We all love tomatoes, as they are one of the most used vegetables, and loved by all.
Personally, I prefer to grow my own tomatoes, because they smell different from the ones typically available at stores. Rich and delicious smell of the homegrown tomato is what makes any dish you make with it stand out. From the tomato sauce the kids love so much, to the “Bloody Mary” I make for my husband – every dish benefits from the care and love you put into it. Add some mozzarella and basil, and you get a delicious “Caprese” salad.
Tomatoes are probably one of the easiest plants to grow but there are some things that you should remember.
Indeterminate vs. Determinate Tomatoes
The most difficult lesson I learned was the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes. Indeterminate tomatoes are tomatoes that keep on producing fruit until frost kills them. They are a vine. They are wonderful for cooking and salads. Determinate tomatoes are the tomatoes that will all ripen at the same time. They give one large yield of fruit and then die out. These tomatoes are great for dishes like pasta sauce, marinara sauce, canning or pickling. Determinate tomatoes are also going to be more compact and can stand on their own much more easily.
When to Sow, Transplant and Harvest
Sow seeds indoors in spring. Depending on your hardiness zone. To find out your hardiness zone use this link and then come back since we have loads to do! Transplant tomatoes also in the spring. For the Massachusetts area the rule of thumb is Memorial Day. Tomatoes planted during Memorial day weekend or right after usually perform at their peak. Harvest tomatoes in the late summer and fall. Depending on the variety it may take 50-90 days to ripen.
Where to Plant
Whether in greenhouse or outdoors tomatoes are not very fussy about the soil. Use a good mixture of 1/3 part soil, 1/3 part peat moss, and 1/3 part dehydrated manure and you will not go wrong. For the subsequent years alternate between adding compost and manure to maintain a healthy equilibrium. The rule of thumb is going to be earth worms. If your soil is full of earth worms then you have a good medium to work with. Tomatoes need a lot of light so make sure to use a site that received at least 14 hours of sunlight per day.
Some great companions to plant with tomatoes are Borage, Carrots, Peppers, Nasturtiums, Basil, Calendula, Chives and Marigolds. Do not be afraid to interplant especially with Marigolds and Nasturtiums as the combination will be also a piece of art for you to enjoy.
How to sow Seeds
Sow seeds thinly in seed trays with multipurpose potting mix and water carefully. Seeds are not likely to germinate in temperatures less than 59 degrees Fahrenheit. When seedlings appear, move trays in bright light with a constant temperature of 70-80F. When the seedlings develop 2 or 3 true leaves transplant them into individual containers until time for their final transplant into the raised bed.
Regular fertilizing and watering are important. The rule of thumb is the knuckle rule – if you stick your finger into the soil until the first knuckle and the soil is moist – do not water. Pinch out suckers and the bottom branches as soon as you see them forming. The suckers are the growth between the lead and the branch. As the season progresses you will have very little leaf growth and an abundance of fruit. This allows the plant to concentrate on ripening than leaf production.
Leafhoppers, potato cyst eelworm, tomato worm, whitefly and aphids can be a nuisance. Key to most is good aeration and not over watering. Keep an eye out for tomato worm by simply plucking them off the plant. If the plant is healthy they are usually pretty resilient.
Tomato blight and blossom end rot are two issues to watch out for. Tomato blight is a virus that causes leaves to curl and blacken. Prevent by spraying a copper based fungicide. Blossom end rot is caused by the roots of the plant drying out and being unable to absorb enough calcium. Water plants regularly to avoid this issue.
With the right care and a little love tomatoes are an easy and care free plant to grow that your family will love.