Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable to grow in the United States. They are not difficult to grow from transplants, and can even be grown from seed with a little extra effort. Buying transplants from your local nursery, or just about anywhere garden products are sold, is easy and gives you well started plants to begin with. If you want a larger choice of varieties than they carry, you can purchase seeds from mail order houses and grow any number of variates. You just have to start the seeds indoors about eight weeks before it is time to plant them outside.
Since most people buy transplants, I will discuss starting tomatoes from seed in another post. When buying transplants, look for compact, healthy looking plants that are about 4 to 6 inches tall. Avoid leggy plants or ones with yellow leaves. You need to decide whether to grow cherry tomatoes, which are the small, bite sized tomatoes seen most often in salads, beefmaster type tomatoes, which are for slicing, or paste tomatoes, usually made into sauces and tomato paste. Of course, you can grow some of each. Two other terms you will hear regarding tomatoes are determinant and indeterminate. Determinant tomatoes have all there tomatoes at once, while indeterminate tomatoes have them for a longer period. The advantage of determinant tomatoes is that if you are planning to can them, you get the whole crop at once. If you plan to eat them as they get ripe, you probably want indeterminate tomatoes.
Tomatoes are subject to a whole host of diseases. Some tomato varieties are more resistant to diseases than others. Tomato varieties have groups of letters after them that tell what diseases they are resistant to . Your nursery professional can tell you what tomato diseases are prevalent in your area and recommend varieties to grow that are resistant to those diseases.
Transplants should be set out after all danger of frost has passed. Prior to planting, add 2 to 3 pounds of fertilizer per hundred feet of row and mix it well into the top 3 to 4 inches of soil. If planting just a few plants, it is more practical to put two level tablespoons of fertilizer in each whole before setting the plant into it.
Plant them on raised beds about six inches above the rest of the garden. Plant them 2-4 feet apart in the row with 4-5 feet between rows. Put the tomato plant in two to three inches deep and set them in firmly. Water in well.
Place a stake ten inches deep and extending upward six feet beside the tomato plant. As the plant grows, tie the plant loosely to the stake with twine every foot. Do not use wire as it will cut the plant in two. Staked plants keep the fruit up off the ground and out of the reach of many of the pests that eat them, such as slugs and snails.
Mulch plants as they grow so that you have three inches of mulch around each plant. This will help prevent weeds from growing around them, keep moisture in the ground around the plants, and keep the fruit off the dirt. It also helps keep fungal spores from splashing up on the plant, retarding fungal diseases.
Tomatoes need a lot of water. Water the plant twice a week with an inch of water each time. Drip irrigation is best, but a soaker hose or sprinkler will work. Every two to three weeks from the first appearance of fruit until the end of harvest, scatter 1 to 2 tablespoons of fertilizer beside but about 6 inches from the tomato stalks and work into the soil. Water it in good.
For best flavor, pick tomatoes when they are fully ripe. If you must pick them when they are only pink, ripen at room temperature before refrigerating them. Use ripe tomatoes within two or three days or they will start to rot.
For more help gardening, buy my book, Preparing A Vegetable Garden From The Ground Up
Available in print or ebook from Amazon.com or other retailers, this book walks you from choosing the site of your garden all the way through what to do after the harvest. Buy a copy for yourself or a friend today!