Ultimate Guide to Growing Tomatoes by Growers Supply – Part 1: Tomato Basics
Ready to learn everything there is to know about growing your own tomatoes? Good, because over the next few weeks we will bring you our Ultimate Guide to Growing Tomatoes. This four-part series will include:
Part 1: Tomato growing basics
- Seed starting, transplanting, location
- Watering, light, nutrients, growth
- Preventing common pests and diseases
- Organic and heirloom tomatoes
Now, we start with the basics. Whether you are just beginning to grow tomatoes or, more likely, have been doing so for years, there is always something to learn or get a refresher on.
Tomato Seed Starting
If you are just beginning growing tomatoes, you may want to consider purchasing plants from the local garden center. Determine what you are looking for. Are you growing specifically for fresh consumption, farmers’ market, canning or tomato paste? Varieties have been developed over the years that have traits that are specific for these and other characteristics. Your garden center professional can help with this choice. Starting your own seeds is a cost-effective way to begin as well. Seeds are affordable so you can choose a wide variety and see what you and your family or market like best. A general rule of thumb is to start your seeds 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost date.
If you are growing in a greenhouse or hydroponically, there are now some great hybrids available that are bred to perform well in those environments. Growing in a greenhouse has many benefits. You can hit the market long before and long after your competitors and even grow year round! Indeterminate varieties of this fabulous fruit can produce for 18 months! Although, you may want to consider an alternative crop when the market is flooded with garden tomatoes and just grow when your price point is right for you and the public demand exceeds the quantity available for sale.
Transplanting Tomato Plants
You’ll want to transplant your seedlings on the first warm day in April, but wait. Transplant outside after danger of frost has passed and the plants are big enough to survive. The first tiny little “leaves” that emerge from the plant are actually called “cotyledons.” You will want to wait until there are at least a set or two of true leaves before planting outside. When I transplant tomato plants out in the garden or high tunnel, I bury the stem up to the first set of leaves or just below. The stem will then set adventitious roots from any nodes that are below the soil promoting a stronger, sturdier plant. However, this does not work with all plants. Generally plant your garden center plants or seedling at the same depth as they are in the container to avoid damping off.
Take care not to “shock” your transplant by changing too many environmental conditions at one time. The smaller the seedling you transplant out, the more care that you will need to give it to ensure it is protected from the wind and watered properly. If your seedlings seem to be root-bound, tease the roots when you set them out. Not by saying “neener-neener” (they don’t like that) but by gently pulling apart the root mass to stimulate root growth and avoid circling roots.
A good time to transplant is in the early morning or later in the afternoon or evening and not in the heat of the day. The plant will be transpiring less at these times of day and experience less shock. Night is actually a good time to transplant if you don’t think the neighbors will call the police (again) or think you are crazy. If severe weather is in the forecast, you may need to protect your young seedlings. I have used five gallon buckets before to help my young transplants “weather” a storm.
While you can grow tomatoes anywhere in the country, if you are in northern climates you’re advised to choose varieties that are “determinate” or have all of the fruit ripen about the same time. You can actually install heat cables beneath the soil to extend your growing season in cooler regions. Or maybe it is time for you to let us help you get with the flow and grow with hydroponics in a greenhouse? The more control you have over your environment, the more success you will have. Why not move indoors and experience the wonders of growing hydroponically? Isn’t it time to catch the wave? Growers in southern regions have many more options. The more sun and long, warm days you have, the better, but you can have success growing tomatoes nationwide.
Tomatoes prefer a full sun location that is well drained and nutrient rich. Tomatoes are heavy feeders so enrich your soil through the use of compost and mulch. To avoid soilborne diseases, never plant tomatoes in the same area of the garden two years in a row. A good crop rotation is essential to your garden’s overall health.
Planting in raised beds is another great option for your tomatoes. Raised beds reduce pests, allow you to control the soil, and won’t break your back. Wherever you plant your tomatoes, a trellis system is an important part of tomato growing. In our greenhouse we trellis our tomatoes and train on a “race-track” method. In the garden we use the good old cages. Even a good old-fashioned ground stake will help.
Class dismissed for Tomato Growing 101. Come back next week for Tomato Growing 102: Tomato Plant Care. For all your tomato growing supplies, visit our website for everything from trellis systems to tomato cartons.
For the experienced tomato grower, did this post help refresh your memory about tomato basics? Is there anything we missed for the beginners?