How to Grow Series
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- Seeds to Seedlings
- Soil Preparation
- Planting Time
- Two Weeks After Planting
- Manipulating Flavor
- Pests & Diseases
There is nothing better than biting into a homegrown tomato that actually tastes like a tomato should. Using tomatoes for sandwiches to homemade sauce, makes tomatoes the most popular vegetables to grow at home. Although if you want to get technical, tomatoes are a fruit and not a vegetable. But we shall leave that debate for another day.
This article is geared towards planting tomatoes in the ground, but they can also be grown in 5-gallon or larger containers. Find out how to grow vegetables in containers here.
If you are going to grow tomatoes from seed, it's best to start them 6-8 weeks before your last frost. I think 8 weeks is best. Once you have a tomato plant suitable for transplanting (four or more true leaves on the seedling), it's time to prepare the soil.
You can also purchase tomato seedlings from vendors at the farmer's market, nursery or home improvement store. These plants are further along than ones you might start from seed, so you are likely to get ripe fruit sooner. Or you can do what I do most of the time. I am not a very good seed starter and my heirloom tomatoes tend to self sow themselves in the garden, so I just let them do that and transplant them to a more suitable location if necessary. I may not know exactly what variety they are until they begin to fruit, but at least I know it's one I already like since I grew them before.
Before planting make sure your tomatoes are properly hardened off so they can withstand the elements of the outdoors, namely sun and wind. This is especially important if you started your plants from seed indoors. If you are not familiar with how this is done, check out this article on our website.
All vegetables will grow much better with compost rich soil and tomatoes, especially, are heavy feeders. If you want to be a successful vegetable grower, the soil is the key to success, in my opinion. Add 2-3 inches of good quality compost and/or composted manure to your garden beds at the beginning of the season and again at the end of the season before you put your beds to sleep for the winter. Plants, bacteria and other microbes within the soil use the compost for fuel, so you need to add it every year in one form or another.
When nighttime temperatures are consistently in the 50s (Fahrenheit) it's time to plant. Choose an area that gets full sun (at least 6-8 hours of bright sun per day) and dig a hole that is about 8" wide and 8" deep. I like to set the soil aside from the hole and then add a handful or two of compost along with a high phosphorous fertilizer that is specifically formulated for tomatoes. I also like to add about 2 teaspoons of Epsom salts. The Epsom salts help to create chlorophyll and will allow the plant to more easily take up the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in the soil. Mix the fertilizers and other additives with the soil from the planting hole and then use that to fill in the area around the roots of the tomato.
If your soil tends to run a little on the acidic side, you may want to perform a soil test and then add lime to the soil to bring it up to a pH of between 6.0-7.0. equally, if your soil is more alkaline, you will have to add sulfur and/or peat moss to bring down the pH.
Plant the tomato deeper than it was in the original pot about 18" apart, depending on the variety. Tomatoes will grow roots along the stem which will create a much stronger root system. The more roots, the stronger the plant, the more tomatoes you will harvest.
At this time, I also prefer to put in my tomato stakes of choice. I know where the roots and stems are buried so I don't damage them and I can easily tie the stems to the stake as the tomato grows. Tomato cages are OK for smaller varieties, but sometimes a simple 7' long piece of re-bar pounded into the ground 16-18 inches is best. Just tie the stems loosely to the re-bar with twine or stretchy plant "tape" as they grow.