Tomatoes remain one of the most widely grown food crops around the world. Farmers all over engage in its cultivation due to the demand and its importance in culinary value. But there is nothing as good as taking up the challenge and growing tomatoes at home for personal consumption. It does not only come in handy because of the quality of produce, but also for the fun of taking up the challenge and seeing your plant grow.
Tomatoes can be described as summer plants because they thrive best during periods with longer sunlight. They are also quite simple to grow in home gardens. Wherever space is located in your home, be it in your backyard, on the balcony or on the rooftop, you can grow tomatoes there. This post will serve as a guide to introduce you to some of the most important things you need to know when planting tomatoes.
FRUIT OR VEGETABLE?
Before we go further, it is necessary that we answer this question. Are tomatoes fruits or vegetables? Tomatoes are widely considered to be vegetables being that they are always heavily featured in most vegetarian diets. But to consider it with technicality and biology, they are fruits.
Just like true fruits, tomatoes are known to develop from the ovary of a flower which contains the seeds of the plant. The basis of the argument usually stems from the disagreement between chefs and scientists, but this will affect nothing that has to do with your growing crops. Throughout this article, we will refer to them as vegetables, for continuity.
WHAT TO CONSIDER WHEN GETTING STARTED
Selecting the right variety
A lot of people do not know this, but tomatoes come in different varieties. Knowing and selecting which of these to plant will help you stay ahead and understand what your vegetable needs to grow. Before you start planting, it is best that you determine which of these classes will thrive best in the area where you will want to plant the vegetable. You might decide to plant different varieties at the same time to have an experience of growing all of them. It all depends on you.
Tomatoes exist in more than a hundred varieties and there is no use stressing yourself to know and understand all of these varieties. We will just look at two of the most common ways in which they are classified to help you better understand the one that would thrive best in your environment.
These two classifications are based on the growing habits of tomatoes. Some tomatoes replicate the characteristics of vines during growth. They tend to crawl on the floor while growing instead of growing upright like other plants. If they are not tended to early enough, there is a high chance of them becoming a large mass on the soil. This leaves them prone to diseases and pest attacks.
The two classes are:
This type of tomato plant completes their growth typically within two weeks, and in this period all of the tomatoes ripen in full. After this initial period of maturity, the plant loses its vigour and no new fruit is formed. They are generally smaller in size than the indeterminate tomatoes because they do not continue to grow throughout the growing season. Growing this type of tomatoes is mostly advisable when you are in need of tomatoes in bulk for one time.
The indeterminate tomatoes are usually referred to as the ‘vining’ tomatoes. Unlike the determinate varieties, they continue their growth throughout the growing season and continue to release new tomatoes during this season. It is more advisable to plant this kind of tomatoes for domestic use because they produce a slow and steady supply of tomatoes for usage. Only note that their ripening is quite a slow being that they take a lot of time to mature.
Both of these tomato classes have their benefits, so selecting one to plant will basically depend on what you want to do with the harvested tomatoes. If you are in need of a large harvest to produce tomatoes sauce for storage then the determinate should be a good option. For long term home use, indeterminate should be your go-to option.
THE PLANTING PROCESS
Tomatoes are part of the Solanaceae family, and they are known for their love of sunshine. Because of this, they cannot handle the frosty weather of early spring. They are best planted in the warmer months of the year because other months turn out to be too cold for their growth. When tomatoes are grown in areas that are free of frost, they turn out to be pretty huge, because they continue to grow throughout the year.
Due to their extreme sensitivity to cold, they cannot be grown outside of the temperate environment until after the spring frost. Allow the air and the soil to get dry a bit before you begin planting. Ensure that the soil has warmed well enough before you begin planting. Sometimes one can be in a hurry to plant the seeds thinking the frost is over and then a cold snap arrives unannounced. Growing your tomatoes in warmer weather helps to reduce their susceptibility to infections and diseases.
Starting with seeds or seedlings
In growing tomatoes, you have two startup choices. You can either startup with a seed or buy seedlings from a nursery. You save up some money when starting up with your own seeds because seeds are quite cheaper than seedlings. Plus you can make use of the materials used to start up the growing process over and over for different seeds. Also, when making use of seeds, you are provided with the opportunity for the exploration of different varieties of tomatoes.
If you are not in for the ‘trouble’ of taking care of young seeds, you can go ahead and buy seedlings. It is the easier way to go. When buying seedlings from a nursery, look for those that are thick and bushy, they are usually the healthiest.
Nurturing the seed
You can start off your planting on a good note by starting the seed growth indoor. The temperature inside a house is closest to what tomato seeds need. You can begin your planting inside the house in preparation for the time you will be taking them outside when the weather is warmer. Allow them to remain indoors for about 3 to 6 weeks, to strengthen them. When they are ready to be moved out you will notice how robust and healthy the seedlings will be.
The tomato seed can be started in cell trays that are filled with soil or planting medium. The seed should be buried about a quarter of an inch into the soil. Make use of a pencil to burrow holes in the soil where you will place the seeds. Space the seeds about half an inch apart. Cover up each hole gently and water lightly. In case you are going to be planting different tomato varieties, you will need to label them accordingly.
Keep the container in a warm place or make use of a fluorescent light to provide mild heat. Some gardeners make use of an electric heat mat placed under the seedling’s pot to help generate some heat if the weather is too cold. This, in combination with a little lighting, will help your plant stay warm.
You will notice that the sprout will begin to appear within 5 to 10 days. At this point, the developing leaves are known as cotyledon leaves. Once you notice that the plant has outgrown its area then you can transfer it to a large pot. Four-inch sized pot is a good size to use as an intermediary before the tomatoes are finally taken outside.
As has been mentioned, tomatoes need a lot of light to thrive in any environment. Most gardening experts will tell you that they require about 7 to 10 hours of light per day, but it should never be less than 6 hours. They can survive in a lesser supply of light, but the yield will not be as much as it should be.
This is what makes it very good to plant your tomatoes in pots or containers at the beginning. Doing this will provide you the opportunity to move them around from a spot with lower light supply to another spot with better light supply, especially in and places where the sun rays are easily blocked from reaching the plant. You can plant your tomatoes on a raised bed lying on a platform with wheels. This way you can easily move your plant around.
You will need to have a light source for your plant, and this can either be from a sunny window or from a grow light. Grow lights light with a spectrum that closely resembles that of the sun and are used to assist the plant to carry out photosynthesis even while indoor. Fluorescent bulbs are among some of the cheapest grow lights available and they get the job done pretty well.
If you are going to place your container on a windowsill to receive direct sunlight, you will need to turn it around at intervals so that the plant doesn’t begin to grow in one direction, towards the light.
Selecting the right containers
It is necessary that you select a container that will be deep enough to allow the root of your plant grows without any hindrance. If you would like to make use of a pot, then it is best to go for one that is not less than 12 inches deep. Clay pots are notorious for drying up the soil easily and this is capable of affecting your plant. A deep enough black pail can suffice for the job. They are lighter than clay pots and their handles make it easier to carry them around so you have no problem changing the position of your plant.
The Drainage Issue
Another major reason you may want to consider planting your seedlings in a pail instead of in a pot is drainage. It is easier to drill holes into the pail so that the soil bearing the seeds does not become waterlogged. Waterlogging can cause rotting at the stem which is dangerous to your young plant. But if you must go for a clay or porcelain pots, ensure you check for the availability of drainage holes. Some of them come manufactured with holes.
After holes have been drilled into your pail, the next step is to pack gravel (not more than 2 inches high) at the base to assist with the drainage process. When making use of clay pots, it is a good idea to line the inside of the pot with some sort of plastic. Clay pots have a way of soaking water from the soil and leaving it dry.
Tomato seeds are not too selective with their choice of compost. Most compost varieties found in gardening shops will do well to help you raise your young seeds. Homemade compost would be free and ideal. You can learn to make your own from this blog post.
Garden soil doesn’t do well when packed into the clay pot because they soon become compact in the pot and make it hard for moisture from the top to flow down to the root. Adding superabsorbent crystals to the compost during mixture will prevent them from drying up quickly. They absorb moisture whenever you water the soil and continue to release it slowly into the compost.
When the frost is gone, you will be ready to take your plant outdoors where they will spend the rest of their lives. They must have achieved a considerable amount of growth within the period spent indoors if you did your job of taking care of them quite well. You don’t just transfer them outdoor like that. It is necessary that you allow them to get acclimatized with the outdoor conditions first. Take them outdoors for about three to four hours every day. Do this during the sunny part of the day. Do this for a full week and increase the time they spend outdoor the next week. This is to get them acclimatized with the sun and get prepared to spend more time under it.
Where to locate your tomato plant in the garden
The best place to transplant your seedling when transferring them outside is the sunny part of the garden. Find a space that receives nothing less than 6 hours of sunlight every day. Remember that plant requires a lot of sunlight to produce nutrients that will be needed to also produce healthy tomatoes. A tip is to locate them at the side of a fence or a wall, especially one that faces south. Because of the sunlight issue, it is advisable that you go for a tomato variety that takes a short period to produce a harvest. These varieties produce smaller tomatoes which generally do not need much light to photosynthesize. The larger growing ones require much sunlight to get a crop.
Preparing the soil
As I stated before, tomatoes do well in virtually any good soil, but the truth is that they will perform significantly better if the soil is well pampered. You can only ascertain the quality of the soil in your pot because you mixed it, but the case is different with your garden. Chances are you have no idea of how good the soil there is. So it is best you carry out some tests before transferring your plants there.
First, if you suspect that your soil has an imbalanced pH or that it contains too much clay, then you can work on it by digging and mixing it with some materials that will help create a balance. Mixing your soil up with some organic matter down to about 12 inches in the soil would go a long way. More organic matter in the soil would mean that both air and water can easily find their way down the soil.
5 Tomato Plant Care Tips
Now that your plant is out in the open, it is time to take care of it. There are various gardening exercises that you should carry out on your plant occasionally. Some of these include:
Vine tomatoes usually send out their side shoots between the stem and the leaf. If these are not trimmed occasionally, they tend to siphon most of the sugar needed by more important parts of the crops. If these are left to grow they would eventually overburden the plant and this can lead to poor growth. Extra care should be taken when pruning so as not to cut off branches of the plant.
When you notice the plant is growing too tall you can trim the top to stop its upward growth. When you do this, the plant will be left with no option than to transport the important nutrient towards the growth of the tomatoes instead of encouraging the growth of leaves. Some gardeners strip the plants of its leaves from its base up to halfway up its stem. It is one sure way to prevent the development of tomato blight and get a better tomato harvest.
When the tomatoes begin to develop fully, they can weigh down the weak plant. Most gardeners make use of cages or stakes to provide support for their tomato plants. You should begin the staking process as soon as possible, probably immediately after transplanting them into your outdoor garden.
The stakes can be made of bamboo or wood. It should be about seven feet so that it is able to go into the ground securely and still be tall enough to bear the weight of the growing plant. You can also place the stake securely into the ground before you transplant the vegetable into the garden, this way you prevent any damage that can be made to the plant’s root. Make use of twine or rope to tie the plant to the stake, only ensure that it is tied securely. You can place more than one stake for one plant and tie up branches to the stake closest to them.
Alternatively, you can decide to build a cage around your plant. This way you will get more tomatoes but they will be significantly smaller in size than the one gotten when a stake is used.
One way to achieve this is by cutting off the bottom section of a cage and hammering it straight into the ground. If you will be planting a larger tomato variety then the cage option will make a lot of sense for you. Those ones can get extremely heavy and pull down the branches.
You will need to constantly feed your plant with the right nutrients that might not be naturally supplied by the soil in your vicinity. Tomatoes require a lot of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and potash.
Check that the fertilizers you are going to buy have all of this listed on its package. There should be ratio information also listed on the package: N-P-K. The number will look something like this 3-6-6. A ratio of 5-5-5 will be good enough to add to the soil.
Local nurseries sell good fertilizers. Buy them and mix them to the soil close to where your plant is located. You can learn more about feeding in this video on Youtube
The time of the day to water your tomato plant is earlier in the day, except if you are in the midst of a heatwave during the summer. It is best to water in the morning because plants are known to grow faster during warm weather when the sun is out. Watering your plant later in the day causes them to cool down and it also slows their growth. If watered earlier in the day, they are given the chance to warm up in the sun. Watering plants late in the evening will always lead to a disaster in the sense that they will remain wet through the night causing them to be more prone to diseases.
Once you move your plant outdoors, its watering will increase. For every two weeks that pass, this need will continue to increase as they continue to grow. They will need even more water once they begin to produce tomatoes.
Some of the other factors that should be considered when watering your plant include heat, humidity, soil damage and drainage. Try to be as observant as possible. Check if the soil around your tomatoes is one that gets dry too quickly. If it is, then you will need to water more frequently. Tomato plant root loves lots of water. In fact, one tomato contains more than 80% water, so you can see how important water is to its growth and development.
Mulching is like the best gift you can offer your tomatoes. Mulch is simply a layer of material that is poured over the soil located around the base of your plant. Mulching is important because it reduces the need to water your plant all the time. It protects the soil from sunlight thereby preventing it from going dry unnecessarily. Also, the presence of mulch helps to activate the activities of soil organisms in the soil. It provides a wonderful environment for them. Weeds have a hard time springing forth in the presence of the thick mulch, so mulching helps to reduce the need to weed constantly.
You can produce your mulch from things like straw, fallen leaves or wood chips. A few inches thick of mulch blanket will help protect the root of the plant. This will cause the plant to produce healthier and sweeter tomatoes.
It is more recommended that you make use of mulch produced from material of organic nature. These will eventually decompose and nourish the soil underneath them.
Most first time gardeners complain about not knowing the right time to harvest their tomatoes. It can even be difficult for experienced ones too. It is quite a challenge to tell if your tomatoes are perfectly ripe.
You won’t want them too overripe and you also won’t want to pluck them before they are completely ripe. These will help you know when to start plucking your tomatoes.
Once your tomatoes begin to abandon the green colour and begin to embrace their natural colour then you should get ready to begin harvesting. But this change of colour does not 100% mean that the tomato is ready for harvesting.
You can touch them to confirm. If the tomato still feels firm when you give it a little squeeze then it is not ready for harvest. If it is ready it should feel a little bit succulent when touched.
Tomato harvest should naturally be carried out at the end of the planting season, probably in late summer. Most tomatoes that are harvested before this period are those that are going to be transported to far distances. They ripen during transport.
The process of harvesting tomatoes is fairly easy. When you are sure that they are ripe, get a basket and pull out by holding the stem in one hand and pulling the tomato out.
Tomatoes are a fantastic crop to grow at home. There is no reason why you could not be filling your home with the smells of fresh vine-ripened tomatoes directly out of your garden. Just follow these simple rules and you will reap what you sow. 🙂