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Tomato Gardening: How to Plant Tomatoes at Home

Tomato Gardening: How to Plant Tomatoes at Home


 

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 will allow you to access this vegetable from your 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 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. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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 and determined 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.

  1. 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 the day-time temperature is at 66 degrees F and temperatures at night is not more than 55 degrees F.

How to Start Growing Tomatoes

  1. 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
  1. 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 a 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.

  1. Watering

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.

  1. Planting

Requirements for Planting Tomatoes at Home

Prepare the following things to enable you to grow tomatoes from the comfort of your home:

                                    Tomato Growth Cycle

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.
  1. Caring for Your Tomato Plants

 Spraying a Tomato Plant with Water

 

  • 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 one 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.
  • 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

 Additional Tips

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.

Check out our planters and raised beds, including other gardening tools and supplies you'll need to start planting tomatoes at home

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The Incredible Onion - How to Plant Onions at Home

The Incredible Onion - How to Plant Onions at Home

The Basics - Growing Onions

Onions, just like any other vegetable, have a range of health benefits. They can prevent and treat various diseases and repel certain bloodthirsty insects. Onions can treat asthma, the common cold, respiratory problems, coughs, bacterial infections, and angina.

With regular use, onions can also prevent heart disorders, cancer, and diabetes, among other life-threatening diseases. They can also boost your sexual drive, heal various skin conditions such as acne and help nourish your hair, among other benefits.

What is an Onion?

Also known as Allium cepa scientifically, onion is a type of vegetable. Onions are rich in antioxidants to help fight free radicals in the body. They have been used for their medicinal values since time immemorial.

Available as bulbs, onions can be yellow, red or white. Spring onions are also known as scallions or green onions. Onions have a sharp, pungent flavor and strong taste. Despite being a temperate vegetable, onions do relatively well in tropical, temperate and subtropical climatic conditions.

Humans have cultivated and used onions in their diet as a staple plant for at least 7,000 years. Although you'll find some wild onion species in specific regions in Asia, onions are mostly cultivated and grown worldwide. Egyptians buried pharaohs with onions to help enrich their diet in the next world.

In 5000 BC, onions were already being used in China. The popularity of onions can be attributed to their medicinal values, high availability, and versatility. Onions have antibacterial and anti-fungal properties, hence their use in treating fungal infections in households.

Why You Should Plant Onions at Home

Apart from the health benefits of using onions, there are many reasons why you should plant them at home. Onions do well in well-drained soil with sufficient moisture levels. Grow onions in your garden or backyard to gain the most from their range of benefits.

Onions are an integral part of preparing culinary and cuisines worldwide. You can also use them to cook your simple dishes at home. Since they are 'companion plants,' you can grow onions beside your other plants and vegetables. They also do well in a wide range of climates.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), onions can help treat atherosclerosis and improve appetite. Furthermore, studies have proven that people with allergic bronchitis, chronic asthma, coughs, and the common cold can immensely benefit from consuming diets rich in onions.

Onions are rich in vitamins, minerals, sulfuric compounds, quercetin, and dietary fibers, hence their medicinal properties. Moreover, they act as insect repellents and can be used to treat insect stings and bites. With all these benefits, you should plant onions at home in your garden, backyard or indoors.

A Guide on How to Plant Onions at Home

Onions’ hardiness, high yield, and easy storage make them a must-have in any avid Gardener’s list of crops to grow.  Be aware, however, that onions planted from seeds can take five months or more to reach maturity.  So, if you’re starting from seeds, sow seeds indoors 8 to 10 weeks before the last average frost date—this is usually in February or early March. 

If you’re starting with sets, plant them in late April or May. With Green Valley Supply grows bags, you can do this indoors and simply carry grow bags outside once weather permits. With no transplanting necessary, your seedlings are less likely to suffer from transplant shock.

Our pop-up plant cover will allow you to move seedlings outside in their grow bag weeks earlier if you need to free up space in your home.

Factors to Consider When Growing Onions at Home

Whether you want to plant onions indoors or outdoors, consider the following factors for a good start:

  1. Planting Zones

Onions can do well in zones 3 to 9. Find out if your zone is conducive for planting onions at home on the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map website.

  1. Type of Onion to Plant

There are various types of onions you might want to plant at home as follows:

  • Sweet Onions - Usually large, sweet onions are less opaque with slightly lighter skin color.
  • Yellow Onions - Popular for their strong, sulfur-like scent, yellow onions are brown on the outside and ivory white on the inside (the flesh).
  • Shallots - These onions are small with purple flesh and brown skins on the outside.
  • White Onions - Unlike yellow onions, white onions are sweeter and milder with white skin.
  • Green Onions - These are onions without bulbs.
  • Red Onions - These onions are deep magenta on the flesh and skin. Since they are sweet and mild, red onions are often eaten raw.
  • Leeks - Resembling overgrown scallions, leeks have long leaves and small bulbs. This type of onion is often used to prepare soups and sauces.

Whether you choose bulb or green onions, you can grow them in containers, pots or plastic water bottles. Your geographical location is a determinant factor when choosing the type of onion to grow.

  1. Onion Varieties

Choose between long-day (14-16 hours) and short-day (10-12 hours) onion varieties. You can also consider intermediate-day (12-14 hours) varieties. Whereas short-day varieties do well in the south, long-day varieties are best grown in the north.

  1. Growth Requirements
  • Temperatures - Onions require cool temperatures for early development and warmth or sunshine as they mature. 21 degrees F is the ideal temperature for growing onions, but anything below 18 degrees F can kill your plants.

Onion seeds emergence and germination occurs at a temperature range of 55 to 83 degrees F. Onion cycle in the tropical regions take 90 to 150 days after transplanting while in warm temperature regions, the cycle lasts 9 to 10 months.

Onion bulb development requires high temperatures and 12 to 15 hours of a day. The right onion planting density and early leaf cover can promote big bulb sizes and high yields, respectively.

  • Light - Onions require sufficient light. If you're growing your onions indoors, place the garden near windows to ensure they get enough light. You can also use artificial lights to supplement natural light to ensure what your onion crops get is enough to support photosynthesis.

Consider growing lights, like fluorescent lights to ensure your onions get sufficient light during bulb development. However, make sure the specific onion variety only gets the right amount of light after which you can put off the lights. Onions also require dark hours to enable them to complete their day-night growth cycle.

  • Plant Spacing & Depth - When growing onions, let the plant spacing be three inches. Plant each onion 6 to 10 inches deep to promote root and bulb development. However, you can grow smaller onion varieties or scallions with less spacing between plants.
  1. Selecting the Right Container

Choose a 6-10 inch deep container; width can be your choice based on the space available indoors. The right depth in your chosen container ensures your onion roots increase in size and quality. Bottle onion gardens are popular for their novelty and attractive looks.

  1. Soil Preparation & Water Management

Fertile, well-structured soil is the key to optimal onion growth and high yields. Prepare a seedbed with fine soil if you intend to grow your onions from seeds for optimal germination and plant development.

Onions generally have short, sparse roots with few hairs, hence the need for moisture and nutrients just 10 inches from the topsoil. Onions require sufficient water to grow and produce high yields. During drought, although onions can survive, they undergo stress and are likely to split or develop many bulbs on just a single plant.

Onions require up to 3 inches of water on a weekly basis during early plant development. As onions mature their water requirements go down and reducing available water can help speed maturity. Overwatering onions can lead to their skin cracking or bursting.

Mulch your onions with straw or grow them with wheat or barley to minimize soil erosion, especially if grown on light soils. If you intend to grow onions in your backyard or garden, make sure it's free from stones and clods that can hamper the efficiency of herbicides, growth and mechanical harvesting.

The right soil pH for growing onions is 6 to 7. However, if your soil is organic, the pH can be as low as 4. Soil with a pH of 5.5 lacks molybdenum and magnesium whereas a pH above 6.5 lacks manganese, zinc, and iron.

Avoid salty water and saline soils because onions are sensitive to salinity, leading to reduced yields. Fertilizers with chlorides are also not allowed because they reduce the growth of onions. Opt for sulfate and nitrate fertilizers to boost the growth of your onions.

Note that you can easily grow green onions in water indoors without using soil. You can grow them in a glass or bottle of water.

  1. Onion Starter Plant Sets or Seeds

Choose to grow your onions from sets or seeds. If you have sprouting onions in your kitchen, use them to start your indoor onion garden instead of throwing them away. Whichever you choose, allow your plants to grow for at least 4 to 6 weeks.


Planting Onion Sets

                                                     Planting Onion Sets

The sets need to sprout properly while the seeds require time to germinate. Although sets are easy to plant as they've been started, they might not give the best yield.

  Onion Seeds

                                                   Onion Seeds for Planting

On the other hand, onions grown from seeds flower in the second year as they're bi-annual plants, giving yield to large bulbs with longer storage life. Onion starter plants or sets are also prone to rotting, hence the need for you to plant your garden onions from seeds.

How to Plant & Care for Onions

 

                       A Video on Onion Seeds Sprouting, Ready for Transplanting

What you'll need

  1. Green Valley Supply Grow Bags
  2. Seeds or sets/Kitchen onion scraps
  3. Potting mix soil
  4. Seed Starter
  5. Trowel
  6. An extra source of light (optional)

Table 1: A Table Comparing What it Takes to Plant, Care for & Harvest Onions

Planting Care Harvest
  • Pour soil (and seed starter if necessary) into your grow bag; or, make sure your raised bed has about 10-12 inches of loose, loamy soil.
  • Plant seeds about ¼” away from each other, about ¼” deep in rows. Rows should be 4”-6” apart.  If you’re starting from sets, plant 3-4 small bulbs about 1” deep together—Brady Bunch style; groups should be 6” away from each other.
  • Keep soil moist. If the soil is dry when you’re planting, water immediately.
  • Place in direct sunlight or under plant lights.
  • Remember! Seeds can take up to two weeks to germinate as in the video above (do not despair!)
  • These little guys need water and warmth to germinate and grow!
  • Make sure they get lots of sunlight.
  • Add general nitrogen fertilizer every 2-3 weeks to promote bulb development.
  • Move seedlings outdoors once they have three leaves.
  • Use mulch to reduce watering levels as it retains moisture and suppresses weeds.
  • Onions mature when their tops begin to fall over or yellow.
  • Once most leaves have fallen over, bend the rest over manually, stop watering them and wait for 2-3 days.
  • Pull your onions out and let them sun dry for about a week.
  • Harvest and store somewhere dry with sufficient air flow.

    Onion Life Cycle

    Onion seeds are planted in the first year, and they germinate in 7 or 14 days. The onion develops leaves as it continues to grow for photosynthesis. The onions use the energy produced during photosynthesis for bulb development in spring, fall, and summer.

    If not harvested, onions can remain dormant underground in winter. During the second year, they flower. When temperatures warm up in spring, onions flower, get pollinated and develop seeds.

    Note that early onion dormancy due to sudden cooling in summer can cause your onion plants to flower despite being in their first year of growth.

    Onion Life-cycle

                                                                  The Life Cycle of an Onion

    Provide Protection for Your Onions

    Use hand weeding, herbicides and inter-row cultivation with other crops to help keep your onion garden weed free. Since onions generally take time to grow after transplanting, they cannot compete well with weeds for nutrients, water and other necessities for growth.

    Make sure your soil is sterilized and use nematode-free seeds and good plant rotational practices to keep nematodes and eelworms from your onion plants.

    Whereas the former restricts uptake of moisture and nutrients through roots and stems, the latter attacks stem, causing damages, plant distortion and death, including shoot twisting. Onion thrips, on the other hand, are common in regions with warmer climates.

    Thrips don't just damage onion leaves, but also cause stunted growth. Use insecticides to kill onion maggots or fly, including thrips. Control of fungicidal and bacterial diseases is essential to improving crop yield.

    Fungicide sprays, deep cultivation, soil sterilization, and wide rotations can control most disease problems. Leek rust, white onion rot, and downy mildew are some common problems you can expect to face while planting onions at home.

    Onion Harvesting

    Onions are harvested in fall when the leaves yellow, dry and fall over. According to various studies, you should harvest your onions when they still have between 30% to 40% foliage. This increases their storage life.

    Strike a balance between reducing the quality of your bulbs in storage and getting the maximum yield to harvest your onions at the right time. Do not over dry the onions to prevent them from balding while in storage. Harvest in late summer.

    Loosen the soil and pull your onions from the container, pot or raised bed and dry them in the sun. Remove the roots once they're dry and ready for storage.

    Onion Storage

    After harvesting, onions can be cured outdoors. During the curing process, the onions should be covered in your garden or backyard, but must never be left out for too long. Controlled storage with the right atmospheric conditions can help preserve the quality of your onions.

    Low oxygen levels in storage minimize sprouting while low CO2 levels prevent fungal sporulation. Keep humidity levels between 65% and 70% and temperatures at 34 degrees F to prevent fungi from spreading and minimize respiration, respectively.

    You can store your harvested onions for many months. Keep them in a cool, dry place with proper ventilation for up to one month. Neither store your onions under the sink or in a refrigerator as the high moisture level can make them soft and thus spoil them.

    Inspect your onions regularly during storage for discoloration or slimy substances. Discard those that are either discolored or have become soft and slimy.

    Refrigerate spring onions for up to seven days. If you want your onions to stay fresh for up to a year, cover them in foil and refrigerate. Never store your onions near pears or apples for prolonged storage.


     

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