You have your heart set on growing tomatoes (and even planned out your tomato garden) this gardening season and you want to make sure you are doing it right. Growing awesome tomatoes isn’t overly difficult but you do need to learn a few key things as to what makes them grow. Whether you are growing yellow pear tomatoes or large one pound tomatoes like Beeksteak, you will need to do the following few simple steps.
Here is a quick guide on how to grow awesome tomatoes right in your own backyard.
The first thing you need to know is when is your last frost date (as a general rule in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, Mother's Day is the safest date for planning). Tomatoes can handle the heat but they are not fans of the cold. If you are itching to start growing, order a few seed packets and start the seedlings indoors 4-6 weeks before the last frost date. If you are well into your growing season or don’t have the patience for seeds, head down to your local nursery and pick up a few varieties that you know your family will enjoy. Before you buy, gently lift the plant out of its plastic pot and inspect the roots. They should be a bright white and the soil should be moist. If they are a dirty brown and the soil is dried out, put it back unless you are an experienced gardener and can bring the plant back.
If you are direct sowing seeds into your garden, plant 1-2 seeds in a small hole. Use the tip of a pencil to make the hole, drop the seeds in, and then gently cover with soil. Plant tomato seeds or seedlings at least 12 inches apart in all directions. Tomatoes are very heavy eaters and need all the nutrients from the surrounding soil. The little hairs on the tomato plant are root hairs. Remove at least the lower leaves (1 or 2 sets) and bury the plant up until the third set of leaves. All those little hairs will develop more roots. The more roots the tomato plant has, the more tomatoes it will produce for you to eat!
Tomatoes need to be fertilized every 2-3 weeks during their growing season and monthly if they go dormant. Fertilize with compost, earthworm castings, blood and bone meal. You can also make a compost tea that they absolutely love! Invest in a good tomato cage or a tomato stake. The larger the tomato, the more it will need to be staked because as the fruit matures and gets heavy, it will start to droop towards the ground. Sometimes you won’t have to stake cherry or grape tomatoes with large cages but for these varieties it is ok to use a single tomato stake up the center that you can tie to if needed.
To naturally keep pests off your tomato plant, you might think about planting marigolds or onion chives nearby. If your tomato gets aphids or white flies, grab the hose and knock all the bugs off. Either buy or make your own organic insecticide soap and spray the top and bottom of the leaves and the surrounding soil. Do this for three days straight to kill any new insects that hatch. Lastly, you can buy ladybugs and their larvae and release them on your plants. Ladybugs and lacewings will keep unwanted pests at bay.
Follow these steps and you are on your way to growing awesome tomatoes this season!
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