Brandywine Heirloom Tomato Seedlings (Photo by Mary Jane Duford)
Homegrown tomatoes are the jewels of the summer vegetable garden. While they can seem intimidating to grow, there are a few key things that can make (or break) your edible garden harvest. Here are five of the top tomato growing tips to help you grow terrific tomatoes.
Start With A Potted Seedling Plant
Some veggies grow best when planted as seeds directly in the soil outdoors. Unfortunately, tomatoes are not one of them. The best option for beginner gardeners (and many experienced gardeners) is to purchase potted seedling tomatoes from a trusted local garden center or farmer.
In many climates, tomatoes must be grown indoors in a heated space with a slight breeze, with heating mats below the seedling plants and plant lights above them. Growers start growing the seedlings in January-March for sale in April-June. The baby plants require daily care to grow into the bushy, healthy starts we see at the nursery. While tomatoes can certainly be grown from seed at home, they are not nearly as easy as some other veggies.
Growing tomatoes from seed is a time-consuming, energy-intensive project. You can also end up spending quite a lot on different seed packets if you’re growing more than one variety. Of course there is always the problem of growing too many seedlings and not having room in the garden for them as they grow!
Choose starter potted seedling tomato plants instead of growing your tomatoes from seeds. Some nurseries are even offering fancy grafted tomato plants! Either way, you’ll save yourself the trouble of tending to leggy seedlings in your living space.
Sungold Tomatoes Fresh Off The Vine (Photo by Mary Jane Duford)
Choose a Type of Tomato That Tastes Delicious
The best tomato growing tips in the world won’t matter much if the tomato you’re growing simply doesn’t taste very good. Since growing tomatoes does take some care and maintenance, it’s worth putting in some research time to choose a variety of tomato that tastes delicious fresh, right off the vine.
One of the top-tasting tomato picks for beginner gardeners is the Sungold tomato. These orange hybrid cherry tomatoes have a fantastic, bright, almost tropical flavor. Even gardeners who grow big heritage tomatoes will often tuck a few Sungold plants in among their hefty heirlooms.
For a delicious medium-sized tomato choose a variety of tomato bred for taste as well as vigor. The Green Zebra tomato is another favorite of tomato enthusiasts - both for its pretty green stripes and for its fresh, zesty flavor. The Red Snapper is another top-tasting tomato that closely resembles a supermarket tomato in appearance (but certainly not in taste!). These medium-sized, modern introductions are generally easier to grow than the large, legendary heirlooms.
On the topic of heirloom tomatoes, there are a number of varieties that are well-known for their terrific taste. Some of the most delicious heirloom tomatoes to grow are Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, Black Krim and the Pineapple tomato. These can be a bit more fussy to grow than the varieties previously mentioned, but the taste is worth the extra effort.
It’s Finally Warm Enough For The Big (Transplanting) Day (Photo by Mary Jane Duford)
Tomato Temperature Transplanting Tips
Tomatoes are heat-loving plants. They do not respond well to cold air temperatures and can be permanently damaged if the weather gets too cold. While there can be a tendency to “rush the season” in the spring, you should overcome the temptation to transplant your tomatoes outside too early.
When is too early to transplant tomatoes outdoors? A good rule of thumb is to keep tomatoes indoors when temperatures are below 50°F (10°C). The growth of the plants is drastically slowed at temperatures cooler than 50°F (10°C), so it can be counter-productive to plant them out too early.
Tomato plants can be killed by frost, but they can also be severely injured at temperatures hovering above freezing. Temperatures do not need to reach freezing levels to damage tomato plants. Cool weather at 43°F (6°C) and below can cause injury to the plants. So, try not to rush the season!
Tomatoes Growing in a Raised Bed Garden (Photo by Mary Jane Duford)
Grow Tomatoes In A Large Container Or Raised Garden Bed
One of the top tomato growing tips is to grow the plants in high-quality potting soil within a large, raised container. Tomatoes planted in-ground are stuck with existing soil conditions, while those planted in containers can be grown anywhere. Such as in a lovely planter of potting mix. The tomato plants thrive with rich, porous potting mix that warms quickly from the sun.
Raised garden beds are a top choice for growing tomatoes, as they’re generally filled with excellent soil. The raised elevation of the beds helps the soil warm quickly in the spring and prevents us gardeners from stepping on the soil around the plants as they grow.
If raised beds aren’t available, there are some other great options for large tomato planters. Some gardeners grow each tomato plant in a 5-gallon bucket, while others swear by 20-gallon grow bags or leftover nursery pots from planting trees. These large containers provide ample root space and access to water/nutrients, together with allowing the gardener to choose their growing medium.
Fresh Brandywine Tomato from the Vegetable Garden (Photo by Mary Jane Duford)
Use A Slow-Release Organic Fertilizer
Tomato plants require an ample supply of nutrients to fuel their growth and production of fruit. While many potting mixes contain compost or organic fertilizers, the soil is not being actively replenished with nutrients. For this reason, it’s worth applying a gentle organic fertilizer to the plants as they grow.
One beginner-friendly tip for feeding tomato plants as they grow is to use a slow-release granular fertilizer. These fertilizers are simply placed on top of the soil and watered in over time, generally lasting for a couple months. They don’t require pre-mixing with water or weekly/bi-weekly application like many water-soluble liquid fertilizers. Pick a slow-release, easy-application, organic fertilizer to reduce maintenance as the plants grow.
Enjoying the Tomato Harvest (Photo by Mary Jane Duford)
Hopefully the tomato growing tips above help you to grow your own food this year. Edible gardens are incredibly rewarding and fun to grow. So, regardless of your space, whether you are balcony gardening, container gardening or growing in a larger urban garden or rural homestead, you can put those green fingers to the test and grow your own tomatoes with these tips.
Mary Jane Duford is a gardening blogger and video creator based in British Columbia, Canada. She is continuing the task of creating a productive landscape around her childhood home for her own children to enjoy and learn from. Mary Jane writes about her experiences on her gardening blog, Home for the Harvest. She also vlogs about her garden and about natural living on her YouTube channel. Connect with Mary Jane on Pinterest, LTK, and Twitter, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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