Tomatoes are a staple plant in every organic garden, but what type to grow? There are so many colorful, delicious types from which to choose, you could spend an entire growing season just deciding what to plant! Well, we don’t want you to waste valuable gardening time, so we’ve prepared a handy little guide on growing tomato plants to help you decide.
Variety is the Spice of Life
When considering growing tomato plants, the first thing you need to decide is what types of tomatoes you like and how you want to use them. You can plant cherry, grape or currant tomatoes, which will provide sweet, ready-made snacks fresh off the vine. Or, you could choose beefier tomatoes, perfect for slicing and eating with or without a dash of salt. If you’re into canning, freezing and cooking, you could plant firm-flesh paste tomatoes. There are also heirloom tomatoes, which give delicious flavors, unique shapes and unusual colors. Whichever you choose be sure to harvest your tomatoes when they’re at their full color to enjoy them at the peak of their flavor.
Space & Place
Another thing to consider is the size of your garden space. You can choose vining tomatoes that spread out or compact plants that are perfect for patio container gardens. There are even tiny plants that grow in hanging baskets and produce delicious fruits all summer long. Heirlooms are known for their disease resistance. If you’re really into all of the uses for tomatoes we mentioned above, you can plant them all! Just plant some early-fruiting and late-fruiting plants, staggered throughout the season and enjoy delicious tomatoes all season long!
Tomatoes are sun-worshipers: they like about 6 – 8 hours of sun each day, so when growing tomato plants you want to make sure you plant them where they can get the sun they need. They also need breathing room of at least 2 – 3 feet between each plant. In addition to all of the different types of tomatoes, there are two categories of plants: indeterminate and determinate.
Indeterminate tomatoes produce fruits all season long. They also grow up to 12 feet tall and must be supported with cages or trellises. Determinate plants produce their fruits all at once. They’re more compact, bushy plants, growing from 1 – 4 feet tall. Determinate plants are perfect for container gardens and typically only need one stake to help keep them standing tall.
How to Build A Tomato Cage
In this video, Bridget and her husband Evan show us how they built two tomato cages, one for an enclosed raised bed and one for a ground-level raised bed. Whether your garden is big or small, make the most of your space with these tips and watch the full How to Build a Tomato Cage video on the Kellogg Garden Youtube Channel.
Tips To Growing Tomato Plants
Here are some helpful hints to make your tomato experience even easier:
1) Plant them where they can get about 6 – 8 hours of direct sunlight every day. Make sure the soil is well-drained.
2) Amend your soil with organic compost. This provides needed nutrients, increases soil moisture retention and adds helpful microbes.
3) Plant after the last average spring frost date for your area. Otherwise, a surprise frost could kill your plants. If cooler weather is predicted after you’ve planted, use frost cloth or a sheet.
4) Tomatoes need about 2 – 3 feet of space between each plant. This allows them to grow to their full size and the increased air circulation helps prevent disease.
5) Support your tomatoes with stakes or cages. You want to keep the fruits off the ground to cut down on insect damage. Keeping your plants upright also opens them to sunlight. Cage them when they’re small; they’ll grow through the cage and be perfectly supported.
6) When you plant them, take off the bottom leaves. Plant the bottom two-thirds of the stem, which will add more support while helping the plants get more sunlight and resist disease.
7) Keep your tomatoes well fed by lightly tilling in some balanced, organic slow-release fertilizer. Your plants will grow bigger and produce more delicious fruits.
8) Mulch your tomatoes with some compost, shredded leaves or straw. This keeps moisture in, preventing the soil from drying out in all that direct sunlight. You can make a basin with the mulch to help collect water.
9) Always water tomatoes in the morning. This helps prepare them for the day’s heat and allows the leaves to dry off before sunset, which prevents disease. If you can, use a drip irrigation system to water the plants at the bases only.
10) Manage pests by washing them off with a hose (in the mornings!) or applying an organic pesticide. Tomato hornworms eat a huge amount of leaves in the span of one evening. You can pick these pests off by hand.
For more tips on how to grow warm season veggies, check out our “Growing Warm Season Veggies” post and our “Foods You Can Regrow From Kitchen Scraps” post. We hope you enjoy planting and most of all eating your tomato harvest!