<Growing tomatoes scares a lot of gardeners.. well.. let me rephrase that: It does not necessarily scare them but I think there is a lack of knowledge in the “tomato growing” arena that makes a lot of people very frustrated and timid about growing this wonderful fruit.
Tomatoes come in two main varieties.. determinate and indeterminate and knowing the difference makes a huge difference in how you grow and care for your tomatoes.
Determinate tomatoes also known as “bush tomatoes” usually only grow to 3 or 4 feet tall. They are unique in that once the top or main bud bears fruit the plant ceases to grow and all of the tomatoes will ripen at or about the same time over the period of a 2 to 2-1/2 week span.
These plants do not need to be staked, they grow very well in containers and should not be pruned at all or “suckered” as this will reduce the crop.
Examples of determinate tomatoes are the Celebrity and the Roma.
Indeterminate tomatoes are of the vining characteristic and will continue to grow and set fruit until frost prevents it. These tomato plants will often grow over the tops of porches and trellises to amazing 8 to 10 feet heights.
Throughout the entire growing season these tomatoes will set fruit, produce new buds and ripen fruit all at the same time.
This type of tomato will most likely need cages, stakes or trellises to keep the fruit up and off of the ground where it can rot, be eaten by varmints or be infested with parasites and bugs.
Some examples of indeterminate tomatoes are the Big Boy and the Early Girl as well as most cherry tomatoes and heirlooms.
Soil Preparation for Growing Tomatoes
Tomatoes should be grown in soil that has been tested and amended to a ph of 6.5 for optimum growth and production of fruit.
Tomatoes also need calcium rich soil and the soil needs to be properly prepared so that the calcium can be extracted from the soil by the plant.. lime, composted manure (I like Baa-Baa doo) and bone meal can be worked into the soil prior to planting to increase the availability and uptake of calcium into the plant.
Clay and sandy soils can be improved by working in 2 to 3 inches of compost, peat moss, or other forms of organic matter in the top 6 to 9 inches of soil.
Starting from Seeds or Plants?
I do not recommend starting from seeds unless you are a fairly experienced gardener as this can add a whole new level of complexities to the process. It is best to choose quality plants from a local nursery that are known to grow well in your hardiness zone.
If you are intent on starting your own tomatoes from seeds then you will need to know how to do that.. be watching for a tutorial on this in the next few weeks.
Know this that you will need to plant the seeds indoors in containers 6 to 8 weeks prior to the last average frost date for your hardiness zone so you can go ahead and decide what type of tomatoes you will grow and get to ordering the seeds.
Tomato plants should be spaced 2 feet apart in the row and 3 feet between rows. The hole should be deep enough to allow the top of a peat pot to be covered with one inch of soil. If the peat pot is exposed to the open air, it will rapidly dry out the root ball, causing stunting or death of the plant.
If the transplant is tall and leggy at time of planting, the trench planting method should be used.
To trench plant a tomato plant, dig a horizontal trench rather than a hole for each plant. Next, remove all of the leaves from the plant except the top leaf cluster (4-5 leaves). Then lay the plant on its side in the trench and cover the root system and bare stem up to the very top leaf cluster with 2-3 inches of soil.
Tap the soil firm over the plant. Be sure not to press the soil too firmly around the stem where it comes out of the soil or the stem may break.
You should use a starter solution at planting time to insure proper fertilization during the early growth stages of the young tomato plants. Starter solutions can be purchased from local garden centers or made at home.
To make a starter solution, mix a pound of a complete fertilizer such as 8-8-8 in 10 gal of water. If small quantities are desired, 3-4 tablespoons. of fertilizer can be mixed per gallon of water.
The high phosphorus content in commercial starter solutions make them a better choice over home mixes. Never use more than one cup of fertilizer solution per transplant since large quantities of starter solution will burn the root system.