Growing tomatoes is a joy that knows no bounds. In this post learn everything you need to know to growing your best tomato crop. Picking different varieties and creating new recipes with tomatoes is one of my favorite things. They carry a host of health benefits. They are also delicious and versatile.
Choosing what to plant
Before starting your tomato garden you’ll need to decide whether or not you want to start your tomatoes from seed you buy tomato starts from your local nursery or garden supply store. I like to start my own seeds, or have another local gardener start them for me. By starting your own seeds you’ll get to pick which varieties you want to grow and you can use seeds that you have collected from gardens past. For more on seed saving this article is great!
If you chose to buy tomato starts from you local nursery I recommend choosing healthy looking green plants. Steer away from yellowing leaves or drooping plants. I also prefer heirloom varieties for eating and if you're planning on preserving and canning your tomatoes, pick a good Roma variety.
Choose a sunny spot. Tomatoes require full sun (6 or more hours per day) in order to grow and produce fruit. Also try to rotate your planting spots its best to rotate your tomato planting areas on a three year rotation. If you are planting tomatoes in containers year after year, be sure too heavily amend the soil to ensure that the soil has proper nutrients.
Harden off seedlings. Hardening off means slowly acclimating young seedlings to outdoor conditions. Introduce them to the outdoors a little bit each day. Be sure to put them inside if there is any risk of frost. Check your local growing regions last frost forecast, tomatoes will not survive freezing temperatures.
When planting I like to take off the layer of leaves closest to the soil or the bottom layer of leaves and plant the tomato in soil a bit above this point, usually about ¼ inch. You do not want soil touching the leaves, but planting the stem deep in the soil allows for the plant to develop a wider root base. This method is a form of trench planting. Some gardeners prefer to lay the tomato stalk vertically in the ground to do this, on occasion I will use the vertical method, but you can also just dig a deeper hole.
A Word on Tomato Cages
As you know there are many different varieties of tomatoes. Most can be allowed to run over the ground like any vine plant. I prefer to cage my tomatoes to save space and make for an easier harvest. also Caging my tomatoes makes it easier to spot pests and deters leaf rot. I recommend using a very sturdy cage, you can build your own or buy them pre made. for instructions on building your own you can use these plans.
Depending on your growing zone, your tomatoes will probably begin to ripen in July or August. Pick them as fast as they are ready. This usually means that they have changed from a green color to a red, pink, purple or orange depending on the variety. I have actually had some delicious green stripped tomatoes that were fully green even at their ripest. Just be sure to know what the ripened fruit looks like for the variety you chose to plant.
Vine ripened tomatoes are simply the best, you will never find a grocery store comparison. You can harvest your tomatoes green as well, I typically do this late in the season if there is a frost imminent, as the frost will kill your tomato plant and ruin the fruit. You can ripen green tomatoes indoors in a cool well ventilated place, I usually use a cardboard box in my pantry. For more information on storing and preserving tomatoes you can visit my articles here an here.
Now get to planning and planting your best tomato garden yet!