As anyone who has ever experienced the delicious flavor of a tomato fresh from the vine will know, there is nothing quite as good as garden-grown tomatoes. It’s no surprise that tomatoes are America’s favorite homegrown vegetable. There are many variations of tomatoes, and every veteran gardener has slightly different methods they swear by, but if you are new to growing these plants, you can easily be successful just by covering some of the basic needs of the plants. Whether you are new to gardening or a veteran vegetable grower, we’ve got your guide to the ins and outs of growing tomatoes in your home.
Sowing and Planting
You can grow tomatoes from seed or a transplant, in a container or in the ground. If you are starting in May, you will want to grow from a transplant. Whether you are growing in the ground or in a container on your balcony, you will want to plant your tomatoes in soil with added compost, lime and fertilizer.
Each gardener has their own recipe, but I’ve lately become a fan of Bumper Crop, which has all of these ingredients in one bag and is OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) certified organic. To use your Bumper Crop when growing in the ground, dig and loosen the soil 8″-12″ deep and mix a 1″-2″ layer of Bumper Crop into the soil. When growing in pots, mix 80-90% Merrifield Potting Mixture with 10-20% Bumper Crop.
Tomatoes need a minimum of 5 hours direct sun each day, but even more is better.
Keep your tomatoes consistently moist throughout the growing season. Check the soil often to ensure that it is moist, but be careful not to drown your plant. If it feels like a moist or wet sponge, your plant has a good amount of water. Too much water can cause disease and will cause your tomatoes to crack. Too little water on the other hand can lead to blossom end rot, and reduces the quantity and quality of your tomatoes.
Tomatoes are vines that continue growing throughout the entire summer. It’s not unusual to have tomato vines reach 8 to 10 feet by the end of the season. Growing tomatoes in “cages” that help to support the plant is one of the easiest and best ways to hold the plants upright, off of the ground. Plants can also be supported with stakes or on a trellis. A few varieties such as ‘Celebrity’, ‘Rutgers’ and ‘Patio’ are smaller (determinate) plants that can be used where space is limited.
While your plants are growing, there are a few tasks you will want to complete regularly as well as a few issues to keep an eye out for that commonly cause problems for tomato gardeners.
Apply Tomato Tone every 4-6 weeks throughout the growing season to keep your tomatoes fed with plenty of nutrients.
Bumble bees are the primary pollinator for tomatoes, and you will need to attract them if you do not want to pollinate your plants by hand to ensure a good harvest. To bring the bees plant zinnia, hyssop, portulaca and other flowers near your tomato plants.
Pest and Disease Prevention and Solutions
Tomatoes are susceptible to several fungal diseases. Here are a few steps you can take to prevent your plants from becoming infected:
- Place your tomatoes 3 to 4 feet apart, allowing plenty of room for good air circulation.
- Mulch around the base of your plants to prevent contact with the soil, where fungal diseases may reside.
- Avoid prolonged periods of leaf wetness which can promote infection and disease spread. You can do this by watering in the morning so that the sun dries the leaves, or by watering at the base of the plant so that the leaves do not get wet.
Tomato hornworm, aphids and mites are the most common pests that can affect tomato plants. You can remove hornworms by hand, and aphids and mites can be managed with insecticidal soap applied according to the package directions.
Squirrels, Chipmunks and Birds
A number of common garden critters love tomatoes, and will take a bite (or several) out of your plants. If they are getting more tomatoes than you are, consider picking them early, at the first sign of color, and let them ripen up indoors in safety.