Hi my name’s Malia and I’m a tomato addict…. (this is the part where you say “Hi Malia”). I’ve been obsessed with tomatoes since I was old enough to eat solid foods and have shown no sign of slowing down….
Seriously, I have a problem. I dedicate practically an entire raised bed to tomatoes and on average grow 10-12 plants each summer season. Over the years, I’ve learned a thing or two about what makes these plants happy and productive. There have been ups, there have been downs, but overall, growing my own tomatoes has been very rewarding and oh so tasty! So here’s my tips and tricks to successful tomato planting. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: This tutorial is written specifically for zones 7-9. If you live on the western side of Washington, Oregon, California or in the Southern States, these tips should work great for you!
Pick the right tomato for the right job!
Step 1: Buy tomato starts. You do not have to go to a fancy nursery and spend a fortune on these. I buy all of mine at either McClendon’s Hardware or Fred Meyer. Once you get there, you may be intimidated by all the breeds, that’s why you’re reading this right? Let me help you.
Slicing tomatoes: if you like big fat tomatoes for sandwiches, burgers, and salads, you’re looking for slicing tomatoes. My favorite breeds include Better Boy, Early Girl, Mortgage Lifter, Brandywine, and Celebrity. Any of these breeds are pretty much a guaranteed win for flavor and size. If you end up with more tomatoes than you bargained for, they’re also great for dicing and canning for fall soups!
Sauce tomatoes: If you like to can your own spaghetti sauce or tomato paste, you want a tomato that is more meat and less juicy middle. The safe bet is always the Roma tomato varieties. These oval shaped ‘maters are packed full of great flavor and do not become too watery after pureeing. The labels typically will say Roma but if you can find San Marzono roma’s those are the best. McClendon’s has also been selling this new breed the past couple of years that I really like called Health Kick which earned it’s name due to it’s boost of antioxidants in every fruit.
Cherry tomatoes: My favorite. Nature’s candy. If you plan on growing tomatoes, you need to purchase at least a few of these just because they’re so insanely tasty. My new obsession is the Sun Gold variety. They turn a golden orange when they are ripe and are the sweetest, tastiest cherry tomato on earth! I usually buy several of these and then several red varieties too. Go for the ones that brag in numbers like Sweet 100’s or Sweet millions. These yield a ton of fruit that will continuously satisfy your cravings all summer long.
Tomatoes need support
Remember, tomatoes are a vine, they need something to climb. While you’re out purchasing your tomato starts, go ahead and grab some tomato cages. I like the wire round ones. They’re made out of galvanized steel which makes them rust resistant and they come in all sorts of fun colors too! 33 inch rounds work great for cherries and I use 42 inch or bigger for my slicers and romas.
Buy them in May, plant them in June
Typically, May 1st is when the tomatoes show up in the stores but remeber, they go indoors every night after those stores close. In Washington, our evenings usually don’t get warm enough for tomatoes to be happy until June. Sure you can wait until Memorial weekend to buy your tomatoes but chances are it will be slim pickings. I like to purchase mine in early may and have them sit indoors by a sunny window for a few weeks. I just set them on old cookie sheets and let them hang out. If you want to go the extra mile, re-pot them in bigger pots to promote more roots to start growing. My general rule is to plant them outdoors once the night temperatures consistently stay above 45 degrees.
Not everyone in you family will be impressed with your tomato growing prowess but you can’t please everyone all the time, right?
Tomatoes love sun and heat
Tomatoes originated in Central and South America so yeah, they like sun and heat. Make sure you have an area that gets 6-8 hours of full sun every day if you want to successfully grow tomatoes.
The soil you put tomatoes in should have good drainage. That is so important. They do not like being waterlogged. They also like fertilizer so I always mix a healthy amount of compost into my beds. Typically I like the soil to be 50/50 soil and compost. Bags of compost are cheap and can be found at any garden center. I recommend Cedar Grove. Not only is it an awesome brand, but it’ a local company as well.
Bury them deep!
I think this is the most important piece of advice I’ve ever received about growing tomatoes. When you plant them, go at least a foot down. All those little hairs on the stem are potential roots. So the deeper you go, the better the root system will be which makes a stronger plant… with more tomatoes! Here’s a video to show you how to do this.
Give them space!
Each tomato plant should be no less than 24 inches apart! This keeps air flow and sunlight moving through each plant. Crowded tomatoes are not happy tomatoes.
Feed them often
Tomatoes like to be fed. They are hungry demanding little plants. I make it a point to fertilize them once a week. I use Miracle Grow’s water soluble tomato plant food. It’s cheap and easy.
Water them often…er
A good rule of thumb is if it’s continuously 80 degrees or hotter outside, you should be watering your tomatoes daily. Check the soil with your hand to be certain. If the top is dry, it’s time to water. Watering in the evening is equally important. This will allow the water to stay in the soil longer so the tomatoes can suck it up without worrying about evaporation.
Watch out for Pests!
The only issue I’ve ever had with pests was aphids. You’ll notice the leaves will yellow and there will be a fine spider silk tucked in the surrounding areas. Aphids are super tiny! This happened to me last year and I was so excited because it meant I got to go buy lady bugs! I spend at least an hour just watching the lady bugs rescue my tomatoes and feast on those little buggers! Super entertaining. You can buy lady bugs at any gardening center. They come in little bags, it’s weird, but wonderful.
You don’t have to wait until they’re ripe to pick
Now the fun part: harvesting. Once they’re red, just pick them off. Green ones are pretty tasty too if you’ve never tried them. Check out the garden fresh recipe post below for more info. I often find that right as the frosts of September roll in, I will still have a ton of big green tomatoes on the vines. They’ll rot if I leave them out, so what’s a girl to do?? That’s when I learned you can pick them, set them in a sunny window indoors and they will ripen…duh! That may seem obvious but I was grateful to for that little tidbit. It has saved my yield many times.
So, there you have it. Everything I’ve learned about tomatoes so far. I hope you’ve found this tutorial interesting and informative. Feel free to comment any time with questions or tips of your own.
Check out these great gardening recipes too!