The only thing better than growing your own tomatoes, is eating them. Homegrown tomatoes are one of the pleasures of summer and with a little TLC you and your family can enjoy fresh, mouth-watering tomatoes from mid-summer to first frost.
This year the key is to be patient. Spring is 2-3 weeks behind so the soil temperature is still too cold for heat-loving plants like tomatoes. They do best when soil temperature is above 60 degrees.
Start by deciding whether you’re growing in the ground, in raised beds or in containers. Choose a location that gets 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day, good air circulation and has well-drained soil. If you grow in the ground or in raised beds, you should change the growing location within your garden each year to avoid soil-borne diseases. Tomatoes grow best in fertile soil, so prepare by incorporating compost to help hold moisture and provide nutrients to tomatoes as they grow. Tomatoes can be grown staked, trellised or caged, but some type of support is necessary to keep plants off the ground, optimally productive and easy to harvest.
When you’re buying tomato transplants, choose plants that are compact and healthy looking—not stretched or with yellow leaves. There are lots of varieties and types of tomatoes to choose from. Consider planting several varieties. Start by planting half your plants, then 3 weeks later buying and planting the other half, so that you stretch out your harvest. Unless you’re planning to can or freeze your harvest, a good rule of thumb is 1-2 plants per person in the household who will be eating tomatoes.
Tomato plants thrive in the heat, so don’t plant them outdoors until after the last frost, unless you intend to protect them from cold night temperatures. When planting, bury tomatoes up to the first set of leaves; roots will sprout from the sides of the stem and give your plants a better root system and a faster start. Don’t crowd your plants; depending on variety and type,space them 24-36” apart—check labels for specifics. It’s best to install stakes or cages when planting to avoid disturbing the roots later. Water plants well immediately, then water thoroughly every other day for the first two weeks to establish plants. It’s also a good idea to add about an inch of mulch–shredded leaves or straw– around plants to discourage weeds and to retain moisture.
Maintaining Healthy Plants
Tomato plants need about 1-3 inches of water per week. To reduce disease issues, it’s best to water the soil rather than the foliage, and to water in the morning, rather than evening. Tomatoes are fairly heavy feeders, so fertilize with a plant food recommended for vegetables, starting about one week after planting, and then about every two weeks according to label instructions.To give your plants a mid-summer boost, spread a couple of handfuls of nutrient-rich compost around the base of each plant and water well.
As your plants grow and flourish they’ll need the support of a trellis, stakes or cages. Avoid damaging tender branches by using soft ties, such as strips of rags or panty hose to secure branches to supports. Depending on variety and growing conditions, your tomatoes will ripen 65-90 days from transplant. It’s best to pick tomatoes at the peak of ripeness; don’t let them get over ripe.
Enjoy the fruits of your labor!
Do not store harvested tomatoes in the refrigerator. Temperatures below 55 degrees break down the membranes in the fruit walls. this will give the tomatoes a mealy texture and lesson the flavor. Instead, store harvested tomatoes at room temperature. They will develop flavor until maturation peaks a few days after picking.
Posted on 4/30/2014 at 7:15:00 PM