John Alden- Nov 30 2020
How to grow delicious and abundant tomatoes
ost backyard gardeners aspire to grow their own tomatoes, only to be overcome with issues along the way, leading them to give up completely or settle for less than great results. You may think you have a black thumb because you’ve failed at growing tomatoes, and I’m here to tell you, you’re wrong.
Growing tomatoes is easy when you have all the tips and tools to find success. Armed with the proper knowledge, anyone can grow giant, beautiful tomato plants that produce tasty and abundant tomatoes.
Outline list for growing tomatoes you will love
Grow your own tomatoes from seed.
Choose a sunny spot (6-8 hours of sun)
Rotate the tomato growing area each year
Enrich the soil
Space and support the plant properly
Plant your seedlings deep
Water tomatoes consistently
Mulch the Soil Surface Around the Tomato Plants
Prune your tomato plants as it matures
Scout Your Tomato Plants for Pests and Disease
Harvest Your Tomatoes Frequently
Ways to improve your tomato crop
Whether you are growing tomatoes for salads, or to preserve into canned tomato sauce and salsa, these tips will help you improve your tomato harvest quality in taste and quantity produced.
Tomatoes are one of the most popular crops to grow in a home vegetable garden. They are often eaten raw in salads, sandwiches, and salsas. Tomatoes also can be simmered into sauces, soups, stews, and chilies.
There are hundreds tomato varieties to choose from to grow in your garden. Tomatoes come in all shapes and sizes, including cherry and grape, slicing, and oblong paste varieties. Their diverse flavors range from sweet to acidic and bold and earthy. Colors can range from the traditional red to pink, yellow, purple, green, and striped.
Indeterminate tomato varieties grow and produce fruit all season until killed by frost or disease. The vines can grow up to 8-30 feet. While determinate varieties are bred to grow compact plants, about 2-4 feet tall and ripen all their fruit around the same time.
In addition, tomatoes also have different days to maturity, as well as resistance to diseases. It is a good idea to choose several varieties to grow so you can explore distinct flavors and growth patterns.
Tips to Improve Your Tomato Harvest
Tomatoes are pretty easy to grow and will likely produce a crop even when the growing conditions are not ideal. A few tips will improve the vigor of your plants and the amount of tomatoes it will produce:
Grow your own: Growing tomato plants from seeds under lights is a great way to explore varieties that are not available in the garden centers. Plus nurturing and raising your own tomato seedlings is fun. Growing transplants is also a frugal way to get an abundance of tomato plants for your garden. A package of seeds will grow numerous tomato plants over several years and costs about the same as a single plant of tomato starter at your local garden center. Start tomato seeds about 6-8 weeks before your last frost date
Provide a sunny spot to grow your tomatoes Select an area that receives full sun: Choose a bright and sunny spot in your vegetable garden to grow tomato plants. Tomatoes thrive with at least 6-8 hours of full sunlight.
Rotate Planting Beds: Choose a garden bed that did not grow tomatoes or their family members last season. Plants that belong to the same family are often susceptible to similar pests and diseases. Tomato plants are vulnerable to a number of soil-borne pathogens.
Rotating your tomato crop to different areas that have not grown tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and potatoes helps to reduce the build-up of pathogens. It also helps prevent pests from finding your plants early in the season.
Enrich the soil
Different plants require different types of soil. Tomatoes require well-drained, deep and loamy soil since they have a branching root system that penetrates the ground to a depth of up to four feet. Such soil should be rich with silt, sand, and clay. One great way to improve the structure, cultivability and nutrition retention level of gardening soil is through the use of compost. Most gardening stores sell compost. However, since compost consists of broken down organic matter, one can make it with ease using yard clippings, leaves, or waste from fruit and vegetables.
Different types of soils have varied PH level. One can purchase a soil test kit from a garden store. When the PH level is low, it means that the soil is acidic and a level 7 indicates that the soil is neutral. Tomatoes flourish in soil that is slightly acidic with a PH range of 6.2-6.8. Soil’s PH level is easily adjustable. In case the PH level is too high, add some sulfur to lower it. On the other hand, for low PH, add lime to the soil.
For tomatoes to grow well, the soil should have a balance of nutrients such as potassium, phosphorous, and nitrogen. Nitrogen contributes towards healthy leaves and prevents them from yellowing. To increase the level of nitrogen one can either use organic or inorganic materials. Organic sources of nitrogen include fish meal, compost, leaf mold and alfalfa meal. On the other hand, inorganic sources of nitrogen include ammonium sulfate, calcium nitrate, anhydrous ammonia and sodium nitrate. Potassium is also crucial since it helps tomatoes with disease resistant and allows them to grow strong and at a fast growth rate. In case the potassium level is low, use rock sand, wood ash, granite, and potassium sulfate. Phosphorous helps tomatoes develop strong roots and also helps in seed formation. Low phosphorus levels lead to tomatoes with reddened stems and stunted growth. One should use products such as bone meal, compost, rock phosphate or super-phosphate.
Provide adequate support for your plants: Consider how you will support your plants when full grown. When you consider the area where you will be growing tomatoes, plan on space for the plants plus tomato supports. You can find out how much space your tomato plants need and how tall the plants will grow by referencing the seed growing instructions (available at www.organic-heirloom-seed.com), or looking up your tomato variety online. Add support at planting time while the tomato seedling is young. Your tomato plants will grow healthier if they are offered support to keep the vines upright.
Plant Your Tomato Seedlings Deep
Tomato plants have the ability to form roots along parts of the stem if it is buried under the soil. This helps your plants develop a stronger root system. A healthy root system helps your plant absorb nutrients, minerals, and moisture. Sturdy roots will also help anchor your plants so they can withstand winds and heavy rain.
Prepare your garden beds ahead of time by removing weeds and adding a generous amount of finished compost. Compost will add organic matter, nutrients, and help the soil retain moisture.
If the weather has been dry, water the bed thoroughly the day before you plant. Choose a calm, cloudy day to transplant your tomato seedlings.
Dig the planting holes deep enough to bury your tomato seedlings up to the second set of leaves from the bottom of the plant. Mix in some organic plant fertilizer that is formulated for tomatoes (such as Tomato Tone) into the hole. Follow the directions on the package. Water the planting hole well and let it drain.
Transplant your tomato seedlings and water again after planting.
Water Tomatoes Consistently
Tomatoes need consistent moisture to grow foliage, and produce and ripen fruit. The plant can become stressed if it doesn’t receive enough water. This can leave the plant vulnerable to diseases and unable to absorb and use nutrients sufficiently.
Uneven watering also affects the fruit. Tomatoes may crack if the plant doesn’t have enough moisture. If it rains after a dry period, the fruit may split from the extra shot of moisture. Alternatively, overwatering your tomato plants will lead to saturated soil that suffocates your plants.
The goal is to try to keep the soil evenly moist. Water your tomatoes when the soil feels dry an inch or two below the surface. Water deeply, at the base of the plant, so the moisture soaks into the soil and reaches the roots.
Mulch the Soil Surface Around the Tomato Plants
A generous layer of organic mulch helps protect the soil from erosion, blocks weeds from sprouting, and moderates soil temperature. In addition, mulching is particularly helpful for tomato plants because it:
Helps Retain Moisture: Mulch helps keep the soil evenly damp by preventing moisture from evaporating from the soil surface.
Prevents Soil Splash: A layer of mulch stops soil from splashing onto the leaves when the tomato plants are watered. This helps prevent soil borne diseases. Instead, the water trickles down and is absorbed into the soil. After the soil has warmed and your tomato seedlings have been planted, add a generous layer of mulch on the soil surface. Keep the mulch about 3-4-inches away from the stems of your plants to prevent smothering.
Prune Your Tomato Plants
Removing the bottom branches and any foliage that touches the ground is beneficial for all types of tomato plants. The branches at the bottom of the plant are the oldest and usually the first to show signs of disease if the plant becomes stressed.
Also, because this foliage is close to the ground, it is susceptible to being splashed with soil when it rains or when the plant is watered leaving the plant vulnerable to soil borne and fungal diseases.
Removing the bottom branches helps improve airflow, reduces soil splash, and reduces areas where pests can hide.
Should you Prune Tomato Suckers?
Tomato suckers are additional branches that sprout at the crotch between the main stem and branches of the tomato plant. The suckers turn into branches, and go on to produce tomatoes.
There are two schools of thought in dealing with tomato suckers: One is to let them be. The new branches will generate more tomatoes and give you more fruit to harvest. The other is to prune out extra branches so the plant can concentrate its energy and grow bigger tomatoes.
The way you prune your tomato suckers will depend on the type of tomatoes you are growing:
Determinate tomato varieties, also called “bush” tomatoes, are bred to grow compact plants that are about 2-4 feet tall. Suckers are not really an issue with determinant varieties. However, it is beneficial to remove bottom shoots to improve airflow.
For determinant types, prune the suckers and branches from the bottom of the plant, up to the first flower cluster.
Indeterminate tomato plants continue to grow and produce fruit all season until killed by frost or disease. The vines can reach 8-10 feet tall.
Indeterminate tomato plants can benefit from pruning some of the suckers. Eliminating some of the branches will allow the plant to focus its energy on ripening and growing tomatoes, instead of focusing on producing more foliage.
If you want a lot of tomatoes, leave the majority of the suckers and let them grow and produce more fruit. Just be sure to provide the plant with good support, moisture, and nutrients.
If you are aiming for sizable tomatoes, go ahead and prune out the majority of the tomato suckers so your plant can concentrate its energy on growing and ripening large fruit instead of more foliage.
Prune the suckers starting at the bottom of the plant, up to at least the second flower cluster. You may need to prune suckers several times during the growing season.
Scout Your Tomato Plants for Pests and Disease
At least once a week, walk through your garden and examine your tomato plants. Check the foliage, especially the lower leaves for leaf spots and holes. Look over the fruit for damage, soft spots, or cracks.
One of the most common pests you may encounter is the tomato hornworm. Hornworms are large green caterpillars that feed on tomato foliage and fruit. Their droppings are easier to spot than the worm. When you see the droppings, check the branches above, and you will likely spot the hornworm. Hand pick the worms, and drop them into a jar of soapy water.
Tomato plants are susceptible to many bacteria, fungus, and viral diseases. Some are in the soil, waiting to appear when the conditions are right. Some diseases blow in from the wind or are transferred to the plant by insects.
Diseases on the foliage appear as spots, mottling, or yellowing leaves. Others diseases can cause lesions to form on the fruit or stems. Diseases can spread from one plant to the next by wind, water, insects, and on gardening tools.
Some plants can survive while infected with a plant disease. Some diseases will kill your plants.
Harvest Your Tomatoes Frequently
Harvest tomatoes frequently so the plant can redirect energy to growing and ripening more fruit. Once your tomatoes begin ripening, check the plants each day and pick those that are almost ready, and let them ripen fully indoors.
We dream of vine-ripened tomatoes, but the reality is, the longer the fruit remains on the vine, the more susceptible it is to pest damage and spoiling. Luckily, tomatoes continue to mature off the vine and will have the same flavor as one that ripens on the plant.
It’s better to pick the fruit before peak ripeness to reduce the chances of loosing the fruit altogether. Some reasons for harvesting tomatoes when partially ripe include:
Avoid Pest Damage: A ripe tomato is attractive to many pests. The sweet fragrance and bright colors of ripe tomatoes is appealing to insects, birds, chipmunks, and other animals.
Prevent Splitting: The skin of a ripe tomato may split if the plant receives too much rain in a short amount of time. Once the skin has split, the fruit is defenseless against rot, mold, and insects. If you are expecting a rainy period, harvest your ripe tomatoes.
Stop Rotting in Hot Weather: Tomatoes stop ripening when temperatures are above 85ºF (29°C). Tomatoes that are nearly ripe may start rotting during a period of hot temperatures. If you are expecting several hot days in a row, harvest all your almost ripe tomatoes and bring them indoors to finish ripening.
As a tomato ripens, it changes from green to a yellow green, and then to its final color. The color deepens further as the fruit matures. A completely ripe tomato will feel firm, but slightly soft. Harvest your tomatoes when they look almost ripe.
Take care not to damage the tomato plant when harvesting. Almost ripe tomatoes will come off the vine with a simple twist, or you can use clippers or a sharp knife.
Bring the tomatoes inside and store at room temperature on a kitchen counter or any location away from direct sunlight. Your tomatoes should fully ripen in 2-4 days. Once ripe, use the tomatoes within a few days.