It’s not that people are intentionally keeping tomato growing secrets, it’s just that sometimes those of us who have been gardening a while forget what it’s like to be a beginner gardener. And sometimes new gardeners don’t know what questions to ask. I’ve been reminded of this as I help my sister with her first garden. Today, I’m going to share with things that no one tells you about growing tomatoes.
There are a lot of varieties of tomatoes. Maybe not thousands, but certainly hundreds. In the grocery store they basically come in just a few shapes and a few sizes. But you can get all kinds of shapes and sizes by growing tomatoes at home. There’s cherry tomatoes and pear tomatoes in an array of colors that are great for popping into your mouth whole. There’s slicing tomatoes in red, yellow, green, pink, and even purple. There’s plum tomatoes that don’t have “mushy innards” as my sister says which are great for sauces, but also for anyone who doesn’t like the squishy insides of most tomatoes. Ask around to see what tomato plants grow well in your area and plant those….and plant a new tomato variety that seems interesting that no one in your area grows, just for fun.
Tomatoes are classified in a variety of ways but usually as determinate or indeterminate. Determinate tomatoes usually only grow to about four feet and set a lot of fruit in a short amount of time. Then they’ll die back. Determinate tomatoes are really great if you want to do a bunch of preserving and then be done or if you have a short growing season. Indeterminate tomatoes continue producing throughout the season. They can easily get over six feet tall. Indeterminate tomatoes are good if you want to harvest tomatoes all season long. The seed packet will usually tell you if the tomato variety is determinant or indeterminant.
If you need help figuring out how many tomato plants to grow for your family just fill out the form below and I’ll email some worksheets to you.
The tomato cages sold at most stores are worthless. I know, they look cute when you first plant your tomato plant but they don’t give a mature plant enough support. They are good for peppers and growing squash vertically. There are some other options if you have an open mind. We use metal tote cages (from 250 gallon industrial totes). But this year we realized that we should have used cattle panel arches for some of our Juliet tomatoes (indeterminate) which are well over 6 feet tall and are taking over the luffa trellis. I also like this arch idea. For determinate tomatoes you could use t-posts or wooden stakes and twine (or strips of old t-shirts).
Plant tomato transplants deep, like 4-6 inches deep. Dig a deep hole and plant the tomato plant all the way to it’s first set of true leaves. You can remove the seedling leaves (the bottom leaves that don’t look like the other tomato leaves). You can also remove the first layer of true leaves so you don’t have tomatoes touching the ground. All those little hairs on the stem that are now underground are going to form roots. This will give the tomato plant an amazing root system and help keep consistent moisture in the tomato plant.
Don’t water the tomato plant; water the soil. Unlike greens or brassicas, tomatoes do not like to have their leaves wet. This means no overhead watering. If you have drip irrigation it’s easy to water the soil, if you don’t it’s still easy. I take the nozzle off the water hose and lay the hose in the middle of the bed under the mulch and let the water run for 10-15 minutes. During that time I can harvest or weed, or just enjoy being in the garden. I check the water every once in a while and move it to get the whole bed drenched.
Which leads me to another thing no one tells you about growing tomatoes. Tomato plants like consistent moisture – not constant water. There’s a difference. You don’t need to water tomatoes every day. Remember their roots are deep since we planted them deep. Tomato plants like to be watered deeply (hence the 10-15 minute watering per 4×8′ bed) but only every 4-7 days.
Mulching tomato plants helps keep the soil moisture consistent which makes for a healthier plant. I’m sure there are climates where you don’t need to mulch tomato plants but for the most part, I think mulching makes for a healthier plant. The years we mulch heavily are the years we have the best tomato harvests. The mulch helps keep the soil more consistently moist by preventing evaporation of moisture from the soil. And it also helps keep the soil from getting water logged the few times we get a huge rain storm each summer.
There are many other things to know about growing tomatoes but these are the things about tomato plants that no one thinks to tell new gardeners and beginning gardeners don’t know to ask. What are you learning about growing tomatoes?