Secrets to Better Tomatoes

Growing great tomatoes is easier than you think!

Just 100 years ago, the tomato was widely feared as poisonous and now stands as one of the most important sources of vitamins and minerals in the North American diet. Per capita consumption in the U.S. stands at 55 pounds per person annually, not counting what is grown in home gardens!

Growing tomatoes is relatively easy:

Give plants at least six or more hours of full sun daily, along with adequate soil nutrients and moisture. Tomatoes love a rich, well-drained soil and will benefit from lots of good compost and fertilizer including fish fertilizer(see our article How to make compost successfully). Don’t overdo the fertilizer though or you will get an exuberant growth of leaves rather than development of fruit.

When starting from seed, you’ll need six to 10 weeks for your tomato seedlings to develop before they go into the garden (which is after the last frost and the ground has warmed.) Why grow from seed? You will have an infinitely wider choice among tomato varieties.

Knowing which type of tomato you are looking for before you plant is the first step in success.

To begin with, tomatoes are classified as either indeterminate or determinate. Indeterminate tomatoes tend to have a sprawling gangly nature, like vines. They continue growing and developing new fruit on side branches until frost sets in. These are ideal if you want continuous growth and harvest of new tomatoes all summer long, but not so good if you want a smaller more contained plant.

Determinate plants are more compact, such as the “patio tomato” variety. They grow to a fixed size and then begin to develop fruit in clusters which ripen all at one. These are a better choice if you plan to use them for processing, but not as good if you are looking to make salads for an entire summer.

Next choose what variety and species.

Early season tomatoes take 65 days or less. That is, 65 days from when you transplant the seedling into the ground until the first tomato can be harvested. These are a good choice for cooler areas as the fruit can still set in lower temperatures.

Mid season or main crop tomatoes generally ripen in 66 to 79 days. These are usually larger and juicer than the early tomatoes.

Late season tomato varieties need between 80 to 100 days to mature. These are great if you are looking to process green tomatoes or want a fall keeping variety.

Common Tomato Diseases

  • Some gardeners say that if you choose a disease resistant variety that has been bred to resist the common tomato diseases such as blossom end rot and black heart you are sacrificing some of the flavor. However, there are many excellent choices of disease resistant tomatoes available that still have an excellent flavor.
  • Tomatoes should be set in a different area of the garden each year. You should rotate your tomato crop every year as tomato diseases remain in the soil from season to season. After three years you can try them again in the original location. As well, tomatoes should not be planted where a botanical relative, such as eggplant, peppers or potatoes, have been grown the year before.
  • Tomatoes also need space and good air circulation between plants in order to encourage healthy growth and better resistance to pests and disease. So don’t try to get more plants into a limited space. The plants will only suffer and you won’t get nearly as many tomatoes.
  • Never dispose of any diseased or blighted tomatoes, tomato plants or any plants for that matter, in your compost. This will only spread further disease to the rest of your garden. Bag them and dispose of them with the rest of your household garbage.
  • Some tomato varieties are more resistant to cracking. Tomato cracking is a response to rapid changes in temperature and moisture and little can be done except to grow your tomatoes in a controlled environment such as a greenhouse, or choose crack resistant varieties.

With a little practice and planning, you should be able to produce a bountiful supply for eating, canning and best of all, bragging!