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All About Tomatoes - Urban Farmer's Guide


Home > Gardener's Guide > All About Tomatoes

Introduction
Tomatoes

The USDA reports that each of us consumes close to 20 pounds of fresh tomatoes every year -- and for the lucky amongst us, even more. Americans have fallen in love with tomatoes since their acceptance in the early 1800s. With more than 7500 different varieties to satisfy anyones taste buds.

Starting Tomato Seeds
Tomatoes are almost always set out in the garden as transplants. It takes 6-8 weeks to grow a 4 to 6 inch transplant. Starting indoors sow tomato seeds about 1/8" inch deep, using seed starting soil. Set the flat in a warm place to speed up germination (top of fridge). As soon as the seedlings emerge, they need full sunlight to grow sturdy. Lack of sunlight causes the plants to grow "leggy". Use grow lights to supplement the amount of available sunlight. Plant several seeds in each container and thin to one plant per cell.

Before Planting
Tomatoes truly are sun worshippers, for they thrive on both heat and light. To flourish, they need full sun and less than three hours of afternoon shade. The soil temperature should be above 50F before planting for best germination rates, and they do best with soil temperatures in the 55-70F range. Tomatoes prefer a standard well-drained, moderately fertile soil and a middle-of-the-road pH of between 5.8 and 7.0. Since tomatoes require a lot of nutrients, most soils should be improved by adding two to three inches of compost.

Planting
Just prior to planting them in your garden, "harden them off" by bringing them outside during the daytime and increasing hours, until you are leaving them out overnight. On planting day, pour liberal amounts of water with a soluble liquid fertilizer on them. Both the roots and most of the stem should go into the hole. Only the top leaf cluster should protrude above the ground. Since tomato roots will grow from the stem, the plant will have a larger root structure, which has two advantages: it gives the plant a more stable base, and it allows the plant access to more nutrients. Normal spacing is 24 inches apart, in rows 30 to 36 inches apart.

Watering
Water often and deeply, soaking the soil six to eight inches deep at least twice a week. Tomatoes do not respond well to letting the soil dry out between waterings. If possible run a hose at the base of the plants. Its best to water in the morning so the soil has a chance to warm-up before the cooler evening hours set-in. Dont over-water tomatoes as this leads to lush foliage and less tomatoes.

Fertilizer
Tomatoes require a lot of nutrients. Fertilize one week before as well as on the day of planting. They especially love phosphorous, which promotes the formation of blossoms and the fruits or vegetables that grow from them. Avoid high nitrogen when your tomato plants have blossoms as it promotes vine growth rather than fruit growth.

Days to Maturity
Ranges from 55-85 days depending on variety.

Harvesting
Fruit that is fully ripened on the vine has a much fuller flavor than fruits that are picked early and then allowed to ripen. Many cherry tomatoes, however, have a tendency to crack if they stay on the plant, so they should be picked at the peak of redness. When daytime fall temperatures are consistently below 60F, fruit will no longer ripen on the vine.

Storing
Wash and dry your tomatoes before storing. Unless you're planning to store your tomatoes for over a week, a windowsill, counter-top or bowl works fine. If you know you won't use them in the next few days, then lower temperatures. There are three main methods for storing tomatoes long term including canning, freezing, and drying. All method will preserve the tomatoes for at least 8 months and up to a year or more.

Pests & Diseases
Tomatoes can experience insect problems with cutworms and a few other garden pests. Also, if not staked or caged, snails and slugs will munch on the ripening fruit. One great site to help investigate any tomato problems is the Tomato Gardening Guru.

Disease Resistance Abbreviations
Anth - Anthracnose; ASC - Alternaria Stem Canker; BSP - Bacterial Speck; F1 - Fusarium Race; LB - Late Blight; N - Nemotodes (root knot); St - Stemphylium (grey leaf spot); TMV - Tobacco Mosaic Virus; V - Verticillium Wilt

Tips
Know the growth habits of your tomato plants. They can grow into huge monsters or tiny pot plants. Find a good location for your tomato seeds that gets alot of sunlight. Try planting one or two plants next to your house which will allow for longer seasons because the soil is warmer.