GROWING TOMATOES SHOULD NOT BE A CHORE
There are an accumulation of ideas,methods,and theories out there about growing tomatoes. Yes the mystery of it all! You can read countless articles and buy E-Books off the internet. They all have good methods of planting and raising the tomato.
I am going to attempt to remove the mystery of growing tomatoes including a few new twists or information that maybe new to some of you and for this you pay absolutely nothing but time to absorb all the info on this web page and part 2. I will take you from starting the seed or,if you prefer,garden center transplants. I will not stop there but take you through to harvesting the tomato.See seed starting for additional information on general facts This subject is so large in scope that it will be continued on a second web page at the bottom of this page.
A FEW GROWING TOMATOES DEFINITONS AND SOME VARIETIES THAT CAN BE GROWN
A.The word DETERMINATE in the tomato world means bush type growth;flower buds form on the main stem an only minor vine growth occurs after the intial fruit set.
B.Tall-Growing tomatoes or INDETERMINATE type of growth;good staking,caging or trellising;flower buds continue to form on vines and fruit sets the entire season.
C.DWARF-INDETERMINATE type of growing tomatoes;short,bushy plants like dwarfs but fruit sets all season long like indeterminate plants.
THE MOST POPULAR VARIETIES OF GROWING TOMATOES IN THE ABOVE CATEGORIES
The early fruit includes A type called "First Lady" which is indeterminate with good disease and crack resistance with fruit production over a long period of time. It is resistant to verticillium wilt,fusarium wilt,and tobacco mosiac virus.See plant diseases for explanation of some of these diseases
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Early Girl is an indeterminate tall growing plant good for staking,caging or trellising.It produces four to six ounce fruits and continues to bloom and set fruit all season. It is verticillium wilt resistant. It can produce fruit as early as 59 days after garden planting.
The following two types of growing tomatoes are midseason from 65-75 days.The first all time old popular hybrid BIG BOY. It is indeterminate and can be susceptible to many tomato diseases. You must keep an eye on this one and make sure it is caged in some manner.It produces huge crops of very large deep red fruits with thick walls. It has a flavor that is tremendous and also very juicy.
The second in this category is one called BIG BEEF. It is also indeterminate with great disease resistance along the lines of "First Lady" above. It yields plenty of large fruits and it is great for slicing and sandwiches.
In the 80-90 day category there is one called GIANT BELGIUM. This is for the growing tomatoes hardy individual who enjoys their fruits in the five pound range. It is also indeterminate with a light red color some would call it close to pink. It is preferred by gardners who desire a less acidic fruit. It needs to be watch for the normal tomato diseases and should be caged in a way preferred by you
Now I could go on and on about growing tomatoes in specific categories such as cherry,roma,and sweet baby girl but it is better saved for a newsletter.(Join our Garden Club and receive a Free news letter see information at the bottom of this web page). Those above are the most popular in the larger tomato.
GROWING TOMATOES FROM SEED OR GARDEN SHOP PLANTS
It is most ideal with home started growing tomatoes to start your seedlings inside and move them out when all danger of frost has past and the soil has warmed up. The exception to that of course is southern Florida,california,and the southwest where a winter harvest can be experienced. If you take a look at our seed starting page,you can see the equipment necessary to produce your seedlingsOf course besides fancy flats you can use paper cups,milk cartons or peat pots. In any case make sure you have provided for drainage holes in the bottom. I think my mom use to start them in milk cartons. You will also need adequate lighting and a potting soil available at your local garden center. I do not recommend becoming involved with garden soil since you need to pasteurized the soil in the oven. If you value your partners company,I would vote against this process.
The procedure for growing tomatoes would start by the use of moist soil mix that is placed in your container at an even level. It is important that the soil be moist but not wet!At this point you either sprinkle the surface with the seeds or place in rows. If you use this method,make sure the seeds are firmly placed in the soil and a thin layer of potting soil be placed over the seeds at a depth of about one quarter of an inch. You should attempt to keep the seeds about one-half to one inch apart when scattering them in the medium.
This is one method of planting your growing tomatoes seeds. There is a less messy method,and the one that I use,it will cost you an investment in some equipment but it works excellently.A purchase of a starting kit which is available from several major catalog suppliers. It arrives with either a 60 or 72 cell cell plant tray,cubes for planting the seeds,a dome cover and a bottom watering system. You place a cube in each cell and add one seed to each cube. Then you place the dome cover over the tray and add the water to the bottom tray. These systems either come with absorbent mat or no mat at all. I prefer the latter since the system has sufficient holes to absorb the water into the cube. Although the claim is made that the mat does not end up with roots attached to the mat,I like to avoid that problem since it can be a little hard on your tiny plants when it is time for transplant. The picture below shows the type of system. Please use the contact us form and I will E-Mail you the supplier's name. go to growing tomatoes part 2 for more important information
If you do not purchase the commercial system for growing tomatoes then your open tray must be covered or put into a plastic bag to keep the soil from drying out and in either case try to maintain a warm temperature since at this point temperature is more important then light.However if you do own a growing light system by all means use it since this will definitely help in maintaining the temperature. The best place to put your planted seeds without this system is on top of your refrigerator or at the highest point you can find to take advantage of the rising warm air.The seedlings should emerge in 5-10 days depending upon the conditions provided to them. You should check your charges daily and at the first sign of green remove the plastic bag or in the case of the dome planter and,assuming you purchased the correct one, you can slide the air vents open otherwise remove the dome.
Now comes the light which is of up most importance in the life of your growing tomatoes. The light growing system is excellent but if you do not have this system please move your seedlings to a well-lit location. A sunny window is best and if you use the grow light system make sure the lights are within an inch or two of your plants. A distance too great using the lighting system will result in the plants reaching for the light and you end up with long leggy flopping plants with weak stems.The advantage to the grow light system is it gives the opportunity of leaving the lights on 14 hours a day. The window method is okay,do not get me wrong,but growing development will be a little longer.
It is important to note at this point to check your soil moisture daily if using a container and check your bottom watering method if using the dome covered equipment. At this point do not worry about fertilizer in either method since some commerical seed starting fertilizer has a fertilizer mixed with the potting soil. In the case of the dome covered wait at least a week and then add a commercially available liquid to your water carefully following the directions. This liquid will say it is especially formulated to promote seed starting. You can do the same for the container method but also wait a week before applying.
THE GROWING TOMATOES NEED REPOTTING
Now your seedlings are approaching three to four inches tall and have their second pair of leaves it is time to move them to a larger container unless you have started your seedlings in individual containers at least 3" square in which case you can leave them. In the case of tray raised seedlings use the same potting soil you utilized in raising your growing tomatoes to this point and move them to larger pots in the size described above. In the case of the dome covered plants,it will be necesssary to purchase some good potting soil since you are going to plant your plugs into the medium in pots just as described above.
A word of CAUTION here for those of you using the plug method in lieu of potting soil DO NOT REMOVE YOUR SEEDLINGS FROM THE PLUG. You are going to plant the plug and all into the potting soil! Please trust me it actually works! In the case of the tray method,water your plants deeply before removing them from the tray. The best tray removal system is to leverage your growing tomatoes out of the soil using a small table knife or spoon. Hold the small plants by their leaves,if it is necessary,and not by the stems to prevent crushing delicate tissues. I recommend planting them in indiviual pots at this point.
In the case of the dome planting method,pull the planting box out of the water,and gently with a pencil push the plug out of its cell from the bottom and hold the seedling by the plug. You have already prepared an individual pot filled with potting soil and with your pencil you have bored a circular hole into which you place the seedling,plug and all. It does not necessarily have to be a pencil but I find this the best tool for the job.
I guess now you think you are finished until actual planting time. NOT SO FAST Many gardeners,I included, feel that before you successfully transplant your growing tomatoes to the garden they require yet another repotting. At this point to keep your enthusiasm at a peek,remember how a fresh tomato will taste at the end of the road. This transplanting for yet another time will ensure the development of a strong root system. This transplanting should take place when your seedling is six to ten inches tall. The transplant should be moved either into half-gallon milk cartons or four to six inch diameter pots. You lucky ones that started out with milk cartons will have to do nothing but you missed all the fun of being a real horticulturist. Well either way we have reached a milestone in our tomato production.
A LITTLE ADVICE FOR THOSE SHOPPING FOR TRANSPLANTS
At the time of purchase from a garden center,allow time to pick plants with thick stems and large root systems. The best indicator is a dark green plant embedded in a deep container.The tallest plants are not necessarily the best. Please do not treat them like flowers by purchasing a plant with blossoms or fruit because the root system may not be strong enough to support the roots. It is always good to be leary of plants with blemishes or poor color and by all means check the underneath leaves for aphids or whiteflies.Check this web page about insects if you want to see pictures and discussions of these mean little critters
PREPARING YOUR GROWING TOMATOES FOR THE OUTDOORS
In the case of "hardening off" your plants,it comes down to no difference in home raised seedlings and garden center purchased plants. They both must be toughnened up to bare the harsh conditions of mother nature. Your plants have been indoors for six to seven weeks and your garden center plants were raised under a big plastic greenhouse. It takes approximately 10 days to hardened your growing tomatoes included in this process is a reduction in the temperature by transferring them to this new environment,reducing the amount of watering,and ever so gradually increasing the amount of bright outdoor sunshine. A few days before the plunge into the hardening stage reduce the amount of watering and stop completely any fertilizer that you have been giving them. If you have a protected porch or any protected area for that matter,take your little charges out to this area for a few hours on the first day protected both from direct sun and wind. As the days go by continue to expose them to more and more wind and sunshine to a point where they are left out all night except when frost is anticipated.If you do this sucessfully,you need not bother with elaborate methods of protecting your growing tomatoes when you plant them in the garden.They are ready to "rock and roll" so to speak.
Before you can actually do what is pictured,the soil you are about to transplant the growing tomatoes into should be checked for pH level. You can do this with an inexpensive kit purchased at your garden center or your local Cooperative Extension may offer this service. If you have done this test in the last three to five years and have a record of it,then there is no need to perform such a test. However I offer here the preferred pH level of your tomato plants. The soil for tomatoes needs a pH around 6.0 to 6.8 which is a measure of soil acidity or alkalinity. This means with a neutral pH of 7.0 on the scale the tomato prefers to be slightly on the acid side. It can be possible that your pH level is too low indicating more acid so you may need to add lime to bring the soil back into check.In areas of the west and some even in the east,may have a high pH or alkaline soils in which case you need to add sulfur to the soil. I would obtain information either from your local extension service or a knowledgeable person at a garden center how much lime or sulphur to add to the soil based on your test result.
NO MATTER THE SOIL IT CAN BE MADE INTO A HOME FOR THE GROWING TOMATOES
You may have a light sandy soil which drains too rapidly or a heavy clay soil which is sticky wet and takes forever to drain and even worse it takes longer to warm up in the spring. Organic matter such as leaves,compost and grass clippings can build up your sandy soil so that it holds water longer and it tends to open up thick heavy clay soil so that both air and water penetrate easily. It is also a good idea to loosen up your soil to a reasonable depth of six to eight inches with either a tiller or a garden fork depending on the size of your planted crop. The growing tomatoes will be able to expand with ease in a loose soil and the side benefit is killing some impending weeds.
In regard to fertilizer,it is of the up most importance to add some to your soil at the time of transplanting into the garden. Depending on the number of plants,you have either made a furrow or simply dug a small hole with your garden shovel to plant your growing tomatoes. The numbers 5-10-10 should be used with commerically available fertilizer and these numbers are listed in the order of (N)nitrogen,(P)phosphorus,(K)potassium. You can also use organic materials such as deyhydrated animal manure, compost,or rotten leaves to jump start your tomatoes. An imporant tip here is not to place your fertilizer in the furrow or hole and then plant your tomato directly on top of it because the fertilizer can draw the moisture from your plant and in the end be harmful. The fertilizer should go in and with a two - three inch covering of soil and then plant your tomato. The roots will grow to the fertilizer and gradually absorb the nutrients.
GENERAL TIPS FOR TRANSPLANTING THE GROWING TOMATOES
The transplanting of tomatoes into your garden is best accomplished on a cloudy day or in the late afternoon or evening. It avoids the bright sunshine from damaging the newly planted transplants. Just because you hardened the plants off,does not mean they cannot be damaged by the cruel sunshine bearing down on the plants,in shock,from being moved once again to a new home. You can also soak the transplants in water and fish emulsion,available at your local garden center,an hour before transplanting. It will help the roots retain soil and does apply a quick feed of fertilizer. Regardless of the fish emulsion,make sure you soak the growing tomatoes in water before the planting begins. By the way,did you enjoy the smell of fish emulsion if you ever had the pleasure of using it? My wife has ban the use of it indoors,while the plants are growing,because it does pack quite an odor. You should protect against cutworms as these ground level pests can chew through the stems.
See our insects page for information on cutworms
WHEN GROWING TOMATOES NEED TO BE TRENCH PLANTED
The trenching method is best utilized when leggy plant development has occurred during the incubation of the growing tomatoes indoors. The trench plant method requires that you pinch off any yellow or dying leaves and lay the entire plant in a trench horizontally. The trench itself should be shallow. The stem of the plant should have two to three inches of soil over it and only the top group of leaves should be visible on the surface. What is the benefit to performing this divergent planting method? It will cause more roots to form along the buried stem giving added vitality to an already weaken plant. The roots will be near the surface of your garden providing more heat from early morning sun to encourage a good environment for the growing tomatoes. There is a negative to using this method by removing leaves it does slow down the development of the root system.
A couple of things should be noted when using this planting method. First,as in upright plants,make sure you have provided for the cutworm collar. It is not a good idea to force or bend the above surface plant into position,a little mound of soil beneath the plant will do and the sun and rain will point your plants into the proper up right position. Space your plants,utilizing this procedure,so that the visible leaves are 36 to 48 inches apart however if you plan to stake or cage them you can shortened that distance to 10 to 24 inches.
What I am going to do here,since this is such a lengthy subject,is to continue this discussion on another web page entitled tomatoesgrowing-part-2 . Here we will cover the staking,caging,and trellising of your growing tomatoes including how to stake and how to cage. A little about pruning,mulching,weeds,watering and container growing.The insects and diseases are covered in other parts of this web site see site map for details.
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