Today is another installment of "Growing." ENJOY!
There are two basic kinds of tomatoes: Determinate and Indeterminate.
Determinate tomatoes produce the fruit all at once. These are typically bush tomatoes, and make the best tomatoes for container gardening. Since all the tomatoes are ripe within a short period of time, these are great plant choices if you plan to can or have a short tomato growing season.
Indeterminate tomatoes grow on a vine. They will produce all season until the first frost.
Preferred Growing Conditions
Tomatoes love sun, and lots of it. Determinate or bush tomato plants work best for tomato container gardening. Soil should be rich in organic matter. Compost works best mixed in with the soil, and is a great organic fertilizer. Tomatoes tend to do well in soil that is a little acidic. Get a soil pH tester if you are unsure of your soil’s pH level.
Mulch will be important around tomato plants. Since tomato plants prefer full sun, the soil will dry out. Mulch will help retain moisture in the soil.
How to Plant Tomatoes
Space out tomato plants 13 – 17 inches apart. Really just follow the planting instructions with the variety you choose. It will all depend on the variety of tomato you grow. You just want to make sure they will have enough room to grow and the roots not compete with each other. You can plant tomato seedlings after the last frost. Seeds can be started just before the last frost.
Keep in mind tomatoes do well in raised beds. If you are not planting in a raised bed, raise your tomato rows about six inches in the garden. Rows should be 4-5 feet apart. But, don’t forget that determinate tomato varieties grow well in containers, too!
Companion Plants for Tomatoes
Growing these companion plants around tomatoes will be helpful: basil, chives, oregano, parsley, onions, carrots, asparagus, marigolds, celery, and geraniums.
Some plants actually are bad to the health of tomato plants.
Avoid these plants around tomotoes: black walnut, corn, cabbage, potatoes, kale, and rosemary.
Maintaining Your Tomato Plants
Not sure what to do in the meantime? You will most likely need to stake your tomatoes. Again, depends on the variety. Bush tomatoes may need to be staked or caged for support. But, indeterminate tomatoes, or vine tomatoes, will definitely need support since they continue to grow all season. A trellis works nicely with vine tomatoes or a tomato cage.
Should you prune tomatoes? Depends on who you ask! Suckers, or side shoots, grow in the “v” of the stem and branch. You can pinch them off or leave them. Leaving the suckers on produces more tomatoes. But these will be smaller tomatoes. If you have a large tomato plant, like the indeterminates, you might want to prune the side shoots here and there. But don’t go hog wild, you want these plants to produce.
When to Use Organic Fertilizer
It’s a good idea to use organic fertilizer in your garden, and avoid the chemicals around your food. Typically, tomatoes are fertilized every 3-4 weeks, with the first fertilization at planting. The next time you’re ready to fertilize should be about the time the plant is bearing small tomatoes. Some determinate varieties will only be fertilized two times, since they produce tomatoes all at once.
You can also find products at nurseries, like Tomato Thrive, a microbial growth promoter, that help tomato plants absorb nutrients from the soil. This makes your fertilizer absorb better, too.
When to Harvest Tomatoes
Tomatoes take 50-80 days to harvest. Just pick them when they have turned their full color. You can pick them early and let them ripen in the windowsill. But, the best tomato flavor is one that has ripened on the vine.
Tomato Pests and Diseases
Keep an eye out for tomato hornworms. They are the large, beautiful green worms that blend nicely with the stems.