If you have started thinking about your summer garden I am sure that you are also thinking about the types of plants you will add. One of the most popular is the tomato.
These plants are not only easy to grow, but can also thrive almost anywhere.
Just a few will provide enough fruit for your entire family. Because they flourish in the summer heat, they are the favorite summer vegetable in gardens across the country.
Easy to grow and great in salads, is a perfect starter plant for the novice. Despite this article being about vegetables, tomatoes are indeed a fruit and I will refer to them as such.
Tomatoes are very sensitive to frost, so don’t set them out too early. Wait until all danger of frost has passed and air and soil temperatures are favorable.
These plants are tropical in origin and have very little tolerance for cold. They are classified either as indeterminate or determinate. Indeterminate examples grow all season, continuing to bloom and produce fruit as long as weather conditions are favorable.
Determinate examples are bush-like plants that produce their fruits all at once and cease growing at a particular height.
They can also be divided into three types by use: slicing, canning, and cherry. Aside from their uses, there is little difference when it comes to growing them.
Decide for yourself what you plan on using your fresh home grown tomatoes for and plant accordingly.
Be sure to account for how much space you have available and ask someone at a nursery what grows best in your area if you are confused on what types to grow.
Cages, Staking, and Pruning
While it is a great delight to harvest sweet and juicy fruits in the summer heat, growing healthy plants require staking.
Growing tomatoes in wire cages is one popular method among gardeners because of its simplicity. Cage training allows the plant to grow in its natural manner, but keeps the fruit and leaves off the ground.
Stakes have to be put into the ground before transplanting to the garden. The depth of the stake should be 1-ft deep below the ground. Staked tomatoes produce fewer but larger fruit than caged or unsupported examples.
You will also get healthier, stronger leaves, stems, and fruits if you prune your tomatoes.
You should remove suckers, the shoot that grows between the main stem and a leaf. Suckers should be broken off while they are still small, less than 4 inches in length.
Root Systems and Planting
Place seedling in an are where they can receive six hours or more of sunlight unless you live in zone 8 to 10, (south or southwest) then about 5 hours are sufficient.
If possible try to plant in an area that receives early morning sun, late afternoon sun and is shaded during the hottest parts of the day. If your growing area only receives about 3 to 4 hours of sunlight, cherry tomatoes may be planted there.
The plant will not be as big as it would in full sun but it will still produce a decent harvest of fruit.
Average well drained soil is best, as tomatoes are not picky. Don’t use compost or fertilizer after the plant is in the ground.
This will cause the plant to produce lots of leaves but little or no fruit. If you are going to add nutrient to the soil do so at the beginning of the season before the plant is in the ground.
Try to be constituent with watering keep the soil evenly moist, but not wet. Going from dry soil to soaked can cause the fruit to crack.
Tomatoes are one of the few vegetables (well technically a fruit) that will root along the stem.
This is actually a good thing because it gives you a deeper root system. The larger the root system, the better the plant will be.
Deep planting of seedlings allows them to generate a better root system, resulting in an over-all stronger plant.
Plant as much of the seedling underground as possible. Roots will form along the buried portion of the stem, giving better growth and less chance of injury from a too-weak stem.
Do not remove the containers if they are peat or paper pots, but open or tear off one side to allow roots to get a good start.
Roots are the main limiting factor in total production, which is why potted examples never grow as big or produce as many tomatoes as plants in the ground.
Deep watering is preferable, over more frequent, light watering. You want moisture to go deep to all the roots.
They need to be planted about 3 to 4 feet apart if they are not going to be caged. And if they are, then you can get away with 2 feet.
If you live in a hot, dry and windy climate letting the plants spall on the ground is often best since the weather will damage the fruit if they are staked.
Container gardening is the perfect solution for those who live in apartments and condos, without the luxury of a garden, or the time to tend a full garden.
All you need are containers, potting soil, and the seedlings. Container gardening also needs to incorporate a few other practices for good production.
Make sure your containers are large enough. You don’t have to purchase expensive pots if you have some plastic 5 gallon buckets.
Containers need far better drainage conditions than direct soil but will also require more watering.
Plants grown in containers will not grow as big as those planted directly in the soil.
How to Start or Purchase Tomato Plants
When you are ready to get started, you will need to purchase your tomatoes. Some of the more adventurous gardeners will start theirs from seeds indoors.
You can get seeds from a local source, from many seed company catalogs, or even on Amazon.
I would recommend starting your seeds around 2 months before you want to put them outside. This will give you strong specimens.
Don’t just put your plants outdoors without getting them used to the different climate. Begin by setting them outside for a few hours each day in the shade.
They will become acclimated to the difference in temperature. Increase the time they are outside every day. Then you can start putting them in the sun for increasing periods of time.
If you put them directly in the sun at the start you will end up with sunburned leaves.
Others will choose to purchase from a garden center or someone else who has started seeds.
Choose strong examples with a thick stem. This will prevent your plants from being bent over in the strong spring winds.
Sometimes they are already accustomed to being in the sun, but take notice of the environment where you purchase them.
Diseases and Pests
Now you are ready to start growing. Make sure your tomatoes have the correct food. You can ask at your local garden center or do a little research online.
I do not like to use pesticides so I try to use natural ways to combat bugs.
One way is to plant marigolds among your tomatoes. The smell of the marigolds is not pleasant to bugs or other insects.
If you have a problem with slugs in your garden, bury a large mouth jar in your garden and fill it with beer. The slugs are attracted to the yeast in the beer and will not be able to climb out of the jar after they fall in.
If the fruits are becoming rotten on the bottom or rotten on the inside, this is blossom-end rot. It is caused by cool weather and is not a disease.
Usually this can happen to the first batch but once the weather warms up the problem goes away. Simple pick the rotten fruit and toss it.
Another thing you need to watch out for is tomato blight. Check out this article for more information on this fungal based disease.
Tomatoes are ready to be picked when they are a rich red orange color. Sometimes the fruit doesn’t ripen properly when the temperature exceeds 85F or 29.4C, if that is the case pick nearly ripen fruit and let it ripen indoors away from direct sunlight at room temperature.
Don’t put the fruit in the refrigerator because the cool temperature takes away from the flavor.
I hope your garden is very productive this year and that you enjoy the bounty provided by your own hands. Happy gardening!