photo credit: Mike the Gardener: Black Krim Tomatoes
|Tomatoes are the number one item grown in the home vegetable garden. And while many people will still and always refer to the tomato as a vegetable the tomato is botanically a fruit.
Tomatoes are also one of the easiest fruits to grow in the home vegetable garden. With the wide range of tomato varieties to choose from, you are sure to find the right tomato plant for your specific climate.
Pick the Right Tomato VarietyHow you specifically use your tomato for consumption may also steer you into the direction of which tomato variety you will grow. For instance, I find using home grown Roma tomatoes are the most ideal to make tomato based sauces and tomato based salsas. The main reason being, besides the great taste Roma tomatoes have, is the fact that it is easier to remove the seeds from Roma tomatoes. Now that is not to say that other varieties of tomatoes such as cherry, pear or beefsteak tomatoes would not serve the same purpose for a recipe. From my own experience, removing tomato seeds can be time consuming in varieties not named Roma. I will save the beefsteak tomatoes for my summer lunchtime sandwich with mayo and cherry tomatoes for salads.
Embrace the Tomato Seed Growing ChallengeRegardless of which tomato variety you choose, I believe that you will not find anything more rewarding in your garden, especially for your tomato crop, than growing all of those tasty tomatoes from seeds. Something about the challenge of growing tomatoes directly from the seed, starting your tomato plants indoors before you can even move the tomato plants to the outdoors, strikes me (and maybe you) as one of those tasks where you say, “Yeah, I did it, I grew those tomatoes from seeds”.
Maximize the Yield of Your Tomato PlantsHere is what I do, to maximize the success of my tomato plants, and of course yield nice juicy tomatoes for all of those tomato recipe items I mentioned earlier.
Starting Your Tomato Seeds: You Have ChoicesAs with other seeds, you won’t have much luck in the germination process with your tomato seeds if you start with a terrible starter soil. Here is where you have plenty of options to start your tomato seeds in.
Peat PelletsYou have the expandable peat pellets. These are small hard and compressed starter pellets that you add hot water to and they expand. I use these quite often to start my tomato seeds and do very well with them. Using the peat pellets, I easily get about 95% to 97% germination rates of my tomato seeds. Of course I also use them in conjunction with a propagation dome.
Starter SoilAlong with peat pellets, you can start your tomato seeds in a pre-packaged starter soil that you can purchase at any home or garden center. These starter soils are especially formulated for seed starting. They now even make starter soils for tomato seeds. Tomato seed starting soil includes specific nutrients that not only increase germination rates, but help build strong roots of the young tomato plants, when the tomato plants need it the most.
Make Your Own Seed Starting SoilYou can also make your own tomato seed starting soil with many recipes found by doing a quick Google search. The most common one is equal parts peat, perlite and compost. Tomato seed starting soil recipes are plenty in abundance online. You are sure to find a tomato seed starting soil that meets your climate and zone requirements.
How Much Sun Do Tomatoes Need To Grow?Under optimal growing conditions, and that means, your tomato seed starts are getting at least 6 hours of sunlight per day, are in a propagation dome (or something similar), and the soil is moist but not saturated, you can expect your tomato seeds to germinate in as little as 6 days. If you do not see any activity out of your tomato seeds after day 10, something has gone wrong, and you may have to start over.
When Do you Move Your Tomato Starts?Tomatoes love to grow in climates that are hot and humid, which explains why we here in New Jersey do so well with growing tomatoes. Even in the worse of years with drought, our tomatoes in New Jersey seem to produce above average. With that said, do not transplant your tomato starts too soon. If the threat of frost is still at a medium to high level in your area, keep your tomato seed starts indoors until fear of frost passes by. A single night’s worth of frost will decimate your tomato seed starts. You can always cover them at night with a garden cloche or a 6 mil thick clear plastic tarp. I like to leave my tomato seed starts indoors until the time comes to move them.
How Do I Acclimate My Tomato Starts?Hardening off is the term you will most often hear in gardening, which means acclimating your tomato plants to the outdoor temperatures. I like to do this slowly by taking them out first thing in the morning before the sun rises and bringing them into my garage as the sun is setting. Then I increase that time spread by 10 minutes every other day or so. Of course, if frost is on the weather report you will want to make sure your tomatoes are inside.
Where Do I Plant My Tomatoes?When planting your tomato starts outdoors, choose a location that receives a full day’s worth of sun and try not to plant your tomato plants in an area where you previously planted potatoes, peppers or eggplants.
What is the Spacing for My Tomato Plants?When it comes to spacing out your tomato plants, I have read a thousand different sizes that will work for hundreds of different tomato varieties. For me, I like to prop up my tomato plants with tomato cages. They cost a couple of bucks a piece from the local home center and are virtually maintenance free. Getting back to tomato spacing, I use the measurement of the diameter of the tomato cage top and add 6 inches. It is this measurement that I use to space out my tomato plants. This method has worked out well for me for the better part of 30 years.
How Do I Keep My Tomatoes Standing Upright?Some people like to use tomato stakes and other methods to support their tomato plants and all I am sure they are all fine. In fact my dad used me and my brother’s old hockey sticks when we were kids to use as stakes for his tomato plants. You are only limited by your imagination. However, when in doubt, space out your tomato plants no less than fifteen inches, and even at that spacing, that will be tight.
As a side note, yes those Topsy Turvey™ upside down tomato planters really do work and produce a lot of tomatoes. So if you are limited on space, it may be a good way for you to go. You can also make your own upside down tomato growers out of some 5 gallon buckets, but I will save that for a future discussion.
How Do I Care for My Tomatoes?Now that you have your tomatoes started, transplanted and supported, let’s talk about simple care. While your tomato plants are growing give them a good watering making sure the soil your tomatoes are planted in remains moist but not saturated. Once you begin to harvest your tomatoes you can reduce your watering, unless of course conditions are very dry.
What Do I Feed My Tomato Plants?Tomatoes required high amounts of nutrients, especially Nitrogen, Potassium and Phosphorous. Be sure to add these as the season goes on. Again there are plenty of choices for your tomato plants. Me personally, I create loads of compost and will continually add this to the base of my tomato plants throughout the course of my gardening season.
As a side note. I like to put down 2 to 3 layers of newspaper, then about 2 inches of mulch to help block as many weeds as I possibly can. I hate weeding.
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