Plants Have Budgets Too

This is actually a post with tips on growing tomatoes, but before I get there, I want to give you some context.

First, since I last posted, I’ve been to Urban Farm School, taught (online this year) by Brijette Pena, founder of San Diego Seed Company. I learned a LOT and will do my best to share my education in a way that’s helpful and consumable.

Second, I recently read the book, The Triumph of Seeds. I highly recommend it. I found it entertaining and funny as well as intriguing and informative. I never thought I’d feel that way about a book on seeds. I never knew people even wrote books on seeds. It helped me understand our topic today: Plants Have Budgets Too.

Think about a plant’s budget: a plant has limited resources, including nutrition in the soil, water and sunlight.

It has to distribute its energy among many functions, including the growth of the plant, the development of seeds and potentially the development of fruit surrounding the seeds.

Let’s say you have two tomato plants, we’ll call them A and B. You plant A in your garden with some good soil and make sure to water it consistently. Except when you water it inconsistently. Mid-season, perhaps you give it some fertilizer. It’ll produce.

You plant B in your garden with great soil, including a mix of compost and mulch to protect the ground from drying out. You water it consistently because it’s on a drip system with a timer. You fertilize and feed it. AND, you prune it. You prune a) the suckers and b) the branches beneath clusters of tomatoes.

What’s the difference?

  • First, B receives more nutrients than A; B has more yummy vitamins and minerals to help it grow and produce. This is something you can control — so remember to fertilize your plants and increase their nutrition budget.
  • Second, while A doesn’t die, some inconsistent watering means A spends energy trying to deal with being thirsty and dehydrated. Energy invested in survival could have gone toward growth.
  • Third, and as of this 2021 update this is still debatable but I’ll go with it: A distributes energy fairly evenly, meaning it gives to the whole plant. You want your tomato plant to distribute energy a little unevenly. Pruning below the fruit set helps B give a little more energy to ripening tomatoes. Just remember you need leaves for photosynthesis so don’t go too crazy with pruning.

At some point I’ll develop whole posts (or books) to soil and irrigation. For now, let’s focus on pruning. To do so, I’m gonna be a little lazy and refer you to a good video:

One last piece of advice on tomatoes: plant them really deep, even if you have to remove some lower sets of leaves. Take a look at what I’ve done here. I start out with a nice tall seedling.

A nice tall tomato seedling, ready to be planted. In the background: Angie reclines on her garden chaise.

I remove some leaves and then I plant deeper than the original soil level on the plant.

Same plant, lower leaves removed.

Why? Those little hairs on the stem grow into roots. The more roots you have, the more the plant can soak up water and nutrition.

See those tiny white hairy looking things? Those will become roots and they go all the way up the stem.
Same plant, looking a lot shorter because I planted it DEEP. It’s doing fine, by the way, more than fine, with multiple sets of fruit as it makes its way up the archway trellis.

Sorry to break it to you but gardening is basically Biology, Chemistry and Physics, my three least favorite topics in high school. I know, I feel like Gardening kind of tricked me into studying science too. But the more you understand about the science of gardening, the more effective and happy you’ll be–as will your plants!