How to Grow Tomatoes
**Tomatoes are an extremely popular and well-loved vegetable. They are certainly one of my favorites!
**Success with tomatoes depends on which varieties you try to grow in your particular climate. Read your seed packets carefully for this information.
**There are a few types: “Determinate” tomatoes are short, bushy and set all of their fruit at once and then stop producing. They are easier to grow and work with. They are good to grow if you want to have canned tomatoes because you get so much at one time. “Indeterminate” tomatoes have long vines that keep growing and fruiting indefinitely until frost ends the plant. They give you tomatoes throughout the growing season and must be maintained so that you do not have a tangled knot of vines.
**Six tomato plants are usually enough for an average family, unless you preserve a lot of them or are addicted to them (like me). Here’s what you need to can tomatoes!
**Choose a very sunny spot where plants in the tomato family have not grown recently. Click here to read my post about crop rotation.
**Tomatoes do very well in raised beds because the soil warms up fast in them and gives the young plants a good start.
**The soil should be loose and full of organic matter. Tomatoes feed rather heavily, so it should be a rich soil with a pH level of 6.0-7.0. Add compost, peat moss, or manure to each hole before setting in the young plants. Keep the soil moist but not soggy.
**Tomato seeds are best started indoors, 6-8 weeks before the last average frost date. Give your seedlings plenty of light indoors (with one of these grow lights) while growing or they will become leggy and weak. Plant the seeds in peat pots (like these) or soil blocks for easier transplanting. Try to get your seedlings to be short, bushy, and well-grown and not leggy and tall.
**Since they take a long time to ripen, it is tempting to put them outdoors too early. Make sure the air and soil are warm and wait until frost dangers are gone.
**Tomatoes suffer more shock in transplanting than most other vegetables, but you can minimize this by hardening them off for a week or two first. This means setting them outdoors in their pots in a protected place so that they get some warm sun, wind, and some cool (not freezing) nights. This will help them adjust to the garden.
**If your tomatoes are the long-vined type, you need to decide whether to give them vertical support. If you just let them flop on the ground, the plants will take up more room and the fruits will be vulnerable to diseases and insects and other predators. There are many different ways to support a tomato plant, including stakes, cages, and trellises.
**Whether bush type or vining type, tomato plants should be set into the ground much deeper than they were in the pot. Do not cover any flower clusters, but it is all right to bury the stem so that the first pair of leaves is under the soil. Water thoroughly.
**Tomatoes need a steady water supply to help them ripen well. Drought will slow them down, and an excess of water after drought can cause them to crack or rot. A mulch applied after the soil has warmed up and moderate watering in droughts helps to keep the moisture level more consistent.
**You can apply an inch of compost around the plants or dose them with a liquid fertilizer (like this one) if desired once or twice in the season if growth seems slow or the plants do not seem healthy.
**Tomatoes deal with many diseases. The best thing to do is get a resistant variety which will have a “V”, “F”, or “M” next to their names or even all three. It also helps to use crop rotation and remove debris.
**You can protect the fruit from the first light frosts by covering the plants with tarps or sheets. If it is really going to freeze, however, you should pick all the remaining tomatoes.
**Arrange tomatoes in one layer in a cool, dark place. Check often and remove any that have even a spot of rot.
**You can preserve your harvest with canning or drying, and you can also do a quick-freeze method. Simply harvest the tomatoes when perfectly ripe, wash them, cut out the little hard cores at the tops of the fruit, and toss them whole in a plastic bag in the freezer. When needed, the skins slip right off if you hold them under hot water and when still frozen hard. You can also let them drain in a colander all day and they reduce themselves to a thick paste. The clear liquid that collects below can be chilled as a beverage or saved for soups.
*My favorite tomato is the Roma tomato because it is the perfect size for my recipes and I love the texture of them! What is your favorite type of tomato? Why?