Tomatoes are one of the number one plant people grow in their gardens, patios and yards. To many people think you just stick the plant in the ground and produce. Tomatoes will deplete the soil of nutrients pretty quickly. If you do not have the knowledge and experience don’t panic. With just a few tools you can have bushels of tomatoes.
1. Choose the sunniest spot.
Tomatoes NEED sun. It will be almost impossible to grow your tomatoes in the shade, or with less than 3 hours of direct sunlight. If you have 5 or more hours of sunlight, you should be able to grow a large tomato.
Unknowingly some people plant their tomatoes up against a solid fence or in an area that has a large tree which will block out several hours of sunlight in the morning or afternoon.
2. Soil health is key.
The most important thing you can do to help your tomatoes grow is to maintain your soil. Tomatoes are extremely hungry feeders. You can amend your garden beds with compost. Once your compost is on top of the soil, turn them over into the soil below with a tiller or mix it in with a pitchfork.
3. Choose the right type of tomato for your growing conditions.
Every garden will have different needs. Your garden might get less hours of sunlight because of a tree shading part of your garden.
If you are able to plant your tomatoes where they will get 6 or more hours of direct sunlight, then you should be able to grow a big tomato. With 5 hours choose medium to smaller-fruited tomato varieties. Some good medium ones are Bloody Butcher, Indigo Apple, Green Zebra, Siletz, and Boar's Hoof. The colors of these run the gamut from red, yellow, orange, bi-color, purple, pink, and black.
Some good small and cherry-sized tomatoes are Sungold, Purple Bumble Bee, Black Cherry, Green Doctors, Yellow Pear, White Cherry, Brandysweet Plum, Matina, and Jaune Flamme. Cherries also come in all shapes as well: pear, plum, grape, and round.
Large tomato varieties include Mortgage Lifter, Cherokee Purple,German Red Strawberry, Texas Star, and White Oxheart.
4. Plant them deep and give them space.
Tomato plants want to be planted with only a few sets of leaves sticking up out of the ground. As far as spacing is concerned, at the time of planting, I see a lot of people crowding their tomato plants too close together, or too close to other plants. They see this tiny seedling, and don’t realize it will grow to six feet or taller, and just as wide if happy and well-cared for. Crowding your tomato plants will give you less fruit. Tomato plants also need a free flow of air around them to keep down foliar diseases, and crowding them will inhibit airflow. You will also find it much easier to harvest the tomatoes if they are not locked together in an impenetrable thicket. We like to plant our tomatoes three feet apart.
5. Stake them.
We like to call tomato plants “vines,” although technically they are not. They don’t cling naturally to a stake or other structure. It’s important to keep the branches and fruit up off the ground. If you allow the tomato plants to sprawl all over, then they are more susceptible to soil-borne diseases, and the fruits that are touching the ground will often end up ruined by either crawling insects or rot. There are as many methods of staking. The conical cages found at most nurseries simply do not do the trick for most types of tomatoes. If you are growing what are called indeterminate varieties (and most heirlooms are indeterminate), then that plant is going to get really big.
6. Feed them and protect them.
Despite all of the amendments in the garden bed and in the planting hole, your tomatoes would benefit greatly from a weekly feed of worm casting tea. This is simple to make and has been shown in agriculture university testing to not only fertilize, but help reduce incidents or pests and diseases when used often throughout the growing season. The value of egg shells is that it's a cheap, organic method of adding calcium to your soil. There is a nasty and fairly common ailment that bothers tomato fruits called "blossom end rot" or BER. If your tomato fruits have ever had their bottoms turn black, this is what you've got. It is caused by both calcium deficiency and inconsistent watering (water is the way that calcium is taken from the soil up into the tomato plant. If watering is withheld during a time when your plant needs it, then calcium is unable to get up into the plant).
Tomato plants are susceptible to a host of different blights, wilts, and other diseases. Starting off with healthy, fertile soil is the best disease control. Staking them is essential.
If you notice a gray or blackened patch at the bottom of your tomato fruits, this is called blossom end rot, and indicates a calcium deficiency. If you didn't do anything at the beginning of the season to add calcium to the soil, then you can at the first sign of blossom end rot.
9. Protect them from varmints.
Deer can be a problem. Try deer netting or sprays. If the deer are coming at you from all sides, then you'll have to put up some deer netting. The higher the better.
Opossums, raccoons, birds, and mice can also eat your tomatoes. Cats do a decent job of scaring them away (if you need any let us know). Covering your vines with bird netting is a last resort, because then you will have to deal with the plant growing through the netting, making it difficult for you to harvest the fruit. Tomato fruit worms can decimate your tomato crop. If you find little black specks on the top of your tomato fruit, then the worms aren't far behind. Once they hatch, they bore into the fruit surrounding the stem, causing the unripe tomato to fall to the ground. If you see small green worms, around one inch long and skinny, these are probably tomato fruit worms (also called cabbage loopers or corn silk worms).
The best organic method for controlling tomato fruit worms is to buy some parasitic wasps, called trichogramma wasps.
If your tomato problem is white flies (tiny flies that become airborne when the plant is disturbed), then a nice beneficial insect to order through the mail is called whitefly parasite (Encarsia Formosa).
Spider mites are another problem that can attack tomato plants. Spider mites are hard to see, but if you see slight webbing on the underside of the leaves, then that's a clue. Spider mites can cause spotting and wilting of tomato leaves, often resulting in yellowed leaves and stunted plants.
10. Save seeds.
If one or more of your tomato plants turn out great, try saving the seed from one of your most better fruits. This only works, though, with heirloom varieties. Hybrids have two genetic parents; when you save the seed from a hybrid tomato, you are most likely to get a plant showing the characteristics of one of its two parents, not necessarily bearing any resemblance to the fruit you loved the season before. Seeds saved from heirloom varieties, however, usually grow true to type the next season.
If you continually save seeds from varieties that grow well in your garden, you may eventually, by localized adaptation to your specific environment, create your own strain of a particular variety. Different strains of probably the most popular heirloom variety.