Growing tomatoes is relatively easy if you follow a few basic guidelines. In warmer climates, you can even get two tomato crops per season.
Tomato plants can be susceptible to pests and diseases so proper plant care is important. Continue reading to learn how to grow tomatoes in your home garden.
Is A Tomato A Fruit Or Vegetable?
The question about whether a tomato is a fruit or vegetable is actually quite a loaded and debated question. The truth is that tomatoes are both a fruit and a vegetable at the same time.
To explain this you have to look at the true definition of the terms “fruit” and “vegetables”.
Simply put, a fruit is the means that a plant spreads their seeds into the world. On the other hand, a vegetable is any plant that is meant to be consumed.
Are you confused yet?
So fruits are also vegetables, but a vegetable is not always a fruit? Hmmm.
So to sum up the loaded question of if a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable?… Yes & No, but we are positive that the USDA plant classification system is very complex and confusing.
Currently, the USDA classifies the tomato as a vegetable so that is what we will call it.
What Variety Of Tomatoes Should I Plant?
When it comes to choosing which type of tomatoes you should plant it can be very easy to get overwhelmed. There are hundreds of different types and varieties and it hard to know what will work best in your garden.
When thinking about how to grow tomatoes it is important to consider the space that you have to grow them in.
The most important terms to keep in mind when shopping for tomato varieties are Determinate and Indeterminate. Which one you will choose will depend on how much space you have for your tomato garden.
Determinate varieties grow to a certain height (usually 2 to 3 feet), set fruit, and then concentrate on ripening that fruit. (Similar to a Bush Bean)
Indeterminate varieties keep growing taller and taller, setting and ripening fruit until they’re killed by frost. These varieties require more support (from cages and stakes) and more a bit more attention from the gardener. (Similar to a Vining Bean)
When starting off growing tomatoes don’t worry so much about only choosing fancy heirloom breeds. Instead choose a wide range of varieties, including both heirloom and hybrid, so that you can see what type will work best in your garden.
If you want to learn more about the different varieties of tomatoes and how to choose the right one here is a great article by Gardeners Supply. What Kind of Tomato Should I Grow?
READ: HOW TO GROW GARLIC
From The Seeds To The Dirt
If you are looking to start your tomatoes from seeds rather than buying transplants from your garden store, you will want to start them indoors about 6 to 8 weeks before your last expected frost date in your area.
You can use this tool to find out what the last frost dates are in your area. You can work from there to see when you need to get your seeds planted inside.
Here is more detailed information about starting tomato seedlings.
Soil Preparation Before Planting
Tomatoes thrive on heat. Make sure that your tomato plot is in a sunny location with well-draining soil. Tomatoes need at least 6 to 8 hours of sun to bring out their best flavors.
Tomatoes are considered heavy feeders on the soil. Consider how many fruits can be harvested from such a small plant. The nutrients to produce all those delicious tomatoes come from the soil surrounding the plant’s root system.
Tomatoes are able to absorb nutrients best when their soil pH ranges from 6.2 to 6.8, (Find pH Soil Tests Here). To provide the tomato plant with its needed nutrients, mix a continuous-release fertilizer with calcium, as well as a high quality compost into the soil a week before planting.
Be sure the add both fertilizer with calcium and compost because they both feed the plant in different ways. The fertilizer will help protect fruit from blossom end rot, which is a problem that can occur when the plant isn’t getting enough calcium. The compost will provide micronutrients and help hold moisture and fertilizer in the soil until it is needed by the plants.
How to Plant Tomatoes
Tomatoes should be planted a minimum of 2 feet apart. If you chose a long-vined, indeterminate variety spacing should be about 3 feet apart. Short stockier determinate plants can be grown 2 feet apart.
Given the opportunity, tomato plants will sprout roots along their stems anywhere that they touch the soil. With this knowledge, you can give you tomato transplants a headstart at becoming a strong healthy plant.
Pinch off a few of the lower branches on transplants, and plant the root ball deep enough so that the remaining lowest leaves are just above the surface of the soil.
You can either dig a deep hole or simply dig a shallow trench and lay the plant sideways. It will quickly straighten itself up and grow toward the sun.
Place tomato stakes or cages in the soil at the time of planting.
Staking keeps developing tomato fruit off the ground while caging lets the plant hold itself upright. Just be careful not to drive your tomato stake or cage into the buried stem.
Water the tomato transplants well immediately after planting to reduce shock to the root system.
How to Grow Tomatoes
Keep Them Alive And Thriving
Caring For Tomato Plants
Regular watering is very important for healthy tomatoes. Aim for about two inches of water per week during the summer.
Irregular watering – missing a week and trying to make up for it – leads to blossom end rot and cracking. Don’t be afraid to reach down into the soil a bit, if the top inch is completely dry, then it is time to water.
When watering make sure to water deeply and really soak the roots of the plant. Also, it is best to water in the early morning so that the plant has the moisture that it needs to thrive in the afternoon sun.
Try not to get alot of water on the leaves of the plant and concentrate watering at the base of the plant. Wet leaves contribute to diseases.
After the temperatures remain warm, both during the day and at night, you can add a layer of mulch to retain moisture. While mulching does conserve water and prevents the soil and soil born diseases from splashing up on the plants, if you put it down too early it will also shade and cool the soil. Since tomatoes love heat, allow the sun to warm the soil in the spring.
As the tomato plants grow, trim all the lower leaves off the bottom 12 inches of the stem.
These are the oldest of the leaves and are the first to develop problems. Them having reduced sun, airflow and being close to the ground can be a breeding ground for pathogens and fungal diseases.
Simple pruning of these lower leaves can help remedy these problems.
Since tomatoes are heavy feeders on the soil it is wise to give them extra helpings of compost and fertilizer every two weeks during the summer and early fall.
Fighting Diseases and Infestations
Tomatoes are susceptible to infestations and diseases, including tomato hornworms, blossom end rot, and late blight.
These large green caterpillars, or tomato hornworms, are a common pest of mid-summer. Hornworms eat plant foliage and immature fruit.
They can be found in all regions of the US and can ruin your tomato crop in record time. They can blend in quite easily with the green foliage and feed non-stop, creating spotty and chewed leaves and fruit.
You may also find them on eggplants, peppers, and potatoes. You need to remove all infestations as soon as you spot them.
Blossom End Rot
Blossom end rot is, unfortunately, a common problem in tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers.
End rot happens when the plant can’t get enough calcium from the soil, so it takes calcium from the tissues on the blossom end of the fruit.
The best way to combat blossom end rot is to prep the soil before the tomatoes are even planted. Tomatoes do best with a soil pH around 6.5.
Add lime to the soil to increase the ratio of calcium ions to other competitive ions in the soil. Also, you can add crushed eggshells, gypsum, or bone meal to the transplant hole to fortify calcium intake.
Moisture fluctuations can also contribute the increases in blossom end rot so it is important to keep to a watering schedule.
Late Blight is a fungal disease that can strike during any part of the growing season. It will cause grey, moldy spots on leaves and fruit which later turn brown.
The disease spreads in constant damp weather. This disease will survive over the winter, so all infected plants should be destroyed.
Harvesting And Storage Of Fresh Tomatoes
Finally, the moment you have been waiting for all summer… HARVEST TIME!
Tomatoes are ripe when they are very red in color and firm. You will see a bit of yellow around the stem and that is fine. If you grow orange, yellow or any other color tomato wait for the tomato to turn the correct color.
For the best flavor try and leave the tomatoes on the vine to ripen as long as possible.
If any green or yellow fall off you can place them inside a paper bag and store them in a cool, dark place to ripen fully.
You should never put tomatoes in the sun to ripen because they may end up rotting before they ripen.
Store picked tomatoes at room temperature indoors, or in a shady place outside. Never refrigerate tomatoes, because temperatures below 55° cause the precious flavor compounds to break down.
You can also freeze whole tomatoes for later processing. Just remove the core and place them into freezer bags. You can freeze them for up to six months and the skins will come right off once they are thawed.
If you need some ideas on what to make with your fresh tomatoes here are some amazing recipes from my friends!
I hope that you enjoyed this explanation of how to grow tomatoes. Good luck with your tomato crop and let me know how it goes!