How to Grow Tomatoes

Unripe Tomato

It’s not too hard to start your own tomato garden. Even space doesn’t have to be an issue. Most tomato plants are staked up (even if they are determinate tomatoes) but they don’t have to be. Because of their vining nature, they will happily crawl across the ground. Just use some mulch to prevent the tomato produce from rotting or soil borne diseases.

Tomatoes can be grown in raised beds or containers too if space is limited. There are even containers that allow you to grow tomatoes hanging upside down. Use a large container, at least ten inches, preferably more and you can build a trellis for the tomato plant to vine up if you wish. There are commercial tomato cages that can be used as well.

Seed Starting

Everything starts with the seed. In some places, you can grow tomatoes by direct sowing, or sowing directly into the place the tomato plant will be grown. In warmer climates, this can be done with relatively no intervention or protection. After the tomatoes have grown to about six inches, you can mulch them to help retain moisture. Make sure the tomatoes don’t get too soggy but they don’t like dry soil either. Tomatoes are warm loving so if you plan to direct sow, they need to be sown once there is no danger of frost. Tomatoes like full sun and need at least six to eight hours to get the maximum production.

The last frost date is determined by the hardiness zone of your area. This can be found using a chart drawn up by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) or call a local agriculture department to find what hardiness zone you are in.

If you want to start tomatoes early, you can choose to start them indoors. Get some smaller containers at least three inches in diameter. Use a soilless germinating mixture for the best results and germination. Place a few seeds in the container and place the container by a sunny window. If you do not have a window where the tomatoes can get at least six hours of sun, you will need to supplement the plant with artififical lighting. Regular lights won’t give the correct type of light needed and may not work to help supplement the tomato plant. You will need to get grow lights (aquarium lights) or shop light fixtures that have flourescent lighting. If you plan to supplement the tomato plants, keep the lights at least three to five inches from the tomato plant’s leaves. Once the plants have reached a height of at least six inches or your frost time is past, then you can safely transplant into the final garden spot.

Plants

You can buy tomato plants almost anywhere these days including from many grocery and department stores. Many varieties can be found in home and garden stores too. When buying plants, you need to look for any physical deformations. You don’t want curled leaves, mildew, any sign of visible mold or broken stems as these can be signs of trouble. The longer plants sit in a pot, the more the roots start to grow. This can cause the tomato plant to become root bound, with a gnarled mess of roots. This can interfere with proper growth. These tomatoes should be immediately transplanted. If you cannot immediately transplant them into the final spot, then transplant them into a bigger pot.

Care and Maintanence

Soon your tomatoes will be growing little yellow flowers. This is the spot where the tomato fruit will set. These flowers will need to pollinated in order for this to happen. Most times, this will be done by wind or insects such as bees. But if tomatoes are grown in greenhouses or inside where wind and insects aren’t a possibility, it can be done by hand. A small fan blown everyday on the tomatoes for a little bit of time can help. You can also take a small paint brush and brush each flower moving from flower to flower of the other tomato plants.

Be sure to keep the soil moist but not too soggy. They need warm weather. Sometimes, cooler weather can come in and protection might be needed. If the plants are small enough, they can be protected by two liter bottles. Take green two liter bottles and cut out the bottoms and place them on the tomato plants at night when the temperatures are colder. Make sure to take off the tomato bottles in the morning before the sun has a chance to bake the tomato plants.

Harvest Time

Tradtionally, tomatoes turn bright red when they are ripe. They are also firm with just a slight bit of juiciness when they are ready to be harvested. But since there are many different types of tomatoes, this can vary widely. Some tomatoes may be picked as green tomatoes and fried up to be eaten while others should be picked when they readily come off the stem.

Most tomatoes take two to three months to mature. Cherry tomatoes are generally the first to ripen but there are main season tomatoes that are bred for northern climates and are ready for harvest within two months. Be sure to harvest all fruit before frost sets in as the plant will soon die after these first frosts.

Tomatoes have been around for perhaps thousands of years. They are ever popular in home gardens. Why not have a few in your own home garden?

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