There's nothing better than a BLT sandwich with a freshly picked tomato slice. Yum! Our mouths are watering just thinking about it! The key to great tomatoes is simple, they just need the right combination of sun, water, soil, nutrients and, of course, love. Here's how to do it:
Choosing Your Site
Tomatoes need lots of sun. Make sure that the area you want to plant them gets a least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day, has good air circulation and well-drained soil. If growing tomatoes in the ground or in raised beds, it's a good idea to change the growing location within your garden each year to avoid soil-borne diseases. If you don't have a sunny spot in your gardens, you can plant some varieties containers and put it in a sunny spot on your porch or patio. Make sure your container has at least a 12”-18” diameter.
Amending Your Soil
Tomatoes grow best in fertile soil, so prepare your beds by incorporating compost to help hold moisture and provide nutrients to tomatoes as they grow. You can also mix in some Espoma® Tomato-tone. This organic fertilizer is formulated with calcium to help prevent blossom end rot and to produce consistently plump, juicy tomatoes.
Choosing Your Plants
Look for plants that are compact and healthy looking—not stretched or with yellow leaves. If you are feeling adventurous, plant several different varieties. We love the yellow cherry variety 'Sun Sugar'. It has a wonderful flavor and produces a ton of tomatoes. We also find the heirloom ‘Rainbow Beefsteak Mix’ a treat with its mix of pink, red, yellow, green, black and orange fruits. 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.
Tomatoes can be either be determinate or indeterminate. Determinate tomatoes are bush varieties that grow to a set height from 18” to 36” and then form tomatoes at the ends of their branches. These tomatoes ripen during a concentrated period, usually within 4 to 6 weeks. Indeterminate tomatoes are vining type plants. They will grow, blossom, and set fruit all through the season, but they have fewer mature tomatoes at any one time. These plants can reach 3’ to 6’ or more and need staking so they don’t sprawl on the ground. Each variety we carry is labeled on its sign whether it is a determinate or indeterminate variety.
Planting Your Plants
Tomato plants thrive in the heat, so don’t plant them outdoors until after the last frost and the soil temperature has reached 60 degrees. If you do want to plant them sooner, remember to protect them from cold night temperatures.
When you plant your tomatoes, remove the first set of leaves and bury about 3-4” of the stem. Roots will grow from that point and will give your plants a better root system and a faster start. Be sure to leave enough space between each plant. Depending on the variety and type, you should space them 24-36” apart. Check your tomato labels for specifics. Don’t worry if your plants are not looking great the first week they are in the ground. They are most likely suffering from a bit of transplant shock and will be just fine.
Tomatoes should be staked, trellised or caged for support. This will keep plants off the ground and make it easier to harvest. It’s best to install stakes or cages when planting to avoid disturbing the roots later. As your plants grow and flourish you might need to tie branches to the stake, trellis or cage. Avoid damaging tender branches by using soft ties, such as pipe cleaners, strips of rags or panty hose to secure branches to supports.
Water plants well immediately, then check the soil every day for the first two weeks by sticking your finger in the dirt about 2” below the surface. When dry, water to get the plants established. 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.
When pruning indeterminate tomatoes, pinch off suckers. This will help the plant produce better fruit and a stronger stem. If you miss one and it gets bigger than a pencil, you can leave it alone. Do not prune determinate tomatoes as this will reduce production. Remember if you use pruners in the garden, clean the blades between each plant, otherwise you could spread disease from one plant to another.
Enjoy the fruits of your labor!
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 or even just before they are fully ripe to keep them from falling prey to squirrels and birds.
Posted on 5/7/2015 at 5:12:00 AM