Tips For Growing A Bumper Crop Of Tomatoes
When: Seedlings should be planted in the Spring after all danger of frost has passed. You can either purchase these at a local greenhouse or try starting your own by seed (start indoors about 6 to 8 weeks before the last expected frost).
Plenty of light will be needed to prevent seedlings from becoming too “leggy” before they can be moved outdoors so either choose a warm, sunny location or make sure you have a grow light.
Once about 6″ tall, they’ll be ready for planting (smaller varieties like the dwarf will be ready around 4″ tall).
- Did you know: Seeds can be saved from this year’s harvest and used next year. See this page for directions.
- Increase fruit size by pinching off the “suckers”, these are the leaf shoots that appear on the sides of branches (between stem and branch).
- A regular drink of compost tea every two to three weeks will encourage them to thrive.
- The best ones for canning are those of the “determinate” variety. These are bushier and produce most of their fruit within six weeks before tapering off production and typically ripen early in the season.
- “Indeterminate” varieties typically produce right until the end of the season (when frost hits) and produce lots of vines that like to sprawl all over the ground (unless staked).
- For growing in pots or containers, look for “dwarf” or “midget” varieties since the vines don’t get too long and they do very well in containers (including hanging baskets). Cherry tomatoes do very well with this method also. These DIY Twine-Stars are ideal for supporting determinate varieties in pots (using five 1-by-1-inch stakes and nylon twine).
- A couple weeks before the end of the season, prune the top back to encourage production on the remaining blossoms as well as to quicken ripening (some gardeners go so far as to completely strip away all leaves as well as pruning the top back). Find more helpful tips here. Also consider “root pruning” at the end of the season to shock it into ripening its fruit, this is done by digging into the soil with a spade 6″ deep all around and one foot away from the plant.
- If possible, wait to pick the fruit until it’s fully ripe–these have the best flavor.
- Some believe that planting basil and garlic next to tomatoes will improve their flavor.
- Dealing with a bumper crop? See these ideas for how to prepare them: over two dozen green tomato recipes are here, lots of Homemade Salsa Recipes For Canning or try preserving them with an oven/sun dried method (details on this page).
- They can be grown upside down, in self-watering containers and even build DIY cages, see this page for a list of project ideas.
Location: Thrives in full sun and well draining soil. Prepare the soil by digging deeply and well so it’s nice and loose, mix in compost for best results. Raised garden beds are an ideal location.
How To Plant: Start hardening seedlings about two weeks before you expect to move them outdoors. This is done by bringing them outside a few hours at a time, starting in sheltered locations and gradually stretching the length of time they stay outdoors. Cold frames are ideal for this (see this page for some DIY options).
Once they’re accustomed to being outdoors for at least 6 hours a day, they should be ready for planting (if weather permits). Depending on the variety, leave at least 24″ between them and 30″ between rows (if they will be staked or caged) or 4 feet apart from each other and rows 6 feet apart if they will be free and unstaked. For the smaller, bushier varieties, 15″ apart should do it.
Applying about 3 inches of mulch will help hold the moisture and keep the soil temperature even.
Watering Conditions: Water regularly and if the weather is hot, daily. If the skin starts cracking–this is a sign of overwatering. Water at ground level rather than from the top down, this will ensure the water will reach the roots as well as prevent the leaves from getting scorched from the combination of water + sun. Do not allow to dry out.
During Season: Most will need to be staked or supported with cages or trellises to keep vines off the ground, this offers protection from rot and disease (as well as saves space in the garden). Staking also helps expose them to more sun (which helps with ripening) and makes it easier to harvest. Strips of pantyhose or twine can be used for tying.
Cover with tarp or sheets overnight when there’s a danger of frost, but be sure to pick all the fruit before Fall’s first hard frost.
Harvesting: Once fully ripe, simply twist off the vine and store at room temperature. A length of the vine can also be snipped off and stored (keeping the tomatoes attached). Should they be refrigerated? No, to preserve their flavor, it is best to store in warm to room temperature.