The essence of tomato gardening goes without saying. Tomatoes have a range of health benefits, including good stomach health, better digestion, body detoxification, eye care, improved fluid balance and reduced blood pressure.
Tomatoes can also help reduce cholesterol levels, fight cardiovascular diseases and stimulate blood circulation, just to mention a few. With the many health benefits of this vegetable, it becomes necessary to plant tomatoes at home.
What is a Tomato?
Also known as Solanum lycopersicum in scientific terms, tomatoes are both a fruit and vegetable. Tomatoes are believed to have their origin in Mexico from where they spread to America during the colonial times. They are annual nightshade plants with round, red fruits.
Tomatoes grow in small-to-moderately sized clusters. The fruits are soft, with pinkish-red flesh and moderately sweet flavor. They are an important cuisine ingredient in the Mediterranean region and other parts of the world. They also flavor food.
Why You Should Plant Tomatoes at Home
Tomatoes are fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants, and vitamins and minerals. Due to their rich nutrient content, tomatoes have many health benefits as stated above. Planting tomatoes at home allows you to access this vegetable from your own garden at no cost.
In addition to easily accessing tomatoes when you need them, and gaining from their range of health benefits, you get to use organic vegetables without harmful chemicals. You'll use healthy, sustainable techniques to grow organic tomatoes from your own yard. This further guarantees you better health.
Last, but not least, you can easily sell excess tomatoes in your garden to your friends, family or neighbors. With the extra money earned, you can easily pay off your other expenses or bills. However, this depends on the number of tomatoes your gardening space allows you to plant, and of course, your crop yield.
A Guide on How to Plant Tomatoes at Home
Any gardener would agree that every garden should have at least one tomato plant. However, most gardeners fail to grow the right number of plants in the space they have available. In fact, many gardeners often end up with a higher plant population on their gardens than is recommended.
Even avid gardeners tend to make this and other common mistakes, leaving them with a less than desirable tomato harvest. However, if done properly, growing tomatoes can be fun. Nothing beats the joy of seeing a plant grow from a seed, watching it grow and flower into fruition.
Tomato gardening is easy, and harvesting ripe fruits when they are ready is worth the effort. There are factors every gardener should consider before planting tomatoes at home. They range from the right tomato type or variety to grow, to where to grow your tomato seedlings, to existing crops in your garden.
Factors to Consider When Planting Tomatoes
Want to grow tomatoes? If you're here, your answer is probably a yes. The following factors are important to successful tomato gardening. Factor them before preparing your soil, during planting, while caring for your plants and even during harvesting.
- Tomato Seeds/Starter Plants
Do you want to plant your tomatoes from seeds or starter plants? Starter plants are 6 to 8-inch tall seedlings often sold in nurseries or garden centers. Unlike seeds, the seedlings have a head start at growing, making them more advantageous.
However, the unknown condition of tomato seedlings can be a drawback. Is it disease resistant? How healthy is it? These are questions you must answer if you intend to buy tomato seedlings for planting in your home garden. Will it grow into a healthy, disease resistant and vibrant plant?
Do you know the type of seeds that were used to grow the tomato seedlings? How was their quality? Prefer growing tomato seeds? Buy high quality tomato seeds for resistance to common diseases and increased vitality.
- Choose the Best Tomato Type/Variety
Tomato plant seeds can either be determinate or indeterminate.
Determinate Tomato Seeds - Also referred to as bush tomato seeds, determinate seeds grow to a fixed height, ranging from 2 to 4 feet. Upon maturation, tomato plants flower and develop fruits at the edge of the stems. The fruits ripen within 14 days.
However, fruit production typically ends with the first harvest and the plant eventually dies. Tomato plants grown from determinate seeds have a one-off high yield, making them ideal for making home-made tomato sauce.
Tomato staking is recommended to prevent fruits from touching the ground, atop supporting the weight of the plants. It takes proper soil preparation with the right fertilizer, and regular watering for determine tomato seeds to grow and flourish.
Note that these plants also don't require pruning. Roma tomato seeds are a good example of determinate seeds.
Indeterminate Tomato Seeds - These seeds grow into vining tomato plants, meaning they require support. Tomato cages, tripods or even strong sticks can be used to support these tomato plants.
Tomato fruits develop along the stems and the plants continue fruiting throughout the entire growing season. The plants only start dying once the weather becomes frosty.
With a large selection of tomato variety to choose from, indeterminate seeds are the most popular among vegetable gardeners. Brandywine, Big Boy, most heirlooms and cheery are good examples of indeterminate tomato seeds. Depending on tomato variety, they take 49 to 100 days to mature.
- Tomato Growing Zone
Know your tomato growing zone and choose varieties that do well in your region. While a specific tomato variety can do well in a specific zone, they might not grow in another area. Check the Zone Map to determine your growing zone for the right variety that does well in your locality.
You can also assess the packaging of any seeds variety when you go seeds shopping to find out if your area is covered. Tomatoes do well in warm weather; planting is recommended when day-time temperature is at 66 degrees F and temperatures at night is not more than 55 degrees F.
How to Start Growing Tomatoes
- Soil Preparation
Tomatoes grow in well-prepared soil mixed with the right fertilizer in the right proportions. Depending on the amount of space available in your home for gardening, you can prepare soil on the ground in your backyard or prepare a raised bed tomato garden.
A raised bed tomato garden is superior to a ground garden for many reasons as follows:
- A garden bed is raised, meaning you grow your tomatoes while standing. This saves your back unnecessary pain
- Weeds and pests associated with ground gardening are not a problem with raised garden beds
- Some raised beds come with protrusions on the edges to allow you a seating area while gardening
- You get to choose the best soil quality for your raised bed, giving you more control over your gardening
- Raised tomato garden beds are portable, meaning you get to till your tomatoes from your favorite point within your home
- Raised garden beds also support outdoor or indoor gardening to suit different preferences
- Fertilizer Application
Fertilizer is important for both traditional gardening on the ground and planting your tomatoes on a raised garden bed. Using fertilizer on ground gardens is easy as long as your soil is good; simply mix the soil with the fertilizer before planting. There is also the need to water your plants and control weeds and pests on traditional gardens.
First, test the pH level of your soil to ensure it is conducive for vegetable gardening. Tomatoes grow in slightly acidic soil. The right soil pH range for tomatoes is 6 to 6.8. Take soil sample from your garden and send it to a garden center for testing or simply buy a soil pH test kit from a garden center near you and do a DIY test.
Fill your raised garden bed halfway with soil and top up with organic compost. Tomatoes do well with organic fertilizer. You might have to prepare compost manure in advance or buy some, but the former option is easier and more cost-effective.
Buy steer or blood meal manure to grow your tomatoes. Although chemical fertilizers are also available in many garden centers, they are more complex and require some knowledge to use. One pro of organic fertilizers for sale is that they are deodorized, hence odor-free.
Level your garden soil and water it slowly until your entire garden gets wet. Let the soil settle and dry before you start planting.
Unlike other vegetables, tomatoes require constant attention, including more watering more so when the weather gets hot. You might also need plant covers & garden fabrics to protect your tomato plants from harsh weather conditions such as too much sunshine (can cause tomato wilting) or rainfall (can cause certain tomato diseases).
Watering your tomatoes regularly protects your plants from stress. Visit any garden center near you to buy a moisture meter to help you determine whether your garden soil is too wet or too dry. With knowledge of your garden soil's dryness level, you can water your tomatoes to get the right amount of moisture.
This is important because over watering or under watering your plants can cause them undue stress, leading to low crop yield.The meters are not just cost-effective, but also easy to use. After planting, it's important to mulch your tomato garden to minimize moisture loss. Use vermiculite, bark chips, saw dust or pine straw as mulch.
Requirements for Planting Tomatoes at Home
Prepare the following things to enable you grow tomatoes from the comfort of your home:
- Steel Raised Garden Bed Kit
- Small seed starting pots (or anything that drains)
- Tomato seeds
- Potting soil
Steps for Planting Tomatoes
- Pour seed starting mix (which usually has little to no actual soil) into small or medium seed starting grow pots. The 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.
- Caring for Your Tomato Plants
- 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 the one you’d like to keep and uproot the other; this is also called plant thinning to achieve the right plant population. 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 often need some sort of support. Use a cage or a pole for single plants, or build a fence support system if you have many tomato plants to stake.
- Prune when necessary, watch for aphids, and remove leaves that grow at the bottom foot of the plant.
- Tomato Harvesting
When are tomatoes ready for harvest? Your tomatoes are ready for harvesting when the green fruits mature. Look for red coloring at the bottom of the fruit, an indication of ripening. You can also squeeze your tomatoes for firmness to determine if they are ready for harvesting. Mature fruits are not so firm as they begin to ripen.
- 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.
- Tomato Storage
What do you do with your tomatoes after harvesting? Store your harvested tomatoes properly to ensure they stay for long without going bad. You can also process your harvest into a value added end-product such as home-made tomato sauce.
Store tomatoes inside a shade. Do not put them in the fridge! Cold temperatures cause both their flavor and texture to break down.
Heat & Water: Tomato plants are kind of needy! They need consistent warmth to germinate, and their need for water varies throughout their growth stages.
Use the Right Spacing: Give each plant a radius of about 3 feet of space. Gardeners often plant 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 protects both your tomato plants and their neighboring crops.
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 almost fully grown, remove the bottom leaves, especially those that look like they are wilting or dead. They’re usually out of the sun’s reach and start to create problems.
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.
- Once 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.
As you grow your tomatoes, expect to have so much fun caring for your babies (well, they need care just like babies). You'll have a high yield and harvest juicy, tasty tomatoes by ensuring you follow this simple guide to the letter.
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