Monday, April 22, 2013

Grow Your Best Tomatoes Yet!

Tomatoes are without a doubt the king of the home vegetable garden. Tomatoes, depending on which survey you read, are about 4 to 1 favorites over the next in line, cucumbers or peppers, as to which fruits and vegetables are grown most at home.

Who can argue about this tomato fact? Tomatoes are easy to grow in almost every climate, and with over 2,000 tomato varieties to choose from, you are bound to find some tomatoes that you will enjoy eating.

Not only are tomatoes easy and great to grow at home, the health benefits of tomatoes are wonderful as well. Packed with the healthy carotenoid, Lycopene, which, in a recent study, has been shown to reduce the risk of stroke and cancer, the tomato should be a staple in your garden, if it is not already.

To grow your best tomatoes ever, let’s talk about what you will need in order to accomplish this fairly easy task.

Of course, just like with any other fruit or veggie, tomatoes need a great foundation. In this case the foundation is your soil. Be sure to work in compost, seasoned manure etc. throughout your offseason. If you are new to gardening and you are growing tomatoes for your first time, you can always pick up some great seasoned manure at your local home or garden center for about two dollars a bag.

Mix these ingredients thoroughly into the soil as they contain all of the nutrients your tomatoes will need to grow and produce wonderful tasting fruits.

Tomatoes love the sun. Choose a spot that receives a minimum of 8 hours per day, more if possible. The more sun your tomato plant receives, the better your tomato plants will produce.

Keep the soil your tomato plants are planted in moist but not saturated. Do not overwater your tomato plants. Too much water around the tomato plants’ roots may cause root rot. Be sure that the garden beds, pots or containers you use, drain properly. To increase drainage, mix in some peat or coir with your soil. Either of these products will make your soil friable, allowing excess water to drain, but keeping enough for your tomato plants’ needs. If you are growing tomatoes in containers, make sure there are enough drainage holes to allow excess water to escape.

If your growing season is short, and you are growing your tomatoes from seeds, then you will need to start indoors. Visit the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, type in your zip code and you will be able to obtain your area’s frost information. Knowing when the potential last frost date in your area occurs will go a long way as to when you can start your seeds indoors.

Tomatoes grow well spaced out in as little as twelve inches apart, however, if you have more room to spare, then by all means spread them out.

Most tomato varieties need some kind of vertical support so that they are not flopping over onto the ground which could cause other issues you’d rather not have to deal with. While there are a wide variety of methods, the two easiest ones are tomato cages and tomato stakes. Cages are available for a few bucks a piece at your local home or garden center. Tomato stakes can be anything from long pieces of wood, to fancy stakes from the store. The choice is yours. I use tomato cages. I always have. To me, they are just easier to maintain.

Your tomato is ready for harvest when it has reached its full color. Since tomato varieties come in all kinds of color from red, orange and yellow, up through, purple, black and brown, you really should know which variety that you have, so you know when to pick.

On a final note from my own experience. When growing smaller varieties such as cherry, grape and pear, one or two plants can produce enough tomatoes to feed a family of four, so plan accordingly. One year I planted six, yes that is six, grape tomato plants, and ended up with so many I literally could not keep up with picking all of them, or know enough people to give them away to, have enough canning recipes (or jars for that matter) to use all of them.

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