Most gardeners agree that every garden should have at least one tomato plant. Unfortunately, those who agree often end up planting too many. Even avid gardeners make this and other common mistakes that leave gardeners with a less than desirable tomato harvest. Factors every gardener should consider range from what type of tomato variety to grow, to where they’re starting their seeds, to what else they’re growing in the garden. If you’re growing tomatoes, here are some preliminary tips that may help you avoid common tomato growing blunders:
- HEAT & WATER NECESSARY: Tomato plants are kind of needy! They need consistent warmth to germinate, and their need for water varies throughout their growth stages.
- GIVE THEM SPACE: Give each plant a radius of about 3 feet of space. Gardeners will often plant the seeds 3 feet apart in one direction, but then plant other things in the next row. So, remember: it’s a 3-foot radius. This will protect both your tomato plants and their neighbors.
- KNOW HOW & WHEN TO FERTILIZE: It is easy to burn your plant with fertilizer. Yes, you can add fertilizer to the soil when you plant seeds. However, make sure that your seeds are not touching that fertilized soil. See below for further instruction on this.
- REMOVE BOTTOM LEAVES: Once your plants are about full grown, remove the bottom leaves, especially those that look to be wilting or dead. They’re usually out of the sun’s reach and start to create problems.
What you’ll need…
- Steel Raised Garden Bed Kit
- Small seed starting pots (or anything that drains)
- Tomato seeds
- Potting soil
- Pour seed starting mix (which usually has little to no actual soil) into small or medium seed starting grow pots. Which size you choose depends on how far you are from transporting them outside. If you’re starting seeds outside, make sure there is no fertilizer touching your seeds.
- If you’re patient, warm the wet soil under grow lights or on a heated mat for a day before planting the seeds.
- Plant 2-3 seeds about ¼” deep in the grow pot. If you’re starting them outside: give each set of seeds a 3’ radius.
- Seeds NEED warmth to germinate. Keep them under grow lights (70˚-80˚F) and spray with water every day for the first week.
- Seedlings should be in direct sunlight; however, they don’t need as much heat (65˚-70˚).
- Keep the soil moist, but do not drown them in water. This happy medium is most easily reached with a spray bottle.
- Make sure only 1 plant is growing in each pot. If two begin to compete, choose which one you’d like to keep. Try not to stray too far from Darwinian principles.
- Do not transplant outside until after the last average frost date. If you’re concerned about another possible frost, cover them with our Pop-Up Plant Covers.
- Most tomato plants will need some sort of support. You can use a cage or a pole for single plants, or you can build a fence support system if you have many tomato plants.
- Prune when necessary, watch for aphids, and remove leaves that grow on the bottom foot of the plant.
- Tomatoes can be picked when they’re semi-ripe, (called “breakers”)—if you want these, pick them once they reach a light shade of green or begin to turn pinkish or orange.
- If you want a ripe tomato, wait until they’re a deep color, but are still firm.
- Store tomatoes inside or in the shade. Do not put them in the fridge! Cold temperatures cause both their flavor and texture to break down.
A Note on Fertilizer
Too much fertilizer can kill your tomato plants. Here are three tips to avoid this:
- Make sure that your tomatoes are not down the hill from other plants you are heavily fertilizing.
- Tomato seeds sown outside should have a buffer of at least 3-inches of NON-fertilized soil.
- One the tomato plant is beginning to grow fruit, you can fertilize, but do not place it directly at the plants base. The fertilizer can still burn the stock of the plant.