Growing Tomato Plants

So many books about growing tomato plants have been written that it can be hard to tell the best way to start.

As Far as we know tomatoes have been grown as far back as 500 BC and are native to the tropics of North America, Mexico and Peru.

Europeans were growing tomatoes in the 16th century and in Asia in the 18th century. Thomas Jefferson grew tomatoes in his garden in 1781. As tomato growing techniques improved cultivation moved to northern areas.

Even though tomatoes are a tropical plant they can be grown in any climate that has 3 to 4 warm growing months in the summer. Most good soils will produce a good crop. Too much nitrogen can cause the fruit to ripen late so good organic compost is the best tomato fertilizer.

Preparing Soil for Growing Tomato Plants

Animal manures and compost are good fertilizer and soil amendments for your tomato plants. Spread ½ pound of compost per tomato plant. If you don’t have access to animal manure, bags of composted manure can be bought at your local garden center, they usually come in 2 yard bags.

If the manure or compost is aged you can apply it just before planting. If it is not composted apply it in the fall so it has time to compost over the winter months.

Tomato plants will need 8 hours of sun each day so choose a spot that is not shaded by competing plants.

Choosing Tomato Varieties to Plant

Depending on the tomato variety you choose to grow, tomatoes need 65 to 100 days to produce mature fruit. Tomato plants can be started from direct sowing if you have a long enough growing season.

For shorter growing seasons started plants can be bought from your local garden center or you can start your own tomato seeds indoors 6 to 7 weeks before the last spring frosts in your area.

How many tomato plants you plant depends on what you want to do with them. 12 tomato plants will provide the average family with all the tomatoes they can eat. Another 12 to 18 plants will provide tomatoes for canning.

If you want growing tomato plants for eating than it is easier to buy your tomato plants from the nursery or local garden center. If you need tomatoes to eat and for canning it is better to start you own plants from seeds.

I like to plant 3 types of tomatoes each season; cherry tomatoes to eat fresh, medium sized tomatoes for slicing and sandwiches and plum varieties to use for canning.

How to Grow Tomatoes

Tomatoes need warmth to grow so wail until the soil temperatures reach 60 degrees F and the nights stay at least 50 degrees F. Even a little frost can damage tomato plants and set them back for weeks.

Tomato plants that are bought or grown indoors need to be hardened off before planting outside. Bring tomato plants outside during the day and bring them back inside at night. If you have a cold frame you can put them in the cold frame. Bring them inside at night if it gets below freezing at night.

After a few weeks the tomatoes will be ready to plant outside. Tomatoes can be planted with supports or they can be left to sprawl on the ground.

Plant the tomato plants 24 inches apart from each other if you are using supports or tomato cages. Plant the tomatoes 3 feet apart if you are going to let them grow without supports.

Dig a hole deep enough to cover the seedlings up to their first set of leaves. Any stem that is buried will produce roots and help give the tomato a strong start. Carefully remove tomato plants from the container with out disturbing the roots.

Disturbing the young roots can cause growing tomato plants to go into shock and set back there growth. Water the newly planted tomatoes with compost tea or water soaked in compost for 24 hours.

Shading the newly planted tomatoes with a basket during the day for a few weeks during the hottest part of the day will help the tomatoes establish more quickly. Tomatoes in cages or on support should be encouraged to grow tall by clipping off the sucker shoots that grow at each leaf node.

When the tomatoes reach the desired height you can stop clipping the suckers. When a cluster of tomatoes form, cut off the branch just after the fruit. This will send more energy to the fruit on the stem.

Adding a thick layer of mulch under the growing tomato plants will help protect the roots and moisture. It will also protect the tomatoes that are growing on un-pruned plants.

Once tomato plants are established they don’t need much care. Keep them watered at least one a week during dry periods.

Harvesting Tomatoes

Tomatoes can be harvested as they turn a blush of pink. The tomato plant ripens a few clusters at a time. As you pick the ripe fruit the green fruit will begin to ripen.

Six weeks before the first frost trim off all flowering branches and tips. This will encourage the fruits to ripen.

Undamaged green fruit can be picked before the frost hits in the late fall. Green tomatoes will ripen inside over several weeks. You can make fried green tomatoes or green tomato relish with the green tomatoes.

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