Of all the vegetables available to the home gardener to grow, tomatoes would be the most popular.
Tomatoes are usually categorized as early, mid-season or late and like potatoes this refers to the length of time it takes from planting to first harvest. When deciding which tomato to grow the end use must be a factor in your choice. Tomato varieties are roughly divided into several categories, based mostly on shape and size.
Tomatoes are then categorized into two types, determined by their growth habit. Determinate and Indeterminate
Commonly called bush tomatoes, they are often the best choices for growing tomatoes in container. Tomato plants of this type will top off, or stop growing, at a specific height. Determinate tomatoes will bear a full crop of tomatoes all at once and for this reason often chosen by home growers interested in canning or preserving.
Some varieties are low growing and sprawl out wide over the garden. It is important with these to be mulched with suitable material to keep the fruit off the ground to prevent rot or diseases. These do not need support unless you wish them too.
Other bush varieties usually require support of some kind, like this wire cage type.
The varieties of this type develop into vines that never top off and will continue to grow until killed by frost, insect pests, disease, or lack of water and fertilizer. They are what is referred to as a tender perennial and although usually started from seed every year can continue producing under the right conditions for up to three years.
Indeterminate tomato types grow, flower, and set fruit over the entire growing season and for this reason are the first choice of home gardeners wanting tomatoes for daily consumption.
Indeterminate tomatoes can be left without staking but best results are achieved for all varieties by using some means of support.
Temperature is an important factor when growing tomatoes, they are a warm season plant, and should not be transplanted outside until all danger of frost has passed. Wait until at least 1-2 weeks after the last average 32 F (0 C) freeze in your area but not before soil temperature are consistently 60 F (16 C) or above.
Tomato plant needs at least 8 hours of sunlight a day to achieve good crop production.
They are particularly sensitive to temperature fluctuations. The setting of fruit stops when night temperatures consistently fall below 55 F, (13 C) and also when day time temperatures are consistently above 90 F, (32 C)
Tomatoes can be grown on many different soil types. They will do best however in a well drained soil, supplied with ample nutrients and plenty of organic matter that is medium to high in phosphorus.
As with many garden vegetables, tomatoes grow best in a slightly acid soil with a pH of 6.2 to 6.8. Well aged manure or compost will work extremely well for supplying tomatoes with all of the above growing requirements.
To achieve a longer growing season tomatoes are usually started indoors and transplanted outside as large seedlings when weather conditions are favorable.
Tomatoes need insects or wind movement to help them pollinate. One such pollinator in the garden is a bumble bee, the frequency of buzzing from a bumblebee during its visit to tomato flowers is very effective in releasing pollen.
To this end it is beneficial to attract more bees, bumble bees in particular, by planting nectar rich flowers when growing tomatoes in your vegetable garden.
The most important aspects of caring for tomatoes are;
When transplanting your tomato seedling the type and variety of tomato plant will be the deciding factor in plant and row spacing's. The following is a rough guide to that end.
Determinate 12-18 inches (30-45 cm) apart in rows 2-3 feet (60-90 cm) apart.
Staked indeterminate 18-24 inches (45-60 cm) apart in rows 3-4 feet (90-120 cm) apart.
Trellised indeterminate 24-36 inches (60-90 cm) apart in rows 4-6 feet (120-150 cm) apart.
The main thing to be aware of when planting out tomatoes plants is to give them plenty of room to grow and allow good air circulation. It is better to be too far apart than too close.
As soon as the transplants are in the ground apply a thick mulch to conserve moisture and suppress weed growth. An even moisture supply is very important, especially once the tomato fruits begin to develop. Over watering when the fruit is developing will cause the fruit to split and a good thick mulch is the best way to keep a consistent moisture content.
2 weeks before planting apply 5-6 quarts per 100 sq feet (5.5-6.6 liters per 9.3 square meters) of All-Purpose 5-5-5 Organic Fertilizer.
Use liquid starter fertilizer at time of transplanting
side-dress when the first fruit are set - repeat every 2-3 weeks until the last fruit set.
Top producing tomato plants use a lot of fertilizer but resist the urge to use high nitrogen fertilizer. They will result in plants with extremely vigorous vine growth but little fruit production.
For the indeterminate tomato types being tied to a support of some description is necessary.
Be it stakes, poles or trellis
Depending on variety some bush tomatoes need support while other do not.
For the indeterminate tomato types pruning is essential. Staked plants are usually pruned to a single or double stem and periodically tied loosely to the stake with soft twine.
Determinate types don’t normally require pruning.
Tomato plants are such prolific growers that if left unattended they would over run your garden beds. Pruning restricts the amount of foliage allowing the plant to put more energy into fruit production.
Tomatoes, like Pepper plants, potatoes and eggplants are all members of the Solanaceae family. They should not be planted in the same bed that any have been grown in the previous 3-4 years as they are susceptible to the same diseases.
Disease resistance varieties can be an important consideration, especially if you have had problems growing tomatoes in the past. Many varieties are breed especially for their disease resistance and are identified by one or more letters indicating what disease they are resistance to.
Aphids, Colorado Potato Beetles, Corn Borer, Corn Ear Worm, Cut Worm, Flea Beetle, Leaf Miner, Red spider mite, Slug, Snails, Tomato Horn Worm, Tomato fruit worms, Weevil.
Anthracnose, Bacterial Speck, Blossom End Rot, Buckeye Rot, Early Blight, Gray Leaf, Gray Wall, Late Blight, Septoria Leaf Spot, Southern Blight, Verticillium Wilt
Leave tomatoes on the vine until they are fully ripe before harvesting. It will remind you why you grow your own instead of buying those tasteless ones from the grocery store. Picked tomatoes should be placed in shade. Light is not necessary for ripening immature tomatoes.
Fresh vine ripened tomatoes enough to make your mouth water.
Ripe tomatoes should be stored in cool, 45-50 F, (7-10 C) moist conditions and will keep 4-7 days.
Green tomatoes can be picked before the first killing frost and stored in a cool 55 F, (13 C) moist place.
Tomatoes will can or freeze very well.