Tomatoes are, perhaps, one of the most popular vegetables grown. From a field crop to patio pot, virtually every gardener or urban farmer has tried their hand at homegrown tomatoes. One reason for the tomato's popularity, even with rookie vegetable farmers, is how easy they are to grow. Rather than pick up a flat of young seedlings at a local store, start your own seeds. A prospective tomato gardener may wonder why starting from seed is better than purchasing a flat of seedlings. Here are a few reasons why:
- Quality control from the beginning.
- Greater cost-efficiency in planting a large assortment of multiple varieties.
- Availability of special and rare varieties not commonly sold through gardening retailers.
By planting seeds of tomato varieties that are not commonly sold at a local garden center, your tomato garden can soon be the envy of neighbors, family and friends. Tomatoes add a dash of ornamental color to patio gardens. A collection of multi-color varieties is a breathtaking sight to behold in any garden. Planting an edible rainbow is great fun for all ages. For an abundant harvest, these are the best planting practices to follow:
Sowing: Tomato seeds should be sown in starter pots or flats in an organic potting mixture formulated especially for starting seeds. Starting seeds indoors or outside are options determined by personal preference or space demands.
- When To Sow: Tomatoes love warm weather. End of Spring and early Summer are optimum growing season weather. They thrive in heat and most varieties produce until the first cool Autumn weather arrives, although some will produce longer. Take the time to become familiar with your particular geographical region.
- Sowing indoors: Determine when the last expected frost date is for your geographical region then backtrack 6 weeks for the best time to sow tomato seeds.
- Sowing outdoors: Although it is best to sow indoors in small starter pots, gardeners planning a large plot of tomatoes may desire to sow outdoors. Space for multiple large flats often necessitate starting seeds outdoors. 6-8 weeks before the last expected frost in your area is when to sow your seeds in starter flats. Place them in a warm spot (up to 80 degrees Fahrenheit) that will receive plenty of light.
Varieties In A Multi-Color Collection: Planting a multi-color collection will result in tomatoes of many hues, such as traditional reds, darker burgundy, bright yellow and orange, as well as curious stripes. Each variety will have a few particulars when it comes to care and production habits.
Yellow Pear: Expect small, cherry-sized, pear-shaped fruit, perfect for popping in your mouth whole or a bright garnish to greens and pasta.
- Height: 48-72 inches in height, vines will require the support of a trellis or stakes.
- Harvest: Ready for harvest 75 days after transplanting seedlings.
Cherokee Purple: This is a love or hate variety. You will either love the odd appearance of the dark fruit or hate it. But, regardless of how you feel about its looks, all will agree that each 10-12 ounce fruit is deliciously sweet.
- Height: Approximately 48 inches in height with an abundance of large fruit that will need adequate support and space.
- Harvest: Fruit will be ready about 75-90 days after transplanting seedlings.
Beefsteak: A favorite among all tomato lovers, the hefty 12-24 ounce fruit is the perfect slicing tomato for sandwiches, burgers and even salads. This meaty variety has long been associated with Americana culture.
- Height: Reaches about 48 inches in height at maturity and produces large, heavy fruit. Provide plenty of support.
- Harvest: Fruit begins appearing about 75-90 days after transplanting seedlings. Beefsteak varieties often continue to produce well into late Fall.
Yellow Brandywine: There is plenty of tomato to go around in a fruit that grows to about 9-16 ounces in size. Shades range from golden to vivid orange in a tomato that still tastes just like a tomato should. Gardeners do not have to sacrifice flavor for beauty.
- Height: Mature height is about 36-48 inches and will need the support of stakes or a trellis.
- Harvest: A slower to mature variety, Yellow Brandywine tomatoes are ready for harvest about 80-85 days after transplanting seedlings.
Red Zebra: If you are interested in curious ornamentals that have delectable flavor, this is the tomato for your garden. What's not to love about red and orange striped tomatoes that are meal size at about 6-8 ounces?
- Height: Mature height can vary from 36-48 inches and will require plenty of support.
- Harvest: As soon as 75 days after transplanting seedlings, you can begin harvesting and enjoying throughout the Summer season.
Large Red Cherry: This deliciously fun, snack size variety is widely popular. Why buy them at the market when it is easy to grow your own? Such a bright hue of red just begs to be picked and eaten right off the vine.
- Height: Don't let the lightweight quality of the fruit fool you. Mature plants can reach 48 inches in height and require support to remain healthy.
- Harvest: Fruit is ready about 75-80 days after transplanting seedlings.
Growing Tips: Once seeds are sown, an experienced gardener will know exactly what to expect. First-timers, however, will appreciate a few tips:
- Don't compact seed starter soil mixture.
- Cover seeds with about 1/2 inch of soil.
- Sow about 2-3 seeds in each starter pot.
- Rather than soak seed starter pots, spray or dribble water to moisten the top layer of soil thoroughly.
- Check pots daily because tomato seeds germinate quickly.
- Thin seedlings to the single, healthiest plant in the pot and begin introducing them to outdoor weather gradually.
- When the first set of true leaves appear, begin weekly fertilizing with a diluted solution that is half-strength.
- After threat of frost has passed (night-time temperatures remain above 55 degrees Fahrenheit), transplant to your outdoor garden, placing each seedling about 24 inches apart.
- To transplant, plant the bottom third of the seedling below the soil's surface. The submerged stem will produce roots that will help to firmly anchor the young plant.
Common Pests And Diseases: Here are 4 things to look out for as your tomato garden begins to grow lush and produce fruit:
- Aphids become a problem as their population grows. Beneficial insects, like lacewings and ladybugs, are the perfect solution. If unavailable in your area, try a plant and natural fat based insecticidal soap as a spray-on remedy.
- Cutworms, often called grubs, love to feast on young tomato plant stems. A protective collar of cardboard or aluminum foil wrapped around the stems of young plants at ground level will deter these pests.
- Damping off is the result of a number of viruses that can kill young seedlings. The first sign of trouble is usually a dark lesion on the stem at soil level. This disease most often occurs as the result of over-watering that leaves the soil too wet and cool.
- Fusarium wilt is caused by a soil-borne fungus. A plant can be infected and a gardener unaware up until time of harvest. Once fruit is mature, the foliage begins to turn yellow and wilt. Cool, damp conditions contribute to the growth of this fungus. Preventative measures include proper support and staking that will prevent overcrowding of vines and allow adequate air circulation.
Harvesting & Storage: Since healthy tomato plants produce throughout the growing season, it is important to practice good harvesting habits so as not to damage the plant. And then there is all that fruit! Here are some tips on how to pick and store your tomatoes:
- Leave fruit on the vine as long as possible.
- Select firm fruit, rich in its respective color with a hint of green at the stem.
- One hand should grip the fruit while the other grips the vine as you pluck the tomato with a slight twist and tug.
- If frost threatens and green tomatoes are on the vine, harvest and place in a paper bag to ripen at room temperature. Or cut the entire vine and hang in a dark place until tomatoes ripen.
- Harvested tomatoes should be stored at room temperature, not in the refrigerator.
- Harvested tomatoes are ripe and should be used as soon as possible. Inspect daily all harvested tomatoes and discard any that show signs of deterioration or rot.
- An overabundance of tomatoes can be used to make juice, tomato sauce, purees, etc. Or give a bagful away to neighbors, family and friends.
- When growing season is over, pull up plants by the roots. Cut them up into manageable sized pieces and add to a compost pile.
Order your multi-color tomato seed collection now and begin planning your garden. Serve fresh tomatoes throughout Fall. Have fresh tomatoes on hand for your favorite recipes. Enjoy dishes throughout Winter that include sauces derived from your very own homegrown tomatoes. It's an American tradition!
Here’s hoping that this year, by following your advice, I can actually get a good yield. In years’ past, my tomato plants have only yielded cherry tomato sized fruit no matter the variety.