Growing Tomatoes for Beginners

The world’s most popular salad vegetable is actually a fruit!!  (But you knew that!)

What garden would be complete without raising your own succulent, garden fresh tomatoes. Raising tomato plants is so easy, not to mention a terrific way to experience fresh, natural home grown produce.

There are a gazillion tomato varieties (well, actually about 7,500), so there are more than enough varieties to select from. For starters, do you like a smaller bite-size of cherry tomatoes just right for snacking or decorating a salad?

Or do you like the idea of cooking up your very own homemade sauces and salsas which call for a pear style tomato like a Roma.

Or just maybe you like a nice large slice on your hamburger or chunks in your salads; in that case you might choose a Beefsteak or Early Girl variety.

General Advice on Growing Tomatoes

Do keep in mind that because it is relatively easy to grow tomatoes, which ever variety you decide on, you could end up with more than enough tomatoes to go around by the time of actual harvest time.   Those small tomato starts from the local garden center can grow to rather large proportions before the end of summer and yield an amazing 20 to 40 pounds of fruit – per plant. So plan on sharing or keep your plans small.

Tall, viney (indeterminate) plants  grow on through the summer and are ideal for regular picking for table fruit, like Early Girl and Beefsteak.  This type takes more care like staking or caging, too, to support the growing plant.

For those of you who like their tomatoes to come all at once which is ideal for canning and making salsa, choose the smaller, bushy (determinate) varieties like Roma or cherry type tomatoes.  The key is to look for “bush” or “vine” varieties.  These are super for patio growing as they stay more compact.

A word of watering: Tomatoes need plenty of water but cannot handle wet “feet”.  So keep the soil damp but not wet.  Daily watering is suitable for container gardening.  A weekly watering of about an inch is suitable for conventional garden beds.

Don’t be afraid to prune your growing plants once they get to going.  For fruit to mature they need plenty of sunlight so trimming a few excess leaves here and there can help encourage delicious crops.  More on this below.

When to plant

First thing to consider before planting your tomato plants out of doors is that they require consistently warm weather with daytime temperature reaching at least 65 degrees F and preferably 80 to 85 degrees during the day and no cooler than 60 degrees at night. Cooler nighttime temperatures don’t kill a tomato, but the plants just won’t thrive.

Also, keep in mind that tomato plants – whether young or mature – cannot withstand frost.   In most places, the weather conditions are ideal at the end of May. But you don’t have to wait till the end of May to start growing your tomato plants. Not at all. There are two ways to get a jump on the season.

For the do-it-yourselfer, you can start your tomatoes from seed in early March right in your window sill. These will be ready to plant out by late May or early June.  Or if you like to know that your plants are ready to go in the ground or container, visit your local garden center for a nice variety of tomato starts and plants.

How and where to plant

Spacing tomato plants in critical, too. Since they tend to be heavy feeders, they should not be planted too close together with other heavy feeding plants. Their root system fills out in the soil looking for water and nutrients and for that reason need the space. And besides, any vegetation planted too closely together can possibly share diseases as well as unwanted pests. Close planting also hinders the development of tomatoes simply by supplying an excessive amount of cover from the sun coming from leaves which are too close to each other.

With this in mind, tomato plants should be placed between 12 and 36 inches apart depending on their kinds. Some types of tomato plants that need to be grown on a trellis should be further part than their bush variety cousins. Trellises or cages for larger tomato plant varieties offer support for the tomato vine and helps to keep the fruit off the ground. Fruit that lies on the ground becomes rotten and therefore cuts down on the crop you are producing.

Sunshine

Tomato plants should receive 6 or more hours of natural full sunshine a day. The perfect location is on the south side of the house or yard where it can get the full sun most of the day.

Watering schedule

They also need to be watered on a frequent schedule. Tomato plants need a balance of warm sunny exposure as well as access to consistent moisture at the roots. They thrive in soil that is damp and aerated.

Pruning and trimming

Tomato plants may also be trimmed in order to allow a excellent crop. Just as an experiment, try pruning a branch that has no blossoms or fruit forming. You can also trim some leaves so that the fruit gains access to more sunlight. But be careful not to trim too many leaves since it is the leaves that will provide the fruit with the sugars to aid in its flavor.

Plus, trimming the suckers (branches that don’t grow fruit but just hog water and nutrients)  that grow in the joint of the branches will aid in the health and the growth of the plant as well. Removing the suckers will boost the energy that the plant uses to grow them allowing the plant to gain more energy to grow a nice crop.

Growing tomato plants in your own backyard garden is as simple as it is rewarding. These hardy plants can stand-up to the clumsy efforts of even the most unskilled vegetable gardener. The moment you actually have tasted a home grown tomato right from your very own garden, it will become really hard to ever pay for them from the grocery store any more.

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