BASIC TOMATO GROWING

Bob Tanem (America’s Happy Gardener ™)

About 80% of home owners do their own gardening.  Of those at least 90% grow at least one tomato plant.  That being said most of these don’t know a lot about what makes them grow or what they need to do for success.  So here are the basic for success so let’s find some definitions,

Determinant vs indeterminate no confusion here. The first term tells you it is going to be short and needs little or no support.  The later tells you; the plant will need some support or a lot of support.  I once had a cherry tomato that grew 20 feet tall. 

Heirloom varieties are tomato plants that have a long line of success.  Most of them are varieties selected for their taste and success.  Among these are some of my favorites with names like Brandywine, Cherokee purple (used to be chief) and Stupice.

Hybrid Tomatoes have been crossed bred to overcome many of the problems many plants have.  If you have problems before, this is the better pathway to choose.   The only thing one should be aware of is that their seeds cannot be saved for the following season.

VFNTT:  These are terms that declare that these plants are bred to avoid many of the common problems any tomato plant can have.  This is not a guarantee that these plants will be more successful than others it just will help if you have had problems in the past.  Champion is one of the better varieties for taste in this category.

I think the best way to choose a plant is to ask yourself, what I want to do with the fruit once it is time to harvest.  Cooking? That would be a paste type; sandwich? Many to choose from. And the list goes on.  All of this is what you need to know when you decide to plant your plantsHere are some of the needs for your plant or plants.  At least 6 hour direct sun. 

Select an area that is relatively free from wind.  They will tolerate some windy locations in the late evening, but won’t do well if the soil temperature drops below 45 degrees.  Tomatoes ripen at night so night time temperatures are important.  In the ground cultivation for those lucky to have ground space, keep in mind that you can’t plant in the same space every year.  Crop rotation is a mush.  If you are in a situation where you just have to use the same space then VFNTT is a must on the label. The only exception would be one of the cherry varieties. I’m not sure, but perhaps paste type would also work. In all cases drainage is a big concern in the ground as well as in containers.

Soil preparation in the ground is just common sense.  It must drain well.  So if you have clay and heavy soils you have to add enough material to the area to avoid any water standing on the surface for longer that 10 minutes.  I recommend that you cultivate the surface if this is a problem before watering. You have to weed anyway so you will accomplish two things at once. Many of you don’t have space for in-ground growing so you need to do your planting in pots.    I have seen this happen in pots that will hardly grow a carrot much less a successful tomato plant. I grow my plans successfully in 15 gallon size containers.  That is the minimum for success.  What goes into the pot is the next most important selection.  From my experience plant nurseries are the best places to purchase food growing medium.  Since you will more than likely be using this material again, quality is important.  Use the entire material and forgo any rocks on the bottom drainage thing, because this

just doesn’t help.  (The myth that it helps the plant has been proven wrong to say nothing of the drainage)

So you have the soil prepared and everything is at the ready, plant your tomato plant by stripping off the bottom leaves to about 1/3rd and plant the plant deeply so that only the top 3rd of the plant shows.  This section below will root and get the plant a better boost than placing it covering only the present root zone.  Not to worry it will catch up. 

Watering:  For the next few days water every day for about a week.  Then go to every other day for another week. When you see the first new growth go to twice a week and after that only water if the plant looks stressed.  In most cases in pots that will be twice a week in the ground it may be once a month.  At one time in the Sacramento Valley they got one shot when planted (interesting) and that was it.

Fertilizing.  I do not recommend any B-12 or other transplanting material.  Save your money.  Since these plants are heavy feeders I like alfalfa pellets or alfalfa meal.  Rose fertilizer works as well. You only need to do this a couple times during the growing season. 

Problems?  Let’s call them challenges.  Rats, squirrels, rabbits, etc?  Go to my web site for solutions  www.bobtanem.com for more answers.