Find out the top secrets to growing tomatoes that are beautiful and delicious.

Nothing is better than picking a fresh, ripe tomato from the vine and taking a delicious, juicy bite. Tomatoes are a popular plant to grow in a home garden because they are so utilitarian. You can make sauce, juice, chili, or eat the tomatoes fresh in salads and sandwiches. Tomatoes grow well in garden plots and in pots and as long as you give them enough sun, water and nutrients, they will give you a great harvest. The following are the top secrets to growing tomatoes that are flavorful and perfect.

  1. Sun is one of the most important things in growing tomatoes. Growing them in a shady area will make for a weak harvest and tiny hard tomatoes that have no flavor. Tomatoes need at least 6 hours of full sun per day and do even better with 8 hours. Make sure your garden area is not shaded by trees or by the house or other structures.
  2. The soil in which tomatoes grow has much to do with development and flavor. tomatoes are heavy feeders and suck up nutrients from the soil. That is why it is suggested that you plant them in a different part of the garden every year. They leave the soil depleted and it takes a year or two to get it back into shape. Amend garden soil with compost and you will have happy tomatoes. Put about 6 to 8 inches of compost over the area in which you are planting tomatoes and sprinkle on another inch of manure.  Take a tiller and dig all these nutrients into the soil about 12 inches. This will give your tomatoes what they need in order to develop and grow juicy fruit.
  3. The time tomatoes are planted have much to do with being a successful tomato gardener. The plants are tender and do not tolerate cold temperatures and frost at all. They only grow when the temperature is warm. Wait until the soil reaches a temperature of about 70 to 73 degrees Fahrenheit before planting and make sure temperatures do not go below 40 degrees at night. Neighbors might plant early, take the trouble to protect plants at night to get a head start. That head start won’t matter if temperatures aren’t warm because the tomatoes won’t grow. You can wait and plant your plants in May and they will grow to the same stage of development as those that were in the ground earlier in just a few weeks. Yours will also be more productive.
  4. Proper planting methods make a big difference in harvest.  Instead of just digging a hole and plopping a tomato plant in, take some extra steps to ensure delicious tomatoes. Dig a hole about 5 to 7 inches deep and instead of making it round, make it oblong. Sprinkle some crushed egg shells and dolomitic limestone, found at garden supply stores, in the bottom of the hole and mix it up a bit. The egg shells give the roots calcium and the limestone prevents blossom end rot. Remove all but 3 sets of leaves at the top of the tomato plant and set the bottom of the roots at the edge of the hole. Bring the plant up to the other end of the hole making sure the stem and roots up to 2 or 3 inches below the leaves are laying horizontally in the hole. Tomatoes will root anywhere along the stem where it touches the ground and more roots make for better plants. Cover the stem with soil leaving the leaves 2 to 3 inches above the ground. do not plant tomatoes too close together because they need good air circulation to avoid mold or mildew diseases. Space plants about 8 to 12 inches apart and spread 1 inch of construction sand under and around the plants to protect them from slugs.  Slugs don’t like sand because it hurts their bodies to crawl on it and they will not eat off your tomato plants.
  5. It is important to put the stake or cage in the ground next to or around the small tomato plant immediately. This way the roots will not be disturbed after they grow a bit. You don’t have to tie the tomato plant to the support system until it gets a little bigger, but it is very important that no leaves or stems touch the ground at any time as this is how disease enters the plant and causes problems.
  6. Prune the stems and leaves of the tomato plant often so they don’t grow out of hand. You want fruit to grow, not excessive leaves that compete for nutrients.  Leaves can shade the fruit and make it hard for it to ripen.  Pinch leaves and stems back at the “V” joint on the stem. Always discard waste so that no pests have a place to hide.
  7. Feed your tomatoes right after planting by using a water soluble food diluted in water.  Let the solution get to room temperature before using it. Fish emulsion is a great fertilizer for tomatoes. Apply it every 2 weeks during the growing season. Tomato food is usually in the form o a slow release pellet that is sprinkled around the base of the tomato and scratched into the he soil. The soil is then watered so it gets down into the soil. Plant basil and peppers around tomatoes. It protects them from white fly and enhances the flavor.
  8. Water tomatoes frequently, but never water by sprinkling water from over top. Wet tomatoes leaves can contract mildew. Instead water around the bottom of the plants using a soaker hose. Another good trick is to take an 8 inch long PCV pipe and poke holes all the way down. Plant it in the ground vertically next to the tomato when you first plant it leaving the top about an inch above the soil line. Fill the pipe in the morning and in the evening and the water will go deep around the roots. Water daily if there is no rain. Tomatoes require about 4 to 6 inches of rain per week to become plump and juicy.

Follow the secrets to growing tomatoes to ensure a good crop of delicious fruit. You will have enough tomatoes to put on salads, make sandwiches, make into sauce, grind into juice, eat off the vine and give to your grateful neighbors.


Listen In:

This post is adapted from the May 17, 2014 episode of Home Wizards that was released on iTunes May 18, 2014. You can find this segment during hour one of the podcast.