How to grow tomatoes

Date: 
04/14/2013
fourthJuly

One of the most popular vegetables to grow is the tomato.

They can be grown in the garden, in containers on a balcony or on the patio. They are varieties in all sizes to suit all growing conditions.

One thing they all have in common is a need for sun. If you have a suitable place they can be grown from seed, I recommend that but if not, purchase plants from a suitable nursery. 

I personally grow about three varieties. "July Fourth" is an early variety that produces small fruits. My first harvest is usually at the end of June or beginning of July. "Alicante," which is another small fruited variety also produces an early crop. This variety is somewhat difficult to obtain. 

BuskEarlyGirl

Bush Early Girl

For the main crop I grow "Bush Early Girl," which has larger fruit and grows very well. 

"Big Mama" is another favorite of mine. It produces a very large-sized plum tomato which is excellent for making sauce and tomato soup, which I freeze for the winter. 

I have facilities for growing my plants from seed and I start them in 4 inch pots putting about four seeds in each pot. They usually germinate in about a week or ten days. 

After they have germinated and started to grow, I select the strongest plant in the pot and remove the rest. I do not pull the weaker ones out but cut them off at soil level with a small pair of scissors. This avoids disturbing the roots on the one you want and the unwanted ones die off. 

 

BigMama

This is "Big Mama"

Planting Times
I start my early tomatoes mid-March in the basement under heat and grow lights, about mid April when they are established and are growing well, I put them into an outside cold frame for a couple of weeks. When I plant them in their final positions in the garden, I protect them with a Wall-O-Water insulating tepee. 

These absorb heat from the sun during the day and release it at night protecting the plants from the frost. I leave these surrounding the plants until all danger of frost has passed, which in Chicago is mid- to late-May. 

I trim the side shoots off on these early tomatoes and let them only have one main stem which I train up an eight foot stake; you lose the quantity but tend to get an earlier crop. 

Main Crop
I start the seeds in early April as described above, removing weaker plants and leaving one plant per pot. They are harden off in the frame or on the back patio for a couple of weeks in late May, putting them out in their final positions in the garden in early June. Using tomato cages, I support the plants. Ones from Gardeners Supply are my preference. They are 14 inches square and 40 inches tall and fold flat for storage. 

They are stackable although I have never tried that, fearing they might get top-heavy. They also make a smaller version for eggplant and peppers etc. 

Spacing
Allow plenty of room between the main crop plants. Last year I didn't allow enough room and had a tomato jungle!  At least 3 feet between plants is preferable, although the early plants can be closer, if you trim the side shoots off as explained earlier. 

Fertilizing 
Tomatoes require feeding particularly if grown in containers, there are many brand name tomato fertilizers on the market I use “Miracle Grow” but have tried different types. 

Container Growing
I have no experience in growing in containers but there are many varieties of tomatoes suitable for this. 

Sources
This is a list of sources that I use, but there are many others: 

Your local Garden Center 

Seeds and plants

Accessories Cages Stakes etc 

 

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