Growing The King Of The Garden!
Tomatoes! Love them or hate them, you probably eat something throughout the year that contains them! So why not grow your own?
There are two categories of tomatoes…determinant and indeterminant.
Determinant tomatoes are simply tomatoes that grow to a specific size and put on a specific amount of fruit all at the same time. No matter what you do…you will never get more than what they are determined to do. These plants require support, but nothing too crazy. The Florida Weave is a very common way of supporting determinant tomatoes. These are great for growers in climates with shorter growing seasons or for those who like all their produce at one time for canning purposes.
Indeterminant tomatoes are quite the opposite. As long as you keep them healthy and supported, these plants will grow to indefinite size and keep putting on fruit at random times until your frost kills them. They require much more support to keep them growing. The varieties of indeterminant tomatoes seem endless and a majority of your heirloom varieties will be indeterminants.
Once you decide which plant type you are going with everything else is pretty much the same with minor exceptions. Here are the steps I follow with great success each year!
1. Pick your varieties! Read descriptions on seed packets, in seed catalogs or on the websites you are shopping! You want to find pest and disease resistant seeds if at all possible. It will just make your growing season so much more pleasant.
2. Start tomatoes early inside! I do this for a few reasons but mainly because I want a jump start on my tomato production. Also, if seeds don’t germinate, or something goes wrong with my seedlings, I have time to get another set going without being too far behind.
3. Get those plants out as soon as possible! Make sure to harden them off first…but get them in the ground! The sooner they are in the ground, the sooner you will have fruit! If you have a fluke frost come along you can throw a cloth over them and keep them safe. I always push the envelope and always have to use frost covering. But my tomatoes are ripening really early!
4. Planting! Make sure you plant in full sun! These little boogers need as much sun as possible to grow and produce ripe fruit! A little shade won’t hurt but at least 7-8 hours and if at all possible…even more!
When you plant, dig the hole deep and put the plant in as deep as you can. Of course, you have to leave some leaves above ground, but the deeper you plant, the stronger the root system will be. The plants are small and light at this point, but give them a couple of months and they will be tall and heavy with fruit. They need all the root system they can get!
Give your plants about 18″ – 24″ of space between them. I know the struggle of wanting to plant everything close together to get more in your garden. And, normally, I am all about it! Cram that stuff in! BUT…tomatoes need airflow around them to stay healthy. So…it is best to give yourself the space for them to grow and spread and still get enough air to keep them disease free.
5. Watering! Watering tomatoes is the trickiest part of growing them. You want to avoid getting water on their leaves. They will rebel and you will have diseased plants in no time. Of course…it will rain. You can’t help that. But, when you water, do so at the base of the plant. Water deep and consistently. The reason why tomatoes get blossom end rot is almost always because of inconsistent watering…not lack of calcium in the soil.
6. Pruning! This is where the difference comes in with determinant and indeterminant tomatoes. Indeterminant tomatoes need to have their suckers picked off. This will encourage the main plant to grow tall and strong and focus on fruit production. You also need to make sure you are pruning the bottom branches on indeterminant tomatoes to keep disease at bay the best you can. These plants are going to live throughout the whole growing season so you want them to stay as healthy as possible.
Determinant tomatoes do not get pruned…at all! You want the suckers to grow because that is how you are going to get the most harvest off your plant. They are going to set their fruit at a specific time and you want them to have as many branches to do this as possible. You do not need to prune the bottom branches off because by the time the disease sets in, your plant has likely set its fruit and is done. I still do keep them off the ground to some degree, but not nearly like I do with indeterminants.
7. Support! It is hard to imagine but some tomato plants can grow 6+ feet tall. They are going to need STRONG support! The branches will soon be so full of fruit that they can barely stand up. You need something strong to keep them from snapping!
Here is another small difference between determinant and indeterminant. Because they do not get as tall, determinant tomatoes will not need quite the structure to keep them supported. You will still need something, but you can probably get away with one of those cheapo tomato cages that you can buy at big box stores. Those are, in no way, going to work for an indeterminant tomato that you want to grow big!
8. Watch For Issues! At this you are just watching and waiting. If you see some pests or disease you will need to address them quickly. Aphids, tomato hornworms, blight…these are things to watch for.
Get ready…your tomatoes are on their way!
- Plant Deep.
- Give Them Elbow Room.
- Full Sun.
- Remove Bottom Leaves.
- Water At Base Of Plant.
- Support Well.
- Pinch Suckers.
- Water Consistently.
- Treat For Bugs And Disease As Needed.