Growing your own tomatoes is alot easier than you might think. After you read this article series, you'll be a pro in no time!
Tomatoes grown in your own garden will deliver on taste every time. While tomatoes produced for supermarkets are ok, there's nothing better than one you've grown yourself. After your tomatoes are ripe and ready, purchase one from the supermarket so you can compare the two. Once you've tried home-grown, you'll never go back!
You'll want to plant your tomatoes in late spring. Here in East Texas, its best to wait until after Easter. By this time we are usually past our last frost.
Step 1: Choosing the Perfect Planting Spot, but don't forget the soil!
You'll need to devote a prime, sunny spot to plant your tomatoes. They need at least 8 hours of sunlight to bring out the best, most robust flavors in your tomatoes. If your garden or patio is obstructed by vegetation or buildings and there is no way to get eight hours, you can actually still grow tomatoes in as little as three hours of sunlight. However, those plants won't produce nearly as much fruit.
Most people prefer to keep them off the ground, so if that is your preference, you'll need to purchase a stake, trellis or a tomato cage to support your plants as they grow.
Also make sure your spot has good tomato growing soil. If not you might have to choose a different location. Although tomatoes can be grown in a wide variety of soil types, it is important to grow them in the best soil possible. You'll want to make sure your soil has good drainage. Tomatoes don't like 'wet feet'. A good way to test your soil for good drainage is to dig a 2ft. deep hole in the area where you are going to plant. Fill your hole with water and if it drains away in under 2 hours, you're good to go. If not, you might want to choose another spot, or consider a raised bed.
The best soil for tomatoes is a sandy loam. This type of soil contains alot of sand and just enough clay to hold it together. When we started our garden, we had to add lime to the sandy soil to amend the soil and add some organic matter to it.
Step 2: Choose Your Varieties
This is the best part of planting your garden! Refer back to the previous article "Choosing your Varieties" for tips on the different plants you might encounter.
Step 3: Let's Plant
Tomatoes take up nutrients the best when your soil pH ranges from 6.2 to 6.8, and they'll need a constant supply of major & minor nutrients. You can provide the major nurients by mixing in a balanced timed-release or organic fertilizer into the soil as you prepare your planting holes. WE recommend Tomato-Tone from the Espoma Company. It is a premium plant food formulated specifically for growing plump and juicy tomatoes. At the same time you'll want to mix in 3 to 4 inches of compost. The compost will provide the minor nutrients your tomato plants will need.
To grow really strong tomato plants, the trick is to 'deep' plant them! By this we mean, you'll want to dig your hole deeper than the potted part of your tomato plant. Put at least two-thirds of the plant in the ground. By doing this, they will sprout roots along the buried stem. This creates a stronger plant and it will better be able to find water in a drought. (Only do this with tomato plants, not with other veggies)
Cover your ground with 2 to 4 inches of mulch to keep the weed down and help the soil retain water. Straw and shredded leaves make great mulches for tomatoes.
Step 4: Give'em a Drink
It is imperative that you maintain an even soil moisture as this is the key to preventing cracked tomatoes and blossom-end rot.
Tomatoes need water more than once a week. Don’t give them 1-3 inches all at once. They’ll dry up and get stressed in between waterings. Don’t water a half inch every day. They’ll get lazy and develop shallow root systems.
Instead, provide water every 3-4 days until fruit emerges.
Step 5: Give'em A Healthy Diet
Because tomatoes are such heavy feeders, (aka heavy producers), they will need quite a large food supply over the growing season. Many kinds of fertilizers can be given to tomatoes to provide for the extra nutrients they'll need. We recommend a fertilizer such as 13-13-13. If you prefer organics, also available is bone meal, cow manure and cottonseed meal. Just remember that these organics don't provide a balanced amount of 3 major nutrients - nitrogen, phosphorus & potassium. So if you're going to use cow manure, you'll also need to add bone meal to round out the diet.
You'll want to start adding fertilizer when your first tomatoes have formed and are about the size of golf balls. Then re-apply about every 3 weeks.
Step 6: Time to Pick'em
This is the second most exciting time in the garden, when you get to pick your tomatoes and enjoy all of your hard work. You cna start picking about 60-85 days after you have planted them, depending on your variety. You'll harvest your tomatoes until frost. Remember that Determinate tomatoes set and ripen their fruit all at one time, so be ready for that. Its a perfect time to start canning & freezing them. Your In-determinate tomatoes will ripen and produce fruit all season until the frost.
How do I know when they are ripe?
You'll know your tomatoes are ripe for the picking when they have turned red on the vine (or yellow for yellow tomatoes, etc.). Its color will be even with no sides still green. And by gently squeezing it, it is right between firm & soft.
Heirloom varieties usually ripen before the completely turn red, so kepe this in mind if you plant these varieties to pick them before they look totally ripe. This also applies to cherry tomatoes, as these will crack if left on the vine to long.
Make sure to check your plants every day and remove the ripe fruit so the plant can easily produce more.