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 crop. Here are five of the best tomato growing tips to help you grow amazing tomatoes.
Start with a potted seedling plant
Some vegetables grow best when planted directly into the ground as seeds outdoors. Unfortunately, tomatoes are not included. The best option for novice gardeners (and many experienced gardeners) is to purchase seedling tomatoes in pots from a trusted local garden center or grower.
In many climates, tomatoes must be grown indoors in a heated space with a light breeze, with heat mats under the seedling plants and grow lights above. Growers start planting the seedlings in January-March for sale in April-June. The baby plants require daily care to grow into the bushy, healthy beginnings that we see in the nursery. While tomatoes can certainly be grown from seed at home, they aren’t nearly as easy as some other vegetables.
Growing tomatoes from seed is a time-consuming, energy-intensive project. You can also end up spending quite a bit on different seed packs if you’re growing more than one strain. Of course, there’s always the problem of growing too many seedlings and not having space in the garden for them while they grow!
Choose potted starter tomato plants instead of growing your tomatoes from seed. Some nurseries even offer fancy grafted tomato plants! In any case, you will save yourself the trouble of caring for long-legged seedlings in your living space.
Sungold tomatoes fresh from the vine (photo by Mary Jane Duford)
Choose a type of tomato that tastes delicious
The world’s best tomato growing tips don’t matter if the tomato you’re growing just doesn’t taste very good. Since growing tomatoes requires some care and maintenance, it pays to invest some time doing research to choose a tomato variety that tastes deliciously fresh, straight from the vine.
One of the best tomato varieties for beginners is the Sungold tomato. These orange hybrid cherry tomatoes have a fantastic, bright, almost tropical flavor. Even gardeners who grow tall traditional tomatoes will often tuck a few Sungold plants in between their vigorous heirlooms.
For a delicious medium-sized tomato, choose a tomato variety that has been bred for both flavor and potency. The green zebra tomato is another favorite of tomato lovers – both for its pretty green stripes and its fresh, zesty flavor. The Red Snapper is another great-tasting tomato that closely resembles a supermarket tomato in appearance (but certainly not in taste!). These medium-sized, modern introductory strains are generally easier to grow than the large, legendary heirlooms.
When it comes to heirloom tomatoes, there are a few varieties that are known for their great taste. Some of the most delicious Heirloom tomatoes include Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, Black Krim, and the Pineapple tomato. These can be a bit fussier to grow than the previously mentioned strains, but the flavor is worth the extra effort.
It’s finally warm enough for the big (transplant) day (photo by Mary Jane Duford)
Tips for transplanting tomatoes at temperature
Tomatoes are heat-loving plants. They don’t respond well to cold air temperatures and can be permanently damaged if the weather gets too cold. While spring can be “peak season,” resist the temptation to transplant your tomatoes outside too soon.
When is it too early to transplant tomatoes into open ground? A good rule of thumb is to keep tomatoes indoors when temperatures are below 10°C. Plant growth is drastically slowed down below 10°C, so planting them out too early can be counterproductive.
Tomato plants can die from frost, but can also be severely damaged in temperatures above freezing. Temperatures don’t have to drop to freezing to harm tomato plants. Cool weather at 6°C (43°F) and below can damage plants. So try not to rush the season!
Further reading: https://www.homefortheharvest.com/when-to-transplant-tomato-seedlings/
Tomatoes growing in a raised bed garden (photo by Mary Jane Duford)
Grow tomatoes in a large container or raised bed
One of the best tomato growing tips is to grow the plants in a large, raised container in good quality potting soil. Tomatoes planted in the ground adhere to existing soil conditions, while tomatoes planted in containers can be grown anywhere. For example in a beautiful planter with potting soil. The tomato plants thrive with a rich, porous potting soil that warms up quickly from the sun.
Raised beds are the best choice for growing tomatoes as they are generally filled with excellent soil. Elevating the beds will help the soil warm up quickly in the spring and will prevent us gardeners from stepping on the ground around the plants as they grow.
If raised beds aren’t available, there are some other great options for tall tomato planters. Some gardeners grow each tomato plant in a 5-gallon bucket, while others swear by 20-gallon grow bags or gardener’s leftover pots from planting trees. These large containers provide ample root space and access to water/nutrients, along with the ability for the gardener to choose their growing medium.
Fresh brandy tomato from the vegetable garden (photo by Mary Jane Duford)
Use a slow-release organic fertilizer
Tomato plants need an ample supply of nutrients to fuel their growth and fruit production. While many potting mixes contain compost or organic fertilizers, the soil is not actively replenished with nutrients. For this reason, it is worth fertilizing the plants with a gentle organic fertilizer while they are growing.
A beginner-friendly tip for fertilizing tomato plants while they are growing is to use a granular slow-release fertilizer. These fertilizers are simply placed on top of the soil and watered in over time, which generally takes a couple of months. They do not need to be premixed with water or applied on a weekly/biweekly basis like many water soluble liquid fertilizers. Choose a slow-release organic fertilizer that is easy to apply to reduce maintenance as the plants grow.
Enjoy the tomato harvest (Photo by Mary Jane Duford)
Hopefully the above tomato growing tips will help you grow your own food this year. Edible gardens are incredibly rewarding and fun to grow. No matter your space, whether you’re a balcony gardener, container gardener, or growing in a larger urban garden or rural homestead, you can put your green thumb to the test and grow your own tomatoes with these tips.
Mary Jane Dufordis a gardening blogger and video artist from British Columbia, Canada. She continues on the quest to create 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 natural survival her YouTube channel. Connect with Mary Jane on Pinterest, LTKand Twitterand read all of her NEWS FROM MOTHER EARTHposts here.
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