Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable grown in the home garden.
Tomato varieties come in different shapes, sizes, and colors, as well as taste and texture. The different types have different tolerance to disease and pests.
Worldwide there are thousands of varieties of tomatoes. Try as many as you can and experiment with different colors and tastes, but remember, there will always be the inevitable losses from birds and pests.
Tomatoes are a relatively easy vegetable to grow and very rewarding.
Types Of Tomato Plants
Determinate - bush variety. These are compact varieties and grow to a limited height, usually 3 - 4 feet (1-1.2 meters). Determinate variety tomatoes stop growing once the fruit sets and the fruit will ripen all at the same time.
Examples of Determinate (bush) - Roma, Bush Early Girl, Celebrity, Patio Choice Yellow
Indeterminate - vine variety has lateral branches. These will need staking or some form of support, as the weight of the tomato will pull the plant over. Staking, cages or trellises are the most common way of supporting the tomato plants.
If you do not stake them, they will sprawl along the ground and put down roots wherever the stem touches the ground.
Indeterminate plants will grow until the first frosts kill them off.
Examples of Indeterminate (vine) - cherry tomatoes, Betty, Red Oxheart, Yellow Pear, Black Plum
When To Plant Tomatoes
Tomatoes are a subtropical fruit and thrive in the warm summer temperatures.
Make sure the minimum temperature is above 50F (10C) before planting seeds and transplanting seedlings.
Generally, most tomato plants need 100 days to mature from seed, so remember this when planting late in the season.
If you've left your planting too late in the season, try cool-weather crops.
Where To Plant Tomatoes
Position your tomato plants in a sunny spot, and if your climate is warm, they will still do well in part shade.
Tomato plants need at least 8 hours of sun per day.
Plant tomatoes in well-drained fertile soil with lots of organic matter added.
Preparing the garden bed for tomatoes by adding compost to any soil type will be beneficial.
For clay soil, add some gypsum, which adds calcium and helps with the particles of clay soil sticking together.
If your soil is fertile with plenty of organic material added, then there will be no need for any other additive or fertilizer during the growing season.
Fertile, nutrient-rich soil and mulching holds water well and prevents the dirt from drying out too quickly, which will cause the fruit to crack. In turn, this reduces the amount of water needed.
How Often Should Tomato Plants Be Watered
A drip system is the best system for tomatoes. It keeps the ground evenly moist and keeps the water off the leaves.
If you use a hose with a sprinkler attachment, always water at the base of the plant, try to keep the water off the leaves to prevent disease.
Water deeply every few days, making sure the water goes deep down into the soil to encourage the roots to go down deep to reach a consistent supply of water.
Mulch the plants to limit evaporation.
Growing Tomatoes From Seed In Seed Trays
There are two schools of thought in growing tomatoes from seed. Some people are successful in growing them directly in the garden bed, and others prefer to grow them in seed trays and transplant into the beds once they are of a specific size, especially if you have a short summer season.
Use plastic party cups with three holes drilled (or burned with a soldering iron or hot nail) into the bottom of the cup - these cups are an ideal size. Or use any leftover plastic container with a similar size to the plastic/paper cup, making sure they have drainage holes.
Use organic seed starting mix or make your own with two parts coco coir and 1 part perlite. Fill the cup halfway with the mix.
Place one or two seeds into each cup on top of the moistened seed mix. Top with a bit of soil.
Keep moist by placing the seed cups in a basin of water.
As the stem begins to grow further away from the soil - add more soil mix until the soil reaches the top of the cup. The reason for this is it allows for the most vigorous root system.
Use a grow light or a very sunny windowsill, if you are starting seeds indoors.
Once the seedling has the first true set of leaves, give the seedling a weekly dose of organic liquid fertilizer at half strength.
In 6-8 weeks, your tomato seedlings will be ready to be planted out.
How To Grow Tomatoes From Cuttings
Growing a new tomato plant from a cutting is very simple and a great way to extend your growing season.
You will find some good cuttings at any time, but especially when or if you prune your plant.
Find some side growth of at least 3 or 4 inches (7-10cm) in length.
Remove most of the leaves and all flowers if there are any. Leave 3 - 4 leaves. We don't want the energy going into the leaves or the flowers, but instead, we need the energy for the new roots.
- Place in a cup of water to begin rooting, submerging about 3/4 of the stem, OR
- Place these cuttings directly into a cup of planting mix by making a few holes with a stick then put the new cutting into the hole - firm down the planting mix.
Keep the soil moist.
Once they have started developing roots (about 3-5 weeks) - plant them out into the garden.
Sowing Tomato Seeds Directly In Your Garden Beds
Direct sowing eliminates the transport shock some plants have when planted out from their seedling tray to the garden bed.
Direct sown seeds grow quicker than those planted into seedling trays first.
Make sure your air temperature is 50F (10C) or above before sowing seeds directly into the garden bed.
Sow the seeds and then thin them out when they are about 6 inches (15cm) high. Transplant these excess seedlings elsewhere in the garden.
Transplanting Tomato Plants Into Your Garden
Place the transplants/seedlings in their trays into an area outside for a few days so that they may be "hardened off."
Hardening off is allowing your plant to get used to its new environment.
Transplants of about 6 inches (15cm) can be planted deep in the soil. The stem has hairy roots, and when planted deeply, the hairs come into contact with the earth and put down roots, when there is more of the stem underground, the better the root system on the plant.
How To Grow Tomatoes In Containers
Determinate tomatoes grow well in containers or pots but for the larger varieties use a large container of at least 5 gallons (20 liters)
Always use premium quality potting soil specifically for pots and containers.
Water containers regularly and keep the soil consistently moist. Never let the soil dry out.
What To Plant With Tomatoes
Basil is the first plant that comes to mind when companion planting with tomatoes. However, other plants do well planted amongst or near them.
Grow leafy greens amongst the tomatoes as some leafy greens such as lettuce prefer some shade, so these two compliments each other perfectly.
Plants with a strong scent such as marigolds and geraniums repel garden pests.
Do Tomato Plants Need Pruning?
Prune early in your tomato plant's life, getting rid of lower branches that may touch the ground, foliage showing signs of disease, and extra leaders taking energy away from the main stems.
When growing tomatoes up a trellis or arch, prune the plant by leaving the two main stems only to grow upwards to the top of the arch. Then allow the plant to bush out and grow over the trellis. The fruit will hang down through the roof of the lattice or trellis. Use twine to secure the plants.
Remove the small side shoots as these will grow and take the energy away from the rest of the plant.
Don't be too heavy-handed when pruning your tomato plant as the foliage keeps the sun off the fruit and prevents sunburn.
Problems With Tomato Plants
If given the right conditions, tomatoes will happily grow and produce well. However, occasionally problems happen in the best of garden beds.
Your local garden center will keep the best varieties for your area, which have adapted to your climate and conditions.
Leaves Turning Yellow
If there are only a few leaves turning yellow, this isn't of significant concern. If there are many yellow leaves, either the plant is not absorbing enough nutrients from the soil, or they do not have enough sunlight.
Tomato Plant Pests
One way of preventing pests from getting to your tomato plants is with netting.
Tomato Horn Worms
These worms can decimate a plant in a day or two. Black tiny droppings and split leaves are the first indication. Pick these worms off and feed them to your chickens.
Catch them in traps. Never use poison, especially if you have pets. Many birds and animals eat rats, and these animals will also die.
Usually attacks the larger tomato variety by laying larvae in the fruit. Try growing the small to medium types.
Nematodes attack the roots of the tomato plant, and the plant will die. Rotate your tomato crops into different beds each season.
If this happens to one of your tomato plants - remove it immediately as this may be a wilt virus that can infect other plants.
Blight, Rust and Mildew
These diseases are because there has been too much moisture on the leaves. Keep the leaves dry and remove all the lower leaves. Pinch off the affected leaves.
If the majority of the plant is affected, use neem oil.
Cracks In Tomato Fruit
If the soil dries out too quickly, then it is watered well, it will result in the fruit cracking. The fruit becomes dehydrated when allowed to dry out, and once you water, it will suck in as much water as it can. More than its skin can take. Almost like stretch marks on people, but on tomatoes, these stretch marks crack open. They are still edible but cut off the crack.
Unusually high or low temperatures can cause the blossoms to drop off the plant.
Too little water allows the soil to dry out and cause the blossoms to dry out and drop off.
Harvesting Your Tomatoes
Harvest your tomatoes when they have ripened on the vine. Vine-ripened tomatoes allow time for the plant to draw in the maximum amount of sugars into the tomato for maximum taste and nutrition.
Some varieties ripen at different times, which extends your harvest for longer over the season.
Tomatoes thrive in the warm summer temperatures.
Water consistently and never allow the soil to dry out.
Speak to your local garden center about which variety to plant in your area that has the least amount of problems.
Once you've tried homegrown tomatoes, you'll never purchase supermarket tomatoes ever again.