Tomatoes are one of the most popular produce items grown in home gardens. Versatile as a staple in salads, soups, sauces, or an extra ingredient, it is easy to understand why. There are a variety of different factors which will impact your tomato production. This includes environmental conditions, soil type, water conditions, and the needs of whichever type of tomato you choose to grow. Here we have organized a growing guide to help answer any questions and explain basic but vital information.
How to Prepare for Growing
Selecting a Variety
Selecting a variety is the most important first step as different tomato types have different requirements. Tomatoes are a huge staple in gardens and greenhouses. Popular varieties include:
- Beefsteak-shaped fruits these tomatoes have a savory taste and a dash of red-pink in their appearance.
- Popular item in salads, cherry tomatoes are adaptable and grow in any climate producing bright-red fruits.
- Early cascade
- Early to mature, with a 60 day harvest, it is a bright red saladette tomato with a fresh taste.
- Sun gold
- A cherry variety, it ripens early through the summer, it comes in large yields and produces sweet fruits.
Deciding Whether to Grow Indoor vs. Outdoor
There are benefits to both indoor and outdoor growing. Deciding which is right for you is dependent on what you want out of your garden.
When growing indoor, such as in a greenhouse, you are effectively eliminating any erratic conditions that can affect your tomato growth. Additionally, because you are able to control the greenhouse conditions you are not as limited in your growing and harvest season. In fact if variety, season, location, temperature, feeding, and watering are properly considered it is possible to grow tomatoes year-round in a greenhouse.
Outdoor grown tomato plants get much better pollination, aeration, and light exposure. When growing outdoors it is important to place your growing plot in a sunny spot with enough room against a wall or a fence. This will help the plant absorb heat for a longer amount of time leading to great growth. Also consider garden fleece at night to protect from cold weather or predators such as local mice or birds.
Seeds vs. Seedling
The main thing to consider when deciding between seeds and seedlings is what stage you would like to be in when planting. While seeds are planted to grow from the beginning, seedlings are actually young plants already sprouted from the seed. Generally, seeds are more suitable for planting inside, and seedlings can be planted inside or outside.
Tomato seeds are commonly planted indoors as early as six to eight weeks before the average date of the last spring. While they are generally cheaper, they take a little longer to grow.
Tomato seedlings are usually transplanted into the garden one to three weeks after the last frost. Utilizing seedlings will give you a head start on the growing season. Seedlings are more resistant to pests due to their strength and maturity.
Soil Requirements and Bed Preparation
Proper soil preparation is vital to good growth. When you improve the soil, you improve the rooting zone which leads to vigorous fruit yields. Tomatoes can be grown in a variety of different types of soil. The greatest optimization of growth rate is observed, however, in sandy loamy and well-drained soils. In sandy conditions, fruit ripens over a period of 45-70 days.
Before planting till twelve to eighteen inches of soil, removing any roots or debris. If the soil is poor or doesn’t drain well you should consider a raised bed. Then you should decide on how your tomatoes will be supported be it trellis, stakes, or a plant cage to keep the tomato plants off the ground. This can be added after planting.
Planting How To
When transplanting tomatoes, there are a few things to keep in mind. Tomato transplants should not have any fruit, flowers, or flower buds prior to transplanting. An ideal transplant will measure six to eight inches tall, 1/4 to 3/8 inches in diameter, and is slightly hardened at transplanting time. It’s important to keep tomato transplants cool (at around 55-65 F if possible), set them upright, and allow the roots three to four inches of soil.
Trimming your homegrown tomatoes is crucial, as a properly pruned and supported plant will produce larger fruit two to three weeks earlier. Trimming leaves maximizes photosynthesis and minimizes disease risk by giving the plant the proper amount of room and lessening the overall weight. When deaf growth to dense, many leaves create shade which then reduces the amount of produced sugar. This leads to weaker growth and yellow wilting leaves.
Timing is also important as tomatoes grow best in the last frost prior to spring. Two weeks prior to planting, we recommended using black plastic sheeting or black biodegradable mulch to warm the soil.
If growing outdoors, tomatoes grow best on the last frost prior to spring.
If you are planting your tomatoes in a pot it is important to get one that will give your plant a lot of space for rooting. Ideally, that would be an 18 inch diameter for determinate tomatoes and a 24 inch diameter for interminate tomatoes.
Juvenile plants require daily watering in the morning. When watering remember to water straight to the roots rather than from above as this causes higher probability of pests and diseases. Avoid overwatering, especially afternoon/evening watering as this also increases the risk of plant diseases. You may want to consider using mulch as this will help to keep water where plants need it. A drip irrigation system or something similar is highly recommended as it provides a smart and economical way to save water, promote plant growth, prevent fungi and many other benefits.
Tomatoes require six to eight hours of sun which is why it is crucial to put them in the sunniest part of the garden. As a rule of thumb remember, the bigger the tomato, the more sun is needed. Therefore if sunlight is an issue you can still grow a smaller tomato variety such as cherry tomatoes which will do fine with four to six hours of sun.
There are a few tools you’ll need on hand:
- Watering can
- Irrigation equipment
- Support systems
- Spray pumps or bottles
- The necessary fertilizers on nutrient supplies
How to Care for Your Plant
While different varieties of tomatoes may have different requirements, here are some basics your plants will need.
Primary Plant Nutrients
- Nitrogen helps with promoting strong early growth.
- Phosphorous helps building healthy roots as well as with early fruit maturity.
- Potassium helps encourages root growth and increases resistance to diseases. Potassium is essential for flower and fruit growth.
Secondary Plant Nutrients
- Calcium helps with plant growth by serving an important role of cell wall structure and must be present for the formation of new cells.
- Magnesium is a central component of chlorophyll, the molecule responsible for giving plants their green color.
- Sulfur serves as a constituent of three amino acids: cystine, methionine, and cysteine. Sulfur is essential for nodule formation.
- Boron contributes to the flowering and ripening of the fruit.
- Iron is required for the formation of chlorophyll, which gives plants their green color. Iron also serves as an activator of biochemical process such as cellular respiration and photosynthesis.
- Manganese is a key factor in photosynthesis by assisting iron in chlorophyll formation.
- Zinc is vital in several enzymes. For example, zinc controls the synthesis of indoleacetic acid, an important plant growth regulator.
- Copper influences numerous enzymatic processes and is an important component in chlorophyll.
- Molybdenum is a component of nitrate-reductase and nitrogenase enzymes. Without molybdenum, plants cannot transform nitrate nitrogen into amino acids.
Pest Control and Disease Management
For basic disease management, be sure to keep your gardening plots clear of any weeds and leaf debris as it may serve as breeding ground for pathogens. In doing so, you should also remove any unhealthy foliage. Rotating you crops will also help discourage pathogens from getting established for more than a season. Finally, be sure to keep your gardening tools and equipment clean, especially after a harvest.
When and Tips
Interestingly, tomatoes are one of a few fruits that can be picked before they are completely ripened. Harvest time for tomatoes should ideally occur when the fruit is a mature green, then allowed to ripen off the vine. This prevents spitting or bruising. For early season tomatoes, they require 50 to 60 days to reach harvest from transplanting. Likewise, mid-season tomatoes require 60-80 days, while late-season tomatoes require over 80 days.
To harvest, lightly squeeze the fruit to test for firmness. Gently, pull form the plant by holding the stem with one hand and the tomato in the other. The stalk should break just above the calyx. Enjoy!
Other Growing Considerations
- The ideal temperatures for growth are 70—85F during the day and 65-70 F at night.
- A favorable soil pH level: 6.0-6.5.
There you have our homegrown tomato guide. For detailed recommendations, consult with your local JH Biotech representative or feel free to reach out to us here and on our social media pages.