If you have a vegetable garden or are thinking of starting one, tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum) are likely on your list of plants to grow. If you're looking for a variety that has flavorful, all-purpose fruits, a tomato called "Better Boy" could be the perfect choice. An indeterminate plant that keeps growing all season long, this plant thrives in strong light and good garden soil, with just a little extra care ensuring a heavy yield. Tomatoes are grown as annuals in all parts of the United States.
Sow "Better Boy" seeds indoors about six or eight weeks before you expect outdoor temperature to stay above 45 degrees Fahrenheit at night, using moist sterile potting soil or soil-less mix. Cover seeds with 1/8 inch of mix and, once seedlings appear, keep them in a sunny spot or under fluorescent grow lights. You can also buy seedlings at a garden center but, in either case, harden plants off for a week or two by gradually increasing their exposure to outdoor air and light.
Space "Better Boy" seedlings 2 to 3 feet apart , with 4 feet between rows. Remove the bottom two leaves from each plant and plant in a deep hole, so that these leaf nodes are covered by soil. Planting deep encourages rooting from the stem, making a well-seated plant.
Sun, Soil and Water
"Better Boy" tomatoes thrive and fruit heavily when grown in a spot that gets full sun, with six hours of sun a minimum for good results. They also need fertile soil. When planting, add 2 or 3 inches of compost to the bottom of each hole, along with a handful of bonemeal. Tomatoes also need magnesium for a good start; add 1 teaspoon of Epsom salts to each hole to provide this mineral.
Water the seedlings in well and then water evenly during the season, aiming for about 1 inch of water each week, including rain. To prevent fungal problems, water early on sunny days so plants dry quickly, and use a soaker hose or drip irrigation to help keep foliage dry.
Feeding and Pruning
It takes about 70 days to get the first ripe "Better Boy" tomatoes, but feeding the plants is important for a good harvest. Start fertilizing when the first fruits are about 1 inch in diameter, and then feed again when harvest begins. Use a low-nitrogen formula such as 5-10-5, side-dressing each plant with about 1/2 cup of the granular fertilizer, but turn the fertilizer into the soil gently to avoid disturbing roots.
"Better Boy" is an indeterminate variety that grows all season long, so it benefits from pruning to maximize fruiting and keep its size under control. As the plant grows, allow only one or two main stems to grow and remove suckers -- shoots appearing where each leaf originates -- to funnel the plant's energy into fruiting, using shears that you wipe with rubbing alcohol between cuts to prevent spread of disease. Also, help the plant produce the last ripe fruits by cutting back its fruitless top near the end of summer.
Support and Possible Problems
"Better Boy" is a heavy producer, with individual fruits weighing up to 1 pound each, so they benefit from support while growing. Either drive a sturdy stake into the ground, using soft ties to attach the stem to the stake at intervals, or use a commercial tomato cage for support, tying the plant to its wire as needed.
These plants are susceptible to fungal disorders and fruit cracking, but ensuring constant, even moisture and giving plants lots of space in well-drained soil helps avoid these problems. They can attract pests such as large green hornworms and striped potato beetles, which can be hand-picked, and aphids, which are best controlled by washing plants with a strong water stream.
Joanne Marie began writing professionally in 1981. Her work has appeared in health, medical and scientific publications such as Endocrinology and Journal of Cell Biology. She has also published in hobbyist offerings such as The Hobstarand The Bagpiper. Marie is a certified master gardener and has a Ph.D. in anatomy from Temple University School of Medicine.