Growing tomatoes in the garden can be one of the most rewarding hobbies you’ll ever start, and that’s a guaranteed fact. Not only can it bring you the sense of fulfillment when you start seeing small bulbs within your very own plants, but also provide you with nourishing, tasty, tangy produce that will surely blow any commercially, artificially ripened tomatoes you’ll find in the market out of the water.
So ready to learn how to grow healthy tomatoes at home? Well, first off, there are some guidelines that you need to follow in order to insure that each and every tomato will be able to reach its full potential, giving you more produce in return. To help with this, here is my basic guide for those who are just starting out.
Oh by the way, if you want a more detailed guide book to growing tomatoes—fully illustrated with color photos and top-notch step-by-step instructions—you might want to give this one here a go. It is available in either printed or ebook copy.
Even if you’ve never grown a single tomato plant before, the above guide book will teach you exactly how to grow healthy tomatoes at home that your entire family will love. Just imagine how easy it will be to make your favorite tomato-based dishes when all you have to do is pick your own tomatoes from your yard.
Varieties of Tomatoes
There are so many varieties of tomatoes that it can boggle the mind of even someone that has been growing them for many years. I’ve grown them professionally in the past, and at that time the choices and types or extraordinary, and there are far more tomato options today then there were at that time.
One way to start to whittle away at the varieties is to start with the zone you live in and go from there. Secondly, understand why it is you’re growing them. Sometimes gardeners will use only one tomato for all occasions, so it comes down to hardiness and how prolific they are.
For me, commercial growing aside, I enjoyed cherry tomatoes for salads and picking off the vine and eating them; a basic tomato for general use; and a Roma tomato for sauces. If you want to try out some different types of tomatoes, there are a number of them in various colors and sizes to experiment with.
They are also great if you want to sell some in a stand, as they will differentiate yourself from others, or those who are growing them in their own gardens just like you are.
What Determines Tomato Choices?
Most tomato choices will be based upon what I mentioned above, so the other factors are the length of the season you have in the zone you live in, along with traits that may be conducive to your area.
When I lived in northeastern Texas, it was hot and humid, with summer temperatures averaging at least 95 degrees a day, and humidity almost the same.
So I bought tomatoes varieties that set well in hotter weather. Most people would be surprised how they could sit out in the full sun under those conditions and produce prolifically.
To show how important the variety was in that environment, I got cute one year and on the bad advice of a greenhouse manager that talked me into buying what he said was a high producer in the area, I literally planted hundreds of tomato plants and didn’t get 1/20th of the production I got out of my former plants.
Sometimes it is right when something isn’t broken not to attempt to fix it, unless you perform a small trial to see if what is asserted is actually true. I learned that lesson the hard way.
For northern areas, choosing varieties that mature quicker are the obvious choice, dependent on how far north you live.
Determinate or Indeterminate
If you haven’t done much studying on tomato plants, you won’t know that they are categorized as determinate or indeterminate. I’m going to describe them in simple language so we all can understand them, and not get too technical.
At the basic level, a determinate plant is one that has a shorter ripening season. Some of you may have acquired these types without knowing it and thought something was wrong when they stopped producing. It’s simply the type of tomato it was in many cases.
Indeterminate tomatoes are the types that most of us who garden use. Once they start bearing fruit, they continue on all the way till the first frost, or at least close to it.
Commercial growers will use the determinate type more, as they’re looking to harvest a batch close together to deliver to market, and not attempt to squeeze out more harvest over time.
If you want to do some canning, determinates can work well, especially if you want to do it all at one time rather than throughout the growing season.
Best Planting Time
The best time to plant, as in other planting best practices, is related to what particular zone you live in. In zones with shorter growing seasons, there is only one time to really plant, while in some warmer zones, gardeners will plant twice to secure a better harvest.
No matter what zone though, it works best to either start some seeds indoors to have some seedlings ready when warm weather hits, or to buy some transplants early and baby them until you can plant them outdoors.
I’ve even placed some tomatoes in pots and left them there for the entire growing season; placing them out every day and taking them in if there was any chance of a frost. Obviously there were a limited number of potted tomatoes, but that didn’t keep them from giving up a good harvest.
You could also transplant before the final frost date outside if you have a way to protect them on cooler nights. For me, I’ve used black plastic for my mulch of choice in those cases. Floating row covers which attract and hold heat is another option.
Of course the safest way is to simply wait until the last frost is past before transplanting tomatoes.
To me, doing both is a great way to ensure a good harvest, while having a backup plan in case an unusually hard frost hits the area. If you do experience that, spraying them with water before the morning sun hits them is one way to protect them as well. That means getting up very early.
Planting for Harvesting in Fall
Newbie tomato gardeners should bear in mind that the number of tomatoes on the plant, will slow down no matter how good you keep your plants in tip-top shape. To get a nice, late batch of tomatoes, you can sow some in the middle of summer to have them ripen in the fall.
This only works if you have a longer growing season. It’s doubtful even the quickest ripening tomatoes can produce fast enough for a second planting in the north; although maybe for green tomatoes some could work out okay. But in general, it’s unlikely it would be a successful endeavor.
What’s great for those who can plant tomatoes for a fall harvest is the disease that can harm tomato plants earlier in the season are now gone, and the plants can produce better tomatoes as a result.
You may want to try a different variety of tomato for the fall season, as it won’t need to be the type that sets well in hot months to be prolific. Plant your tomatoes for the fall harvest soon enough so you have at least a couple of weeks or more of fruit to pick.
Count back from the average first frost date using the number 100 to work back from. That will ensure at least a couple of weeks, and for many types, it could provide you with a month of fall tomatoes to enjoy, depending on the variety you plant.
How to Plant
All you have to do as far as planting depth for a tomato is put it in the ground a little above the root ball that has grown. I’ve never had problems with that depth, and I doubt you will either.
If you’ve had to wait longer than expected, and the plant has grown a little taller, you may want to adjust accordingly. But for the smaller transplants, that depth will work fine.
In terms of spacing directions, I really cannot say as that is very much dependent on the tomato varieties that you are planting, and also whether or not you’re letting them grow without support, or you have them caged or trellised.
Letting them run usually gives you more tomatoes over the season, but you can lose some of the larger ones from them lying on the ground because you didn’t see them through the foliage of the plant.
In this case, sometimes you will need up to 6 feet in space between tomato rows to have enough room to harvest them. I’ve learned through experience you can step on and break quite a few tomatoes if the plants are too close together.
If you stake or cage your tomato plants, you should get away with spacing of about a foot and a half to two feet. If you are trellising your plants, usually two feet to three feet is about the right space between plants. Those who grow dwarf tomato plants can get by with about a foot between plants.
Tomatoes respond well to a good dose of starter fertilizer when they are transplanted, so be sure to have that as part of your tomato regimen. As soon as you notice that the plant is starting to bear tomatoes, put in some ammonium nitrate which is a type of nitrogen fertilizer.
The ideal time is when tomatoes are about an inch in diameter, or a little more. After the first application, do it two more times at three-week intervals. After each time you fertilize, if the weather gets dry, then you will need to water thoroughly to ensure best results.
It’s always good with most plants to cultivate early so you can get the competitive weeds before they root to deep and wide. Do this with your tomatoes as well, cultivating them consistently and shallow so you don’t do any damage to the tomato roots while managing the weeds.
You can also mulch your tomato plants, using organic matter or black plastic. For organic mulch, I would still do at least one early cultivation, as unless it’s very deep, you’ll still get some weeds popping through. Plastic of course offers almost total protection.
The reason for cultivating in relationship to organic mulch is you don’t want to place it over the soil and lock in the cold before it warms up. That would slow down the growth of the plant. Black plastic will absorb the heat of the sun and help warm the soil, so it’s not an issue there.
Staking or Trellising Tomatoes
If you have enough space, I wouldn’t even bother staking tomatoes, as it can sometimes be more of a hassle than it’s worth. Now if you get a sore back or have a lot of tomatoes, you may want to reinforce them in some way.
Some years ago, when I was first figuring out how to grow healthy tomatoes at home, I only planted several at a time. After gaining some experience, I had hundreds of tomato plants at a time and only used reinforcement as an experiment, which I found with the varieties I used as resulting in less fruit. It wasn’t worth the extra cost and work to me.
But for those with limited space and wanting to have an easier time harvesting tomatoes, staking tomatoes is a valid choice. There are cages, trellises and stakes made for that purpose, or if you’re handy, you can make them yourself.
What is most important is whether the particular variety or varieties of tomatoes you’re growing will work well with reinforcement. Not all do, so ask questions and check it out before committing time and money to it.
Early tomatoes can be hard to see, but if you go with the planted-off-the-ground route, they tend to be easier to secure. With regular tomatoes they can be among the largest of the year, so if you aren’t diligent with tomatoes growing on the ground, staking them can help safe some of those early giants.
Also take into account how big your tomato plant will grow when reinforcing them. Some can grow many feet high, and you will have to consider the type of reinforcement to get best results for that particular tomato variety.
One thing for sure, unless you’re growing dwarf tomatoes, that really small cage you see won’t do the job for most varieties. Get the larger ones, or at least the medium-sized cages if that’s the staking method you decide on for your tomatoes.
How to Grow Healthy Tomatoes at Home – Upside Down!
Ever hear about hanging tomatoes? If not, then you’d probably be surprised the first time you see them because the “hanging” part is actually literal in nature because hanging tomatoes are essentially grown upside-down.
But before you start laughing or doubting whether this technique is effective or not, here are a few reasons why you really should consider growing hanging tomato.
Growing hanging tomato is not very difficult, and it’s not such a bad concept either. For one, hanging tomatoes receives better circulation for both the soil and the plant as compared to their “grounded” counterparts.
This method also solves problems like disease, ground borne pests, and rotting of fruit due to ground contact when branches topple over. Now, if you’re interested in growing your very own upside-down tomatoes here are some of the materials that you need:
- For the containers of your tomato, you will need a five gallon bucket with a tight-fitting lid which you can buy at most local gardening or hardware shops.
- Make sure that the gallon will have a strong and secure enough handle to carry the weight of the soil as well as the plant when it bears fruits later on.
- Potting soil that you can mix yourself of also purchase at your local gardening shop.
- Tomato seedling, preferably of the smaller variety like the Roma.
- 1/8 inch cord for securing your pots in place.
- And a utility knife or drill.
- Old newspapers.
To start with your growing hanging tomato project, you’ll need to adequately clean your five gallon bucket with a mild dishwashing soap to remove any unwanted chemical residues. Next, you’ll want to cut a hole at the bottom of the bucket about two to three inches in diameter with your utility knife or drill.
Place several layers of newspaper at the bottom of the bucket, slitting each one in the middle as you place them. This will hold the seedlings that you plant in place and prevent any dirt from falling off.
If you want, you can also drill holes on top of the bucket, so that you’ll have a longer hanging base if the handle of the bucket you purchased is insufficient. Fill the bucket with the potting soil that you purchased frequently, tapping all sides to remove any air pockets.
Once done, cover the bucket with the lid and turn it over. Insert your tomato plant carefully, making sure that the roots doesn’t get damaged in the process, then leave for about two weeks or more in order for the roots to take sufficient hold.
After this, what’s left is for you to find a good, sunny spot with sufficient space to allow your hanging tomato to grow freely. Growing hanging tomatoes not only gives you home grown produce, but will also add more life to your garden, patio, balcony or yard.
Don’t waste money at the grocery store or at the garden supply shop. You should go get this book to learn how to grow healthy tomatoes at home like a pro with bigger, juicier tomatoes and save money from day one.
Unless you’re harvesting some early green tomatoes to fry or for other purposes, the best time to harvest your ripe tomatoes is when the summer temperature is at about 75°F.
In the south that’s of course an impossibility for most of the summer, so adjust that according to your area and the tomato variety you have chosen for best results in your zone.
Look for the best color before harvesting your tomato. In cooler climates you can let them get that nice red color before picking. In my experience, in warmer climates you have to pick them a little earlier because they get softer quicker, and the color isn’t always true to actual ripeness because everything accelerates in warmer weather.
In that case a good-colored tomato could be a bad tomato, and a lighter red one a much better one. Harvest a little earlier and allow them to ripen indoors, even though you lose a little of the nutrients as a result. It’s better to have some nutrition with good flavor than to have absolutely nothing.
Planting them for fall harvest helps in this case, where you should be able to get some nice, red, ripe tomatoes right off the vine. If you’re expecting a freeze in the fall, harvest all the tomatoes you want so you can ripen them indoors.
Some people even pull up entire plants if they have a lot of fruit on them and store them upside down in a safe location. Storage should be with a temperature of not more than 65°F.
The major pest for a tomato is the hornworm, which grow up to 3″ longer or a little more, and is green in color. A horn grows near the back bottom of the worm, giving it its name.
If you have just a few plants, you could probably handpick the worms, although they can be difficult to see and can defoliate a plant quickly. Be aware when you pick the worms that they are green inside, and if they’re clinging to a stem or leaf, can break open and leave a lot of unpleasant residue on your fingers.
Wearing gloves can help with that, as well as help you get a better grip on the body of the worm. Don’t squeeze too hard when grabbing it, but just enough to be able to pull it off and dispose of the hornworm.
For those with a fair amount of plants the best deterrent is bacillus thuringiensis, which quickly manages any hornworm infestation. It’s sold under a number of brand names. It’s usually identified as B.t.
Finally, if the hornworms have what appears to be some weird looking larvae or cocoons on the back, that’s a good thing, because it means a parasitic predator called braconid wasps have invaded the hornworm and its days are numbered.
There are several diseases that are predominant with tomatoes, including verticillium and fusarium wilts, septoria leaf spot, and early blight. The best protection for the major diseases of verticillium and fusarium wilts are to buy tomatoes resistant to the diseases.
Many good varieties are resistant, so you should have no problem combating these soil-borne diseases, which are identifiable by wilting and yellowing of the leaves which cause the tomato to die early.
When you see a lot of small black spot on the leaves of a tomato plant, you are witnessing septoria leaf spot. You’ll know for sure if the black dots eventually turn white in the center, and then another small black dot ends up in the center of that white one.
The plant’s lower leaves is the area where the spots will begin to emerge. They will go up the plant if the conditions are moist. Using a fungicide when you first see the infected leaves is the way to combat it. Also remove the infected leaves right away, and clean you hands before touching anything else.
Some best practices for prevention of septoria leaf spot include growing tomatoes in a raised bed for better drainage, water on the bottom and not directly on the plant, give them more space when planting, and mulch with black plastic to prevent the fungus from spreading to the plant.
Dead brown spots often originating on the lower leaves of the tomato can be identified as early blight. From that area, those brown spots would spread up the plant.
The way you treat septoria leaf spot is almost identical to the way you would treat early blight. An additional preventative is to use a variety that is somewhat resistant to early blight.
Blossom End Rot
Blossom end rot is caused by a calcium deficiency in the plant, and is identified by that dark, spoiled area we’ve all seen on our tomatoes at one time or another.
Usually the reason for a tomato to get blossom end rot is from not being watered consistently. That is what causes the loss of calcium because it doesn’t move up into the plant to the fruit.
To prevent it give a couple of good drinks of water at least a couple of times a week. Warmer weather can trigger the problem by generating fluctuations in the water available to the plant.
If the plant develops it, only calcium sprayed on the tomato plant can extend its life. Calcium added to the soil doesn’t work for this problem. There are some homemade remedies that work, but it’s best to just buy a product made for that purpose commercially so you don’t inadvertently do more damage to the plant.
Heirloom tomatoes have become very popular again, as there are many tomatoes available that you simply can’t find anywhere else. There are strengths and weaknesses to heirloom tomatoes because they’re closest to tomatoes from the past that didn’t have some of the protective traits like disease resistance bred into them.
They also have longer growing seasons so probably won’t produce in the colder climates, although be sure to do some extra research if you want to give it a go. As to the positive of the fruits, you will experience tastes and colors you simply can’t find anywhere else with tomatoes.
They could also be great if you sell them as a side business. I wouldn’t count on them for consistency, but they would sure be a nice diversion and experience.
Tomatoes Are Loved By Newbie and Seasoned Gardeners Alike
There’s a reason novice gardeners are heavily researching and compiling information on how to grow healthy tomatoes at home: They are a great addition to any meal; you can share them with family and friends; and if you’re ambitious, grow them to make some money on the side.
And tomatoes are the favorite of seasoned gardeners simply because they taste fantastic when garden-grown and ripened on the vine. Other than a few potential problems which can in most cases be managed without too much effort, tomatoes are easy to grow when the gardener participates in best practices as outlined above.
All of this adds up to a great and enjoyable experience that everyone needs to have at least once in life. And when you do, you will catch the tomato bug, and it’s doubtful it’ll ever leave you.
Don’t be afraid to grow a bunch of tomato plants, and if you are in need of a step-by-step guide book chock full of easy to follow instructions and photos, the one you see below makes it easy for even the most beginning gardener to get top results every single time.
The History of Tomato Cultivation
We all know that tomatoes have been “stars” of diets all over the world for many centuries because of its versatility as a fruit. There is substantial evidence that tomato cultivation and consumption dates back to prehistoric age.
Wild tomatoes may have grown nearby human settlements, and were used as staple food until the idea of plant cultivation began to spread. However, research shoes that tomato cultivation originated in the South America, specifically in the Andes where tomatoes grow wild.
Historian believes that the Aztecs and Incas were the first cultivators of the tomato plant dating back as early as 700 AD. The plant which the Spanish Conquistadors brought back from Central America reached Europe in the 16th century.
By that time, though, there was widespread cultivation of tomatoes and much debate about where tomatoes were first raised and how it found its way to Mexico. Legend tells that two Jesuit priests brought the first tomato plant from Mexico to Italy.
When tomato cultivation caught on, people in Mexico, South and Central America cultivated small tomatoes and used them as part of their daily diet. Aztecs grew tomatoes and added them to many of their dishes, including the early recipe of salsa. Tomato was called xitomatl, Aztec word for the fruit, and tomati, as called by the Central American Indian.
The Indians in the New World may have cultivated and grew tomatoes for centuries. They may have recognized the versatility of this fruit and its nutritional content. Since tomatoes grow best in warmer regions, tomatoes may have became one of the most important crops to the Indian cultures.
By the 15th century, tomato cultivation was being done by the New World Indians, and adventurers and explorers became attracted to the tomato plants and fruits. Eventually, European explorers imported the tomato to Europe where people have enjoyed different tomato dishes to this date.
It has been noted that tomatoes brought back to Europe were very similar to the Mexican tomato species cultivated for centuries ago, rather than any of the wild tomatoes found in South America.
The wild tomatoes or cerasiforme still grow in Central America today.
The early domesticated variety of creeping vine produces a small bright red and round fruit are popular known as cherry tomatoes. It has become a favorite of tomato fans used as garnishes and in salads.
In the United States, tomatoes were introduced by European colonists. Tomatoes were first used for medicinal purposes and as an ornamental plant, rather than fruit or vegetable to be eaten. It was believed to be a poisonous plant at that time and was even associated with witchcraft.
Tomato cultivation has survived centuries of plant evolution. Now, people who grew tomatoes at home often can them for personal consumption or to sell to neighbors.
Canning tomatoes solved the major problem of places with colder climates that weren’t able to cultivate tomatoes, since it is a warm-weather crop. Nowadays, many homes have their own tomato garden and enjoy cultivating their own tomatoes.
My mom makes tomato sauce using homegrown tomatoes, and it is always much better than branded tomato sauce available at superstores.
Absolutely. If you know what you’re doing, the taste of tomato sauce made from homegrown tomatoes can be significantly superior to store-bought tomato sauce.
Kudos to your mom! Most folks can’t be bothered to make their own sauce.
I make my own tomato sauce from scratch too, and I like to add a bit of spiciness to it.
Anyone out there interested in attempting ‘DIY tomato sauce’ with some added spice, do try my recipe below:
Spicy Tomato Sauce Recipe:
– 4.5 pounds ripe tomatoes
– 3 cloves garlic
– 1 sweet pepper
– 1 onion
– 3 spicy peppers
– 1.7 oz of sugar
– 1 tbsp Merkan
– Black pepper and salt to taste
– Olive oil
– 250 cc of water
Pour a whole cup of olive oil into a pan and heat over a low flame. Peel the onion and slice. Chop the tomatoes with the skin, don’t bother peeling them. The garlic however should be peeled and crushed, then the peppers de-seeded and sliced.
Set aside the sugar and water, pour the rest into a pan. Stir for about half an hour. Merkan, salt, and pepper should be added last.
Now, you add the sugar and water and allow everything to cook for another 15 minutes. Be sure to keep stirring all the time.
Lastly, pour everything into a blender and process.
Enjoy the sauce with some crispy potatoes!