to form. You can now optionally dip each cutting in a rooting compound, or simply put each one in a container of clean water. The cuttings usually have enough of the rooting hormone in them to produce roots on their own. Voila! You have now completed the hardest part of the process. This whole process is best done in the early part of the growing season to allow the plants to have a long, healthy vegetative state before going into flowering.
All that is left to do is change the water every two to three days until roots form. Let the roots get at least 2 inches long and then transplant them into your garden. You will want to remove any leaf sets or side branches other than the two or three sets at the very top, then bury the cutting, so about 75% is underground.
Water heavily for the first two days without any fertilizer to let the clones acclimate to the soil, then water and feed as you would with any other tomato plants. If all goes well, you should have an 80% -100% success rate and have a garden full of your favorite variety or varieties of tomato at a fraction of the cost and time of other propagation methods. Here's to a healthy, successful tomato patch, Cheers!
© 2018 Samuel Barrett