By Montana Grant

Posted: June 2, 2022

Now I know that Tomatoes are less hunting, fishing, and shooting related, but they do grow outdoors, and they go onto the sandwiches that we love when we explore and trek into Big Sky Country!

Tomatoes, like so many other garden veggies have a short growing season in Montana. Usually, tomatoes can be planted around the second week of June. Most plants produce a harvest around 65 days. That means that Tomato time is closer to the end of September. 

The July 4th tomato challenge is tough. You need to get tomatoes into the ground the last week of April at the latest. The only way to avoid death of plants from frost is by covering plants at night or using Walls o Water for protection. One forgetful night can kill or stunt your plants.

My fishing and writing mentor Lefty Kreh always packed sandwiches. His favorite Summertime sandwich was a fresh garden tomato sandwich on white bread with mayo, salt, and pepper. I remember slicing garden tomatoes on a piece of driftwood to build the sandwiches afield.

Montana can produce awesome harvests of squash, peppers, onions, and potatoes. Radishes, carrots, and peas do well. I struggle with quality cucumbers, eggplants, green beans, and tomatoes. Here are some of my top tomato tips that have produced for me in southwest, Montana.

                Buy the BIG plants    Starting your own plants or buying tiny plants is a waste of time and money. Just wait until you are out of the frost weather and plant bigger more mature plants. In the long run, you will save money and time.

Plant Tomatoes deep    I have seen where tomatoes are to be planted on their sides. The trouble is that the stems often break. Instead, I make my holes deep. Buy tall plants and trim of the leaves up to the crown. Roots will form at each leave removed section. More roots, more produce.

                Trim off Suckers    Tiny suckers sprout at the armpits of where the branches grow. Pinch or trim them off. Also trim the low hanging branches that touch the soil.

Mulch your plants    Most tomato cooties begin where the plants touch the ground. Moist soil can cause leaf and fruit rot. Insects also can travel up your plants more easily.

Make a Moat    Many farmers create a pool at the base of the plants. Watering can also do this unintentionally. Instead, make a moat 6-8 inches off the plants base. Water away from the plant. Roots grow toward the water. Longer, stronger roots feed the plant better.

Pick smaller tomatoes    BIG monster tomatoes take longer to grow. Big Boy, Beefsteak, Whoppers, and large species sound great but your yield will be low. They are often still green in September. My favorite tomato is called Stupice. It is a Check variety. Other Russian types do well in Montana since these varieties come from the same latitude on the opposite side of our planet. Tomatoes that grow to a tennis ball size do well.

Cherry and small grape type tomatoes are great choices.    You will get full and elaborate harvests.

Put an Egg in the hole!    I have seen a difference with my yields when I add an egg at the bottom of the hole. Some farmers drop in a whole egg. They then crack, but don’t crush it. My success comes from the eggshells. I crush the shells that are in my mulch pile. These shells are already somewhat aged and produce chemicals that tomatoes love. I dump a small cup full into the bottom of my root balls. This will produce significantly better quality and more abundant yields. I could find no reason why the raw egg would be useful. It would make sense that they may also attract insects. Shells take a long time to break down so use old shells from the mulch. 

Bottom Water the plants     Place bottomless liter bottles into the hole toward the roots. They can be placed 6 inches or so away from the plant base. When you water, fill the bottles. This encourages deep roots instead of surface roots. To slow the drain, add a few pebbles into the bottle.

Spacing and support     Space the plants around 18 inches to 2 feet apart. This allows room for growth, watering, and access. Use a trellis or cage to support the plants. Closer plants help with pollination which means more fruit. Make sure to use wire fabric that your hand can fit through. A sturdy stick or post will support the plant so that wind or heavy weather won’t knock the plants over. More fruit means more top-heavy weight that will knock the plants down.

                Experiment    Every farm plot is unique. Try different ideas and tricks to produce a healthy harvest. Tomatoes can be canned, dried, stewed, and stored easily for future use.

If you end the season with a huge surplus of green tomatoes on your plants, pull the entire plant out of the ground and hang them upside down in your garage or shed. Pick as they ripen. You can also place green tomatoes into a paper sack with a few apples. The chemicals that come off the apples ripen the tomatoes. You can enjoy ripe tomatoes up to Thanksgiving. Also try some green tomato recipes

There is nothing like a fresh, sweet tomato from your own garden. My favorite sandwich is made from fresh sliced tomatoes with mayo, salt, and pepper, on toast. A slice or two of cucumber are also a nice addition. You can take the fixins in your pack and make your sandwich in the boat, trail, shore, or tree stand.

Enjoy your own fresh Mates as long as you can!

Montana Grant