The number one vegetable grown every year is tomatoes. People grow the small grape tomatoes to toss into their salads, Roma tomatoes are known for the robust flavor in sauces, and the big boys like Beefsteak which are best sliced to top a burger or as part of a Capresi salad with balsamic vinegar and mozzarella cheese. So many tomatoes… so little time. It doesn’t matter what part of the country you live in, you can grow your own tomatoes like a pro.
When do you plant tomatoes?
First, you need to know how long your growing season is to determine what kind of tomatoes to start with. If you have no idea, check out this plant hardiness zone chart. If you have a short growing season, choose seeds or plants that will set fruit quickly, if you have a longer growing season you can choose any type you want.
Tomato seeds or transplants?
Next, decide if you want to invest the time into growing from seed as it can take 4-6 weeks to get the plant ready to transplant into your garden. The great thing about seeds though is that you can purchase roughly 100 seeds for less than $5 and get the exact type of tomato that you want. Whereas if you start with a transplant, you can normally buy a six-pack of tomatoes for about $4 and you are limited to what the growers have sold to the nurseries in your area. The great thing about transplants though is that you can plant them the same day you buy them! Instant garden!
Grow tomatoes in containers
If you are planting your tomatoes in a container, it needs to be a minimum of 3 gallons, with 5 gallons being preferred. Tomato plants have a healthy root system and need a lot of soil to draw the nitrogen from. If you are planting in the ground or in a raised bed, plant them at least 12” apart in all directions. Gently tease the roots out of the container, lay gently in the hole and then pack the soil firmly around the roots. Water them in deeply after planting. If you are using a container, keep watering until the water runs out of the drainage holes on the bottom. The key to successful watering is to water slow and deep rather than fast and shallow.
Caring for tomato plants
Tomatoes are heavy eaters of nutrients, especially during their growth and fruiting stage. In the starting soil, add in bone meal and blood meal to the potting soil. Both of these fertilizers are organic and the bone meal provides the food that the roots need and the blood meal provides the nutrients for the leaves and fruit. I add in one tablespoon of each every two weeks during the growing season. Since it is organic, the plant will uptake what it needs and no more. If you use synthetic fertilizers, read the directions so you don’t burn the plant.
Tomato cages work best to keep the plant upright and the developing fruit off of the ground. As the plant grows larger, gently pull the stems around the cage. If needed, use a twist tie or floral tape to get them to grow on the cage. If growing red tomatoes, keep them on the vine until they ripen for a sweeter tomato and take off when slightly green for a tarter taste.
Enjoy your homegrown tomatoes!