Caring for Tomatoes, by Emma Biggs

Emma Biggs tomatoes

When I start my seeds in early spring, I’m full of energy and excitement that has built up over winter. At the end of the season, my excitement is replenished by fresh tomatoes. It’s that time in the middle that I find the hardest. The time when you spend most of your effort weeding, watering, training, and pruning‒not harvesting and eating. Here are a few tips to keep your tomato plants healthy to ensure a bountiful harvest.

As an urban grower with a limited amount of garden space, how I choose to train my plants affects how many plants I can squeeze into my garden and how much work I will have to put in. Training my plants also keeps the fruits off the ground so they don’t rot and are farther away from pests like slugs. It helps prevent soil-borne diseases from getting on the leaves. The three main ways to train tomato plants are:


Emma Biggs tomatoes

No, I do not mean the skimpy, three-pronged, knee-high “tomato cages.” For an indeterminate tomato, which will keep on growing and producing until killed by frost or disease, these are nowhere near big enough. Indeterminate plants can get 6-8 feet tall by the end of the season, so if you choose to train your plants with this method, you’ll need to find big cages, or make your own. For dwarf or determinate varieties, which get to about 4-5 feet tall, you can train them up until they reach the top, and then let them cascade over the edge. If that doesn’t appeal to you, look for a cage that is about waist-high.


Emma Biggs tomatoes

This is how commercial greenhouse tomato farmers often train their plants. This is my preferred method because I can fit the most plants into a small space‒about 1 foot apart. Basically, you grow your plants up a piece of dangling twine, and prune your plants so there is 1 main stalk, though sometimes I do 2 or 3. This requires more pruning and care, but lets you grow more intensively.


Emma Biggs tomatoes

I like to think of staking as the middle ground between trellising and caging. You can grow your plants closer together than with cages, but not as close together as trellising, and it’s more work than caging, but not as much as trellising. There are many different types of stakes, from wooden and plastic ones, to bamboo poles.

Additional care

It’s been a dry few weeks in Toronto, so watering has been very important. I know, this is kind of obvious, but it is so important, especially if you are growing in containers! One very important thing to note is to try and avoid getting water on the leaves as it can spread disease. Water in the morning or midday if you can so that any moisture you get on the leaves will evaporate.

Fertilizing helps your plants develop, become stronger, and produce more tomatoes, and is especially important if you’re growing in containers. There are many different types of fertilizers out there, but I’d go for an all-purpose vegetable one. As to how often and how to dispense it, that depends on which one you use, and will be on the label. 

To keep your plants happy, I’d recommend inspecting your plants daily. That’s the first thing I do when I go outside. I just walk around and see what’s ready to be picked, check for pests or diseases, and see what needs watering. This is a sure way to always know what is happening in your garden. Happy growing!

Emma Biggs tomatoesEmma Biggs is a 15-year-old Toronto gardener with a passion for growing unusual edibles, and lots of tomatoes. She gardens in straw bales on her driveway, on her garage rooftop, and grows tomatoes under a black walnut tree. Emma shares her love of gardening and hopes to inspire more gardeners in her book, Gardening with Emma, and on the Food Garden Life podcast, which she co-hosts with her dad, Steven Biggs. Check out her website and her Instagram: @emmabiggs_grows

Emma Biggs: Working the Room with Worms


Working the Room with Worms

There was a look of surprise on the faces in the audience when I dumped out a tub of worms into my hands and started walking around the room, with my hands out to show everyone. “Do you want to touch it, or hold it?” I asked, holding the worms out to each kid I passed.

Some smiled and touched the worms, but many gave a simple shake of the head. And a few moved back in their seat with an expression on their face like it was the grossest and most disgusting thing that they had ever seen.

It was 2015, and, at the age of 9, I was giving one of my first garden presentations with my dad. It really surprised me that so many kids and adults moved away from the worms.

But the worms got everyone’s attention! And it only took one little girl to touch a worm for the rest of the kids, who had previously said no, to move closer and think about touching them. Soon, almost all of the kids had gathered around me, eager to be part of the action and be near the wiggly little worms in my hand. Some kids let out a squeal of delight when I put a worm on their hand. A few of the kids took worms over to show their parents too, who reluctantly touched them, to set a good example. A few kids were so excited they didn’t even want to let other kids take a turn. They just wanted to keep watching the worms wiggle in their hands.

Worms were what caught the attention of those kids who were at my talk about gardening. They were a surprise to the kids. And they were fun.

Some of them were excited enough that they even wanted to take the worms home! It was easy to see by their reaction. That reaction--that excitement--is what to watch for when finding fun gardening activities for a kid.

It might be worms, or it might be something else. But there is something to make gardening fun for every kid. My brother Keaton loves bugs. He turns over stones to find beetles, and moves firewood to collect slugs. He’s even had snail races. That’s what gets him excited about the garden. My brother Quinn is interested in birds. He collects bird feathers, has a few bird feeders in the garden and is interested in plants that attract birds. A project such as a sunflower house or bean teepee will be fun for some kids. For some kids, it might just be mud, and that’s OK.

In my case, one of the things that made gardening fun was unusual tomatoes and neat edible plants such as Dragon Tongue beans that have beautiful colors, cucamelons that are thumbnail sized but look like watermelons, chocolate-scented mint, and Black Nebula carrot that is a super dark purple.  I love planting something in the garden, not knowing what to expect, and getting an amazing surprise – something like the heat-free habanero peppers I grew last year. I was never able to eat a habanero before and enjoy the fruitiness. And, of course, I love fresh veggies, particularly fresh tomatoes.

Getting kids excited about gardening is about finding something that is fun. They don’t have to like everything. And they don’t have to like doing things the way adults do. I don’t like weeding, and I don’t like eggplant. And I definitely don’t like having to share the garden with my dad because I want as much space as possible to grow unusual tomatoes!

Working that room with worms and seeing the reaction it got helped me see the importance of fun for kids. I’ve worked the room with worms at many kids events since that first talk when I was 9 years old, and when I know I’ll get them interested, listening and wanting to know more about gardening.

Emma Biggs raised over 130 tomato varieties in her Toronto garden in 2018—gardening in containers, in straw bales on a driveway, in a neighbour’s yard, in wicking beds under a walnut tree, and on her garage roof. Her latest book, Gardening with Emma, helps kids find the fun in gardening (and helps adults remember how much fun gardening is!)Emma is the co-host of The Garage Gardeners Radio Show. She is also a host of kids gardening videos on the From Dirt to Dishes gardening channel on YouTube. Stop by and say hi to Emma at, or on Instagram @emmabiggs_grows.


We are including Emma's fantastic book, Gardening with Emma, in our April 2019 Kids Garden Month prize packages! We're awarding weekly and grand prizes, so there are lots of chances to win. The KidsGrow contest is open April 1-30 2019!


Emma Biggs

Blog by: Emma Biggs

Meet Emma Biggs 

What do you tell other kids to get them interested in gardening?
I tell kids to make the garden fun for themselves by doing what they want to do, and following what interests. They should grow plants that attract bugs if they are like my brother Keaton. Or they could grow only pink vegetable if that makes it fun for them.

Why do you think all kids should garden?
Kids should garden because gardens don’t run out of batteries like my brothers’ remote control cars!

What do you love to grow the most?
Tomatoes, of course!! I really love growing unusual varieties of tomatoes.

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