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Friday, May 13, 2011

Tips for Growing Great Tomatoes

tomatoes

I try to grow a variety of vegetables every year- several types of squash, pumpkins, a couple types of peppers, and always a rainbow of tomatoes- reds, oranges, yellows- and in all sizes from tiny cherry tomatoes, to small pear shaped yellow tomatoes, to large red, yellow and orange slicing tomatoes.

I love tomatoes, there is nothing better than a fresh vine ripened tomato right out of the garden. I use them to make fresh homemade salsa, salads, and a variety of sandwiches. This year I want to try sauces and sundried recipes too.

Tomatoes are relatively easy to grow and they'll grow in whatever you put them in- containers, upside down topsy turvy things, they'll grow up a trellis, they'll sprawl throughout a wide open space...they are very versatile and adaptable

Here are some tips for growing great tomatoes:

Tomatoes are very sensitive to cold so they should not be planted outside until all threat of frost has passed. A tomato plant will die if temperatures fall below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure the ground has had a chance to warm up to around 65 degrees Fahrenheit before planting.

If you want you can start tomato seeds indoors about 4 - 6 weeks before the threat of frost has passed, or before you plan to put the plants in the ground.

I always start my seeds with peat pellets and egg cartons. This makes starting seedlings so very easy.

To find good tomato seeds you can swap seeds with friends, purchase seeds online or check out your local garden sections for tomato seeds. If you want heirloom seeds you'll probably have to shop online unless you have a local garden club that works with heirloom plants and seeds. SeedSavers.org is a great place to search for heirloom seeds and is where I usually get mine.

If you just basic hardy tomato plants buying plants from the local nursery to transplant will do quite fine.

Choose the best plants for transplanting. They should be 6-8 inches tall and look healthy and sturdy. A slightly wilted plant can usually be revived, it is best not to take the chance. Never buy tomato plants that are already producing fruit unless it is in a large and sturdy pot that the plant can stay in, it's not good to transplant a fruit bearing tomato plant.

Wait to purchase your tomato plants when the weather is right for planting.

Tomatoes can be planted in wet or dry soil though they prefer nutrient rich soil full of organic matter with a pH of around 6.5. If you plan to add lime to your soil be sure to use a high magnesium lime.

Once the threat of frost has passed and you are ready to transplant your tomatoes, water them 1-2 hours before planting. Dig a hole in the soil with a small trowel or your hands, the hole does not have to be very deep.

Once in the hole the plant should sit 1-2 inches deeper than it was in the pot. You may have to pinch off bottom leaves when planting so they don't get covered with soil.
If the area you plan to plant your tomatoes in is a wet, boggy area, you should plant the tomatoes on a mound 4-6 inches higher than the ground.

If the planting area is dry, plant each tomato plant in a depression - you can do this by making an indented ring around the base of the plant to collect rain water.

Disturb the roots as little as possible when moving the tomato plants from the container into the ground. If they are in peat pots, tear the pot to let the roots escape.
Once in the ground firmly pack the soil around the roots. Water the plants immediately after planting.

You'll want an average of 3 square feet of space per plant - depending on how you grow them.

Staked plants take up less space and are easier to work around but you have to stake them, tie them and prune off the side shoots that grow in all different directions. Training them to grow staked can sometimes take a lot time and effort.

Staked plants should be planted 2 feet apart in a row with at least 3 feet between rows.
If you let the plants vine naturally and grow along the ground they need more space to sprawl out. Some will sprawl all over the place and take over your whole garden.

I like to use cone shaped cages that allow the plants to grow naturally up and around the cage. The cages keep them up off the ground while still allowing natural growth.
You can also trellis tomatoes or plant them along fences, arbors, or arches.

After planting you should wait 4 - 6 weeks before mulching around them to make sure the ground has warmed up all the way.

Black landscaping plastic or material can effectively be used to keep the ground moist and deter weeds from growing in your tomato garden. Not only will the landscaping material keep weeds at bay it can also help prevent blossom end rot. A bonus is that it will also keep the tomatoes clean and out of the dirt.

If you wish to plant other veggies in the same garden as your tomatoes some great companion plants are carrots, cucumbers, cabbage, celery, onions and peppers. Herbal companions include borage, mint and pot marigold.

Avoid planting tomatoes near corn, dill or potatoes these plants can all attract pests and diseases to your tomato plants.

Tomatoes need a lot of water but please avoid over doing it. Too much water can drown them while too little water can cause weak roots and shallow root growth.

Water early in the day at the base of the plants; do not get the leaves wet. Wet leaves can cause fungus and disease growth.

Tomatoes do not need to be pruned unless you are training them to grow on stakes or trellises. Then you will want to pinch off side shoots.

It sounds like a lot of work but compared to some persnickety plants tomatoes are super easy and once you get used to growing them it all becomes second nature. And the rewards of baskets full of fresh tomatoes is well worth the effort.


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