How to Grow Tomatoes
The tomato is one of the most popular garden vegetables in North America, despite its origins in South America. There are two types of tomato plants: determinate and indeterminate. Indeterminate plants will continue to produce new growth and new fruits throughout the growing season, whereas determinate plants will produce tomatoes that all ripen at the same time. There are also hundreds of varieties of tomatoes, ranging from large, ribbed “beefsteak” tomatoes to smaller, varying-colored “cherry” and “pear” tomatoes.
When to Start Indoors Tomato plants are typically started indoors four to six weeks before the last spring frost, and once the soil has warmed, they are transplanted outdoors. Make sure to keep the soil moist as you plant tomato seeds in small containers that are 14 inch deep with potting soil. When two to three leaves have formed on seedlings grown in trays, transplant them into 3-inch pots, keeping the plants in a light, well-ventilated location.
When to Transplant Tomato seedlings should be transplanted outdoors in a sunny location as soon as the soil has warmed up and there is no longer any risk of frost. Introduce the seedlings to direct sunlight, dry air, and cold nights as they gradually harden off. Plant outside when there is no risk of frost, air temperatures are at least 45 degrees Fahrenheit, and soil temperatures are at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Seeds that are started indoors will germinate in 7 to 14 days.
Special Considerations To keep the tomato vines off the ground, where they are more susceptible to disease, both indeterminate and determinate varieties typically require trellising, staking, or caging. Make sure they are moist but not soaked; Fruit splitting and blossom end rot are both exacerbated by inconsistent watering.
Pests and diseases that commonly affect tomatoes include early blight, blossom end rot, late blight, and the tomato mosaic virus. Rotating crops, getting rid of diseased plants, staking or caging plants, and mulching the base of the plants can all help stop these diseases from spreading.
When and How to Harvest Tomatoes should be picked when they are firm to the touch but appear to be slightly flexible. Fruits that are ripe will easily fall off the vine. For determinate (or “bush”) varieties, ripening takes about 10 to 12 weeks from planting, whereas for indeterminate varieties, it takes about 7 to 8 weeks.
Eating Tomatoes at their peak of ripeness can be used in a BLT or fresh salsa. Tomatoes go well with mozzarella, basil, olive oil, and seasonings in salads. Try making your own tomato soup, tomato paste, or pasta sauce if you have a bumper crop of tomatoes. Whole tomatoes that have been blanched and cored can also be frozen or canned. Unripe tomatoes are coated in cornmeal and fried to make fried green tomatoes, which are typically served in the Southern United States.