Tomatoes are a common plant in many gardens but they can also be a little tricky to grow in certain places. Learn more about what you need to grow big, beautiful tomatoes without chemicals or pesticides.
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If you have any experience gardening, you may have realized that growing tomatoes is a prized part of the world of growing your own produce. One of the main reasons so many gardeners flock to growing tomatoes is the taste!
Most of the produce found in the grocery store, is actually selected for qualities such as ability to be shipped long distances without spoiling. Produce is also selected for size, uniformity and ability to handle pesticides, herbicides and artificial fertilizers. Taste is NOT on this list.
Which is why many gardeners turn to growing their own. This article will talk about the different varieties, determinate vs. indeterminate, cooking qualities, how to grow and common pests that you may encounter.
Determinate vs. Indeterminate
There are two main ways that farmers and gardeners grow their tomatoes. Determinate varieties of tomatoes are, as the name implies, selected for and bred to grow in a certain way, often in a short bush-like shape that may not require extensive staking.
Indeterminate varieties of tomatoes are free vining. They often grow very tall or long, require staking to support the fruit and more wild in shape and quality. Determinate tomatoes will stop grow around 4 feet in length. Indeterminate tomatoes can grow over 20 feet! There are a few other qualities, such as the leaves on determinate are close to the stem and more frequent,
There are almost endless varieties. Tomatoes are bred and cultivated for many varieties. It depends on what you want your final tomato for and your growing area. One of the best varieties for the south (hotter climates) is the Grand Marshall which will set fruit in the heat of summer.
Want to make sauces? Look into the “paste” tomato varieties. Paste tomatoes are bred to have more flesh and less seeds, perfect for making ketchup, pasta sauce, salsa and things like that. Varieties include San Marzano and Amish Paste.
Growing in the more northern areas? Consider fast growing or good for transplanting varieties. Luckily, most tomatoes, are relatively easy to seed indoors and transplant outdoors. One tip is to bury more of the stem because the bottom “hairs” from the seedlings will make their own roots. Tomatoes are actually a tropical crop and thus the varieties you need for Northern area should be able to fruit rather quickly once set out. Harvest to Table has a good post on this. Consider varieties such as Black Prince and Glacier.
What do tomatoes need?
Tomatoes a heavy feeders. You will need a good amount of fertilizer, preferably organic, and excellent soil to grow tomatoes. You need loamy sand soil with plenty space to spread or be staked or trellised well, even the determinate varieties. Tomatoes produce a strong central root that is well attached to the main plant.
There are small hairs along most of the stem of the tomato plants. These hairs can be roots. I recommend when you are transplanting seedlings from indoors into the garden outside, you should bury part of the stem to give the plants the best start.
They also need plenty of sun, at least 6 hours of direct sunlight. When choosing where to plant tomatoes, consider shadows from trees, houses, etc. that might impact the number of hours of sun the plant will get. As subtropical plants, they also appreciate plenty of water and warm soil. Even if the threat of frost has past, you may want to wait a little longer until the soil is above 65F.
Companion Planting with Tomatoes
There are a few plants that make great companion plants with tomatoes. In general, many leafy herbs are excellent companions (basil, parsley) and brassicas are terrible companions (broccoli, cabbage). Other good companions includes alliums (garlic, onions, chives), carrots, amaranth, marigolds and nasturtiums. You can find more about companion planting in this book, “Carrots love tomatoes” <–affiliate!
If you have trouble growing tomatoes, I hope this article helps. However, there are some other plants you could consider growing if you struggle.
Common tomato pests
The difficult part of growing tomatoes is: EVERYONE loves tomatoes! I’ve written a post about common pests you might find in your garden. To be specific, there are lots of insects that will LOVE the tomatoes, plants, leaves, etc. that you are trying to grow. This is especially true if you live somewhere urban or choose to eliminate or reduce natural predators.
Tomato hornworms, leaf footed beetles, whiteflies and stink bugs are the most common pests I find in my garden. Since I strive to be organic, I choose to not use pesticides but you can and there are a few that will definitely reduce the populations of these insects. For hornworms, I remove them physically. Leaf-footed beetles I have spray with soap and also removed physically. White flies are new for me but they do not seem to be hurting the plant too much. Finally, stink bugs, I also spray with soap or remove physically.
The great thing about tomatoes is they are in SO MANY foods. You can make sauces, ketchups, paste, curries, chutney, sundried and many other ways. It is worth the effort of growing them. What plants do you like to grow for food?
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