How to make your tomato plants thrive this summer

Tomatoes are a firm favorite among our gardeners! Delicious raw in fresh salads and salsas, slow-cooked in rich tomato sauces for pasta, or preserved as a treat to enjoy this winter, everyone wants to grow their own succulent tomatoes. But, especially once they heat peak fruiting season, tomato plants can get OVERWHELMING. Here are a few tips to help yours thrive this summer.

Pruning and Suckering

Why Prune? 

  • Pruning is good for your tomato plant - they’ll put more energy into growing fruit if they’re not distracted by pushing energy into leaf growth!

  • Tomatoes on the ground are susceptible to disease and getting snatched up by critters

  • You want AIR FLOW between your tomato leaves to stave off mildew and disease 

  • Pruning keeps things neat so you can easily access your tomatoes!

When/what to Prune

  • Prune throughout the summer

  • Prune indeterminate tomato varieties

    • These grow taller and wider, they require pruning 

    • Offer fruit over long period of time… 

    • Some typical varieties: Beefsteak, Black Crim, Martha Washington, German Johnson

  • Prune determinate varieties

    • More bush-like varieties, do not necessarily need to be pruned 

    • Ripen mostly at the same time 

    • Typical Varieties: Valley Girl, Celebrity 

How to Prune

  1. Find central stem (“lead”) - this is the main stem from which the rest of the plant stems off. It is the one you would use to trellis or stake up

    1. Sometimes there are multiple leads- if it is early enough, you can prune one or two off.  If they are too big, you can keep them both, but trellis them separately

  2. Find the first branch with flowers - all branches below this can be pruned, but nothing above it 

  3. To prune:  Use a harvest knife, kitchen knife, or scissors to cut the branch off at the stem.  Try to leave the smallest blemish possible- the larger the blemish, the more opportunity for disease and for the plant to have a hard time recovering. 

    1. You only want to prune off the main stem, never off the branches themselves 


  • “Suckers” are new low-fruiting branches forming at the intersection of a fruiting branch and the stem. While they will produce fruit, many people remove them to manage their tomatoes more easily. 

  • To Remove: if they are small, you can remove them easily by pinching them off.  If they have grown larger, you will want to remove them with scissors or a harvest/kitchen knife


Tomato Pests

Tomato Horn Worms

  • Caterpillars that prey on tomato plants in particular

  • Large and green with orange/red horn on bottom 

  • Often see them carrying their eggs on their backs 

  • Because of their size, it’s easiest to physically remove them 



  • Aphids are white/green bugs that suck moisture from the plant- extremely common with tomatoes, especially greenhouse tomatoes 

  • Ladybugs are their natural predators, so the more ladybugs, the better! 

  • Spray them off with a forceful hose or pinch off affected leaves/branches

(Photo: )

Tomato Diseases

Tobacco Mosaic Virus

  • Spread by insects or seeds or through touch by touching tomato plants while smoking cigarettes. 


  • Every year there is early blight and late blight. It travels by air among tomatoes, so once it comes to the area it is almost unavoidable 

  • Signs: Yellowed leaves with black spots, fast fruiting tomatoes 

  • How to care for them: blight unfortunately you almost cannot get rid of without intense chemical applications.  The fruits are still fine to eat, however, so enjoy them while they last! 

Blossom End Rot 

DIY Calcium Solution 

Take several egg shells, cook them over the stove until they start to toast up, crush them up and put them in some apple cider vinegar- leave room as they will bubble and fizz! Let them soak for a day or so, then take the apple cider vinegar solution and add it into a spray bottle with water (10:1 water to vinegar solution). Spray it directly on plant leaves.

Still have questions? Reach out to use at with your tomato puzzles!

Backyard Growers announces new headquarters and grows its leadership team

We’re excited to announce that on July 1 we relocated our headquarters to 3 Duncan Street in downtown Gloucester. The new space (known locally as the former Alchemy and Happy Belly restaurants) will host Backyard Growers’ gardening workshops, community events, and day-to-day operations. Stop by to say hello and check it out! 

And, our team is growing, too! We’re thrilled to announce Lisbeth Cahill’s appointment as Director of Operations at Backyard Growers. Lis is joining the team after a robust career in banking, operations and human resources, including 25 years at The Food Project. A Gloucester resident, she’s an experienced non-profit manager with a background in farming and youth engagement. Lis will be taking our operations to the next level, helping us become even more effective and impactful in our community. 

This exciting season of change is, of course, bittersweet, as we say goodbye to Meghan Stratton, Associate Director of School Programs. Meg has been a lynchpin of Backyard Growers for the last five years, starting out with us as a FoodCorps service member. She has had a huge impact on our work in Gloucester’s public schools and beyond, leading our farm to school programming locally and pioneering our consulting approach that has made it possible for us to roll out our school garden program model to schools across Massachusetts. We’re wishing Meg the very best on her next adventure, and we know that our Gloucester community is right there with us when we say we know she’ll make a huge impact wherever she goes.

As previously announced, Corinne Lippie started as our new Program Director in May. This is a new position at Backyard Growers that combines both our school and community programs as well as our growing consulting practice. 

We also want to extend a huge thanks to Abby Johnstone, our 2018-2019 FoodCorps service member who served in the Gloucester Public Schools with Backyard Growers for the past school year. We are going to miss Abby’s creativity, enthusiasm, and sunny disposition, and know she will go on to do great things! 

Finally, we would like to welcome our new 2019-2020 FoodCorps service member, Emily Brown, who will be leading the charge in our farm to school programming in the year to come. Emily joined us this spring as our Urban Agriculture intern, and we’re so pleased that she is staying on with us as a service member. Emily studied sustainable horticulture at Essex Agricultural and Technical High School while working at The Food Project. She’s looking forward to serving Gloucester as a 2019-2020 FoodCorps service member with the Backyard Growers team. Welcome, Emily!

Stop by 3 Duncan Street to meet Lis, Corinne and Emily, and check out our new space! We’ll be announcing a fun Open House event in the days to come, but in the meantime, you can reach us at or 978-281-0480 with any questions.

Introducing Backyard Growers' new Program Director!

Dear Friends:

As we transition from a rainy spring to a promising growing season, we bid a warm farewell and thank you to our Interim Program Director, J. Harrison. J. stepped in at our busiest time of year to launch our spring initiatives, streamline our program deliverables, and shape the new full-time Program Director position.

It was such a gift to have the opportunity to work side-by-side with J., who is a dear friend and a long-time supporter of Backyard Growers. Going forward J. will continue to work with us as a consultant, working on a range of projects to help us continue to build healthy, connected and environmentally sustainable communities.

After a rigorous candidate search, we are thrilled to announce Corinne Lippie as our new Program Director. Corinne has been leading and managing nonprofit organizations in the Greater Boston area for the past 15 years. Her professional experience bridges work in academia, philanthropy, non-profit, and business.

Corinne began her career as a Program Officer at Harvard University’s Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations at the Kennedy School of Government. In 2009, she became a Project Director at the North Shore United Way, where, among other things, she spearheaded a new initiative to combat childhood obesity. It was in that role that she was first introduced to Backyard Growers.

In 2015, Corinne and her husband and two children moved to Rome, Italy, where she developed a deep appreciation for cross-cultural learning and insight into the relationship between children and their access to healthy food in a European context. She and her family returned to their home in Beverly in the summer of 2018. Eager to re-engage with her local community, Corinne joined the Backyard Growers Board of Directors in winter 2019. We quickly realized that her expertise was a perfect fit for the new Program Director role and asked her to join our job candidate pool.

The need to create the new Program Director position and to restructure our staffing model emerged out of our 2018 strategic planning process. We’re excited about our new path as outlined in our 3-year strategic plan, which we launched in winter 2019. In her role, Corinne will lead in implementing our strategic plan objectives, developing our new consulting practice, and overseeing our Community, Backyard and School programs.

She’s excited to get to work with the Backyard Growers team and to connect with our many community partners. If you would like to reach out to Corinne, you can reach her at She’s looking forward to working with all of you!


Lara Lepionka

Executive Director

Become a Veggie Warrior! 🌱💪🥕

Every year, over 2,000 kids in Gloucester Public Schools plant, harvest and taste all different kinds of veggies grown right in their school gardens. They learn how their food goes from a single seed in a packet to part of a delicious (healthy!) meal on their plate. It’s a journey of discovery that changes the way kids see the world and how they think about their food - including whether or not they like veggies!

For a few cents a day, you can support all of this and more.

We want to garden and eat veggies with kids for years to come.

But, we can’t do it without your help.

We’re inviting you to support school gardens by becoming a VEGGIE WARRIOR!

Here’s the best part: it only takes $5 a month!

Our goal is to recruit 100 new Veggie Warriors this spring.

Are you with us? Let’s do this!

Join us at the Second Annual Gloucester Grow Fest!

We’re thrilled to share that the Gloucester Grow Fest will be returning to Burnham’s Field in downtown Gloucester on Sunday, June 9, 12pm - 3pm!

The Gloucester Grow Fest is a free community event hosted by Backyard Growers. The Grow Fest features hands-on, family-friendly activities to raise awareness about healthy eating, green living, and personal wellness, while celebrating the arrival of warm weather and the beginning of the growing season on Cape Ann! Activities for the whole family include yoga, art projects, games, gardening and cooking demos, and garden tours.

Check out these scenes from last year’s awesome event!

This year, you can expect…

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Watch this space for more updates on the day’s action-packed schedule and all the activities you can join in for FREE!


Thanks to our sponsors…

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Mentors help beginner gardeners blossom at Backyard Growers

Backyard Growers has been helping Gloucester residents learn to grow their own food since 2010. We have installed hundreds of raised bed vegetable gardens around the city for families, individuals and older adults both in private backyards and community gardens.

Elizabeth Redmond began volunteering as a mentor to beginner gardeners at Backyard Growers in the summer of 2018. As an employee at Pathways for Children in downtown Gloucester, she became familiar with Backyard Growers through the garden they run on-site to provide fresh salad ingredients for children involved in programs at Pathways. With a great personal love of gardening and the outdoors, Elizabeth was attracted to Backyard Growers’ goal of empowering other people to garden and grow their own food.

Part of the joy of gardening is helping neighbors reconnect and building a stronger, healthier community. When Elizabeth signed up to be a mentor, she was matched with a diverse group of people with a range of skill sets, approaches and needs. They all challenged Elizabeth to develop new ways to communicate and teach a love of gardening.

One of Elizabeth’s mentees had worked at a botanical garden, but she had never grown vegetables. Another mentee had never gardened in his life. Elizabeth’s third mentee is going to be a Backyard Growers volunteer this coming season. All three had beautiful, productive vegetable gardens.

But, Redmond says, perfection in the garden isn’t the goal.

“You lend your confidence as an experienced gardener, but the great thing about gardening is that you don’t have to be perfect,” says Elizabeth. “You just need to be comfortable, with a can-do attitude. Gardening is more forgiving than you might think.”

We are currently recruiting for new mentors who can share their love of perfectly imperfect gardening with beginners. If you’re interested in learning more about becoming a mentor or exploring other volunteer opportunities with Backyard Growers, visit or attend the Volunteer Info Session, which takes place on Saturday, February 23, from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. at Backyard Growers’ offices at 271 Main Street. You can RSVP to the Volunteer Information Session here.

Volunteers sharing their muscle power in the garden!

Volunteers sharing their muscle power in the garden!