Watching juicy red tomatoes growing on plants is one of the most pleasurable sights to watch.
Harvesting them and making some awesome recipes with them makes it even better. But it really is hard work.
Maybe you’ve tried to grow tomatoes without success. Maybe your plants never bore fruit. Or maybe they did but not the juicy delicious results that you wanted.
And you’re trying to figure out what you can do to get the tomatoes you want.
This guide will help you learn all there is to know about growing your own tomatoes. So get ready to learn some new things and grow some healthy and beautiful tomato plants.
What you should know about a tomato plant
You may already have made up your mind on the type of tomatoes you want to grow. Or maybe you’re still thinking about it.
Let’s take a look at some of the characteristics of a tomato that can help you make a choice.
Shape and size
The first thing you’ll notice about a tomato is the shape and size.
You can get tomatoes that are completely round or flattened at the stem and blossom end. You could also find tomatoes that have pear or oval shapes.
When it comes to the size of tomatoes you will find they range from a few ounces to a few pounds.
So choose the tomatoes you want to grow based on how they appeal to you based on their shape and size.
This will also help you decide on how you want to use the tomatoes in your recipes. The small tomatoes like cherry tomatoes are great as pizza toppings. They also work well in kebabs, salads, and omelettes.
Those that weigh a few ounces are good in salads as well as breakfast dishes. And the ones that weigh a few pounds work great in sandwiches and are hence known as slicing tomatoes.
You might pick a tomato plant to grow based on the color of the tomato fruit it produces. And there are a ton of different colors to pick from.
Tomatoes can be found in a variety of colors like black, white, red, pink, yellow, orange, green, purple, and brown. There are also varieties that have a mix of two colors that makes them fascinating to grow for their beauty.
Tomatoes that are red in color are the most common ones you find in the market. The color of a tomato is based on the color of the flesh and the skin covering the flesh. For the red tomatoes, the skin has a yellow color and the flesh is crimson. This gives the tomato it’s red color.
In some tomato varieties, the skin has a very pale color and the flesh being crimson makes the tomatoes look pink.
Tomato variants that have a lot of chlorophyll still present near their stem region after they ripen appear green in color.
If the skin color of such tomatoes is yellow, you will find the color of the tomato appears brown.
You can also find tomatoes that are yellow or orange in color. Some might be so pale that they have a white appearance.
If you look at the striped tomatoes they are one of the most colorful and interesting varieties. Some of these have vertical stripes on the skin. The most common combination is a red tomato with golden stripes.
But now you can even find variations like green and gold, purple and green and several others.
You grow tomatoes because you want to enjoy their taste. And you can be spoilt for the choice you get when it comes to the flavor of the tomato.
Some tomatoes contain a lot of sugar and will taste sweet. Others have less of the sugar and will be more tart.
Some of the tomatoes will give a full flavor while others will be a bit more mild.
As you can see there are a lot of combinations that will give the tomatoes complexity in their flavor and the one you choose is entirely subjective to your preference.
Your choice of tomatoes will also be based on the texture of the skin, the flesh to gel ratio, the amount of seeds in the tomato, and how juicy and tender it is.
You can grow tomatoes based on the type of seeds the plant produces. This could be hybrid, open-pollinated, or heirloom.
Tomato plants can pollinate themselves to grow fruit. But hybrid tomatoes are created by applying the pollen of one tomato plant to the pistil of another tomato plant.
This allows to create a tomato plant that has the dominant characteristics of two different plants.
The advantage of creating hybrid tomatoes is you can create more disease resistant plants. However this comes at the cost of flavor and fewer varieties in most of the cases.
Hybrid tomatoes are created by mass producing companies to protect the plants from diseases that may affect a certain region and to make it easier for harvesting machines to harvest the tomatoes.
If you only care about growing a lot of tomatoes for your consumption and are not interested in saving seeds or the history of the plants then you can consider growing hybrid tomatoes.
Heirloom tomatoes are open-pollinated tomatoes that have unchanged genetic material for years. They are considered as heirloom because they have a history and story behind growing them.
The heirloom tomatoes could have been started by families or by seed companies.
The advantage that heirloom tomatoes have is they come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors that you won’t get in hybrid ones.
And a true heirloom tomato plant has a history associated with it that makes it a wonderful collection if you’re interested in such things.
The type of tomato plant you should grow is heavily influenced by the growth of the plant.
If you have a large garden you will be able to grow sprawling plants but if not you have to settle for a smaller type or a dwarf type.
There are three main types of tomato plants based on their growth: indeterminate, determinate, and dwarf.
There are the main type of tomato plants that can keep growing as long as the plant is kept alive during the growing season.
The main stem of the plant grows suckers at a 45 degree angle of the branches. And these suckers act as stems and grow more suckers. This makes the plant get a lot of foliage and produce a lot of fruit. If tied to grow vertically these plants can reach up to 10 feet during the growing season.
And the more foliage the plant has the better is the flavor of the tomato fruit it produces.
The determinate variety of tomato plants are not that common because they are genetic modifications.
They look like the indeterminate plants when they are seedlings but due to genetic limitations they can only grow up to a certain level.
This makes these plants suitable for container gardening or cage gardening where the length of the plant is to be limited.
Because these plants have a high fruit to foliage ratio many of them don’t have the intense flavor in the fruit that the indeterminate plants provide.
And the harvesting window for such determinate plants is limited which means you can get a lot of fruit in a small period of time.
Dwarf tomato plants are relatively less common than the determinate and indeterminate varieties.
They have a short but thick stem from the time they are seedlings and they remain short during the growing season as well. This makes them reach just a height of 3 to 5 feet.
They are ideal for growing in a garden with small spaces because of their small growth and high yield.
The foliage to fruit ratio is high which means the fruit of these plants tends to be packed with a lot of flavor.
How to plan your tomato garden
A well thought out plan will help you get the best harvest from your tomato plants.
The best time to plan your tomato garden is in the winter when the seed catalogs start arriving in the mailbox.
If you live in a place with a long growing season you can start planting mid-summer. Otherwise you need to be careful and start planting based on when the best temperatures will hit your garden.
You have two choices when planning your tomato garden. You can start from seeds or you can buy seedlings and plant those.
The advantage of starting your own seeds is you get a ton of choices when it comes to the shape, size, color, and type of tomatoes you can grow. You also get to enjoy the anticipation of growing your own plants and harvesting the fruit from them.
If you don’t have the time and inclination to start from seeds you can consider buying seedlings. Your choice will be a lot limited on which tomatoes you can grow but that has been getting better over the past few years.
Starting your plants from seed
Starting your plants from seed is not that difficult as long as you take care of some important factors such as the climate, sun, moisture, location, and the type of container you use.
The most difficult choice when it comes to starting plants from seed is the choice you need to make from the variety available.
You can get the seeds from seed catalogs by big or small companies, websites selling seeds, seed sharing organizations, and even friends.
Do your own research before buying especially from new companies that may price seeds higher based on them being “organic” or “hand selected”.
If the seeds you saved or purchased are more than 10 years old you may have to plant several of them so that some can germinate.
One important factor for starting seeds is the planting mix that you use. The best you can use is soilless mix that is porous to retain enough moisture but drain out the excess.
Planting mix containing perlite, bark ash, peat moss works the best for starting seeds.
Don’t make the mistake of using purchased or your own garden soil because excess clay will not allow enough moisture and air to reach the roots of the seedlings and suffocate them.
Such soil can also contain harmful virus or bacteria that can prevent the seedlings from growing or grow plants that contain disease in them.
There are a variety of containers you can use when starting from seed. This could be as simple as yogurt containers, planting pots, or egg cartons.
The important thing is that these containers should allow excess water to drain out from the bottom. And these containers should be cleaned out before you use them to prevent any diseases from reaching the seedlings.
If you’re reusing containers you can wash them out with 1 part of bleach mixed with 9 parts of clean water.
Tomato seeds don’t need light to germinate but they do need light once seedlings are growing.
You can provide this light simply by placing the seedlings on a window that receives good sunlight. Or you can purchase inexpensive shopping lights that can be placed directly over the seedlings and moved up or down as required.
Just remember that you don’t need to keep the lights on for the whole day. Start the lights as your day begins and turn them off when you go to sleep.
To keep the temperature optimally between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit for your tomato seeds you can use a heating mat. This will ensure the right temperature even if the actual temperature fluctuates.
It’s important that the seeds get plenty of moisture when they are germinating. But too much moisture will cause disease in the seedlings while too little moisture will not allow the seedlings to grow.
You can place a dome or tent on top of the seeds as they are germinating to allow the moisture to build up. But remember to remove the top occasionally to allow air to circulate and permanently once the seedlings are all growing.
When you are starting from seed you can place the containers on a table or on top of the refrigerator or a location of your choice. But once the seedlings have emerged you need to place them where there is sunlight available or make use of grow lights.
Once you have started your setup to grow from seeds you can monitor it every few days to see how it’s progressing.
Once the seeds have germinated and growing into seedlings you need to check on them every day to make sure everything is going well.
The worst thing you can do with your tomato seedlings is to put them in a cold environment where they will die.
Seedlings need to go through a process where they harden from having a fragile stem to being strong and robust.
There are two stages you need for such hardening. The first is to move the seedlings into direct sunlight before the transplantation process. This will harden the seedlings up to a certain level.
The second is to move the seedlings into a site that has shade for a couple of days. This will harden the seedlings and protect them from the shock of transplanting.
Once you have the seeds planted you need to take care of them. One of the important things to look at is moisture.
The seedlings that sprout have shallow roots and you need to provide them enough water every time they dry out. You can provide the water by placing the seedling containers in a larger container that holds water so the seedlings absorb moisture from the bottom.
Or you need to water the soil from the top taking care that you do not splash water on the foliage which can lead to diseases.
Too much moisture is a bad thing for your seedlings as it can lead to damping where the stem of the seedlings near the soil clamps down and does not allow nutrients to reach the top of the plant.
You need to make sure that the container is sterile before you use it. Also use good planting mix and water that is clean and free from disease.
You don’t really need to transplant the seedlings before you move them into your garden. However transplanting does have some benefits.
When you transplant the seedlings from their containers to a pot you allow them to grow strong and robust. Their roots grow well and deep into the soil making them stronger.
This will allow you to move the seedlings to the garden without the elements affecting them as much because they are already much stronger.
You do need to ensure that you don’t put the plants immediately in direct sunlight after the transplanting. You can allow them a few days in shade before you move them to direct sunlight.
Starting your plants from seedlings
Maybe you don’t want to start your plants from seeds. Maybe the germination from seeds failed. Or maybe you don’t have the time and space to start from seeds.
In such situations, you can purchase seedlings from seedling companies, small seedling suppliers, or farmers markets.
The advantage of starting your plants from seedlings is that you can save yourself a lot of time and effort if you were to start from seeds.
You may also grow a lot of seeds but not want to plant so many of them. With seedlings you can make sure you purchase just the right amount.
When starting from seeds you need to plan correctly and ensure the plants are ready based on when the weather has warmed up in your area. With seedlings you can just purchase them just as the weather is suitable for growing the plants.
The disadvantage of purchasing seedlings is that you will have far less choice when it comes to the types of heirloom tomatoes you would like to grow. You may not even get the tomatoes that you actually wanted.
You need to be careful when you order seedlings because they can get damaged in the shipping.
You should also do enough research before buying the seedlings to check they are not damaged. Check that the foliage is not wilted or dried out. Also there should not be too many flowers and fruit on the plants.
The seedlings should not be bigger than the container they are planted in indicating that the roots have not been given enough growing space.
You should also check that the seedlings have been allowed enough time after transplantation so that the hardening process has already set in. Otherwise the stem will be too weak and get damaged the moment you plant them.
Keeping a log
When you start planning your tomato plants in the winter you can record those plans in a log that could be a simple notebook or a worksheet on your computer.
The idea is to put your plan on paper so you can plan things like the position of the plants in your garden, the planting and harvesting dates, the size, shape, color of the tomatoes you planted and more details.
As the seasons move forward and you work with the plants you can record the progress in your preferred method of logging.
Keeping such a log will help you understand the things that go right and wrong with your planning. Maybe your plants did well so you can understand the things you did right and use them in the next season. Maybe some of them did not do too well and you can observe the things that did not work out and change then next season.
How to grow tomatoes in your garden
There are many ways to grow tomatoes and there is no right or wrong way. This depends on the type of soil, conditions, weather, and other factors that may influence the tomato plants in your garden.
Planting in the ground
The traditional method of growing plants is to go out in the garden and dig up a rectangular area of the garden.
You can then add compost to this area, dig holes, plant the seedlings, and drive stakes in to provide support to the plants.
Space your plants
You need to provide the right amount of space between the plants and ensure they don’t crowd each other.
If you are growing dwarf plants or allowing plants to grow vertically it will provide the best space for the plants to grow.
If you leave the plants to grow as they like you don’t need to bother much about maintenance but then you need a really large gardening space.
You can also use cages for your plants which will allow the plants to keep space between each other and provide good air circulation as well.
There are a lot of variation you can try out in your garden when it comes to keeping space between the plants and still allowing them to grow in the best way possible.
Check the drainage
Your soil needs to have the right materials so that it retains moisture but drains away the excess water. Too much water will drown the plants or introduce diseases while too little water will wilt the plants and kill them.
You can dig a hole in your garden and check the layers in it. The topsoil that is the crumbly rich porous material should at least be there for a few inches. Below that there could be a layer of clay or rocks.
Fill the hole you just dug with water and check how quickly it drains. If it takes about an hour to drain it means the soil has good drainage. If it takes more than a day it means your soil has poor drainage.
If your soil does not drain well you will either need to try in another area of your garden or consider creating a raised bed.
If your soil has too much sand and is draining the water too fast you need to add compost to your soil and improve its moisture retention.
Check the pH levels
The pH level indicates the acidic or alkaline levels of the soil in your garden. This ranges from 0 which means highly acidic to 14 which means highly alkaline.
To grow tomato plants you need a soil that is slightly acidic and ranging on the scale from 6.2 to 6.8.
Too much acidic soil will not allow nutrients like potassium and magnesium to remain in the soil and slow down the growth of the plants. Too much alkaline soil will not allow the plants to absorb the essential nutrients from the soil.
You need to make use of a pH soil test to determine the pH levels of your garden soil. You could use your local Extension Service to do this for you or get an inexpensive soil test kit and do it yourself.
If your soil is too acidic you can lower the acidity by using ground limestone. If your soil is too alkaline you can improve the acidity by adding sulfur. How much you need to add of these is based on the pH test and the recommendations it provides.
Provide nutrients to the soil
Your tomato plants are going to need nutrients to grow well. And the most essential nutrients are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
You can get fertilizers that contain each of these nutrients. On the bags you may notice NPK values such as 5-10-5. So if you have a 100 pound bag of such fertilizer, it means there are 5 pounds of nitrogen(N), 10 pounds of phosphorus(P), and 5 pounds of potassium(K).
Tomato plants need a higher level of phosphorus and potassium than nitrogen in the soil. You could also add these nutrients individually in the soil but you need to be careful how much you add.
The amount of each nutrient you add in the soil should be based on a soil test you can carry out. This should be either with the help of your local Extension service or using an inexpensive soil test kit.
If you find that the nitrogen in the soil is lacking you can use urea or bloodmeal to increase it. If you want to increase the phosphorus levels in the soil you can add rock phosphate or bonemeal. And to increase the potassium levels in the soil you can use greensand or potash.
You can also get some organic variants for such fertilizers such as fish emulsions and seaweed preparations.
Improve the soil with compost
The best way to improve your soil whether it has too much sand or clay is to use compost.
Compost is made up of materials that contain essential organisms that help provide nutrients to the soil as well as improve its texture. This allow the soil to retain enough moisture for the plants but drain out the excess. It also allows good air circulation that is essential for the proper growth of roots.
You can make your own compost using animal manure, dried leaves, grass clippings, kitchen waste and other options. Or you can buy some good ones at your local gardening store.
Mulch your garden
One of the easiest ways your tomato plants can get infected is if bacteria filled soil splashes on to the foliage as you are watering the plants. And mulching your garden can prevent such problems.
You can use grass clippings, hay, newspaper or any other material that will allow water to percolate through it and reach the soil. You could also use non-biodegradable material like plastic or stones as mulch. But if you use bio-degradable material you get the benefit that it slowly decomposes and acts as compost. Of course you need to keep adding such mulch every year as it runs out.
Mulching can also help protect your garden from weeds because it blocks the sunlight from reaching the weed seeds and kills them.
Planting in a raised bed
If you have soil that is poor in material or that does not drain well you can consider planting your tomato plants in a raised bed.
You select an area of your garden and elevate it using materials such as a mixture of topsoil and compost. This helps to create a rich nutrient dense raised bed in your garden.
You can create the raised bed by just placing such material to create a bed. Or you can use an enclosing structure made up of wood, metal, or concrete to enclose the material. You need to keep the width enough to plant the tomatoes but also provide you easy access to the plants.
The advantage of growing plants in a raised bed is it is more organized, clean, and you can separate which plants you want to grow in each raised bed. The temperature is also maintained better in a raised bed garden than an in-ground one.
The disadvantage of raised beds is you need to spend more money upfront to create the raised beds. You also need to maintain the raised beds every year by adding more compost and material.
Planting in a container
If you don’t have sufficient space in your garden or cannot plant the tomatoes in a place with good sunlight, you can plant them in a container.
You can plant almost all types of tomato plants in a container as long as you provide them good space to grow and a good support structure.
With container gardening you can have your tomato plants in the patio, driveway, or any place near your house that gets sunlight.
The advantage of using containers is you are not restricted for space. You don’t have to worry about diseases in the soil or having poor soil in the garden. Containers are also good to provide warmth to the plants faster than when they are planted in the garden. This means you get faster growth and a good yield.
The disadvantage of using containers is you need to spend a bit of money on the containers. You also need to make sure the containers are sterile before you use them otherwise you risk adding disease to your plants. You need to use a good potting mix for your tomato plants in the containers. And you need to provide a good support structure to the plants when they have grown bigger so they don’t topple over.
You also need to ensure the plants are getting adequate moisture in the containers. On hot days, you may need to water the plants every day to provide them the moisture they need.
You need to provide adequate area to the plants so they can grow unhindered. So for the large, indeterminate tomato plants you need a 10 gallon container while for the smaller determinate or dwarf tomato plants a 5 gallon container should be sufficient.
You can buy the cheap plastic containers used in nurseries for shrubs and trees and use them. Or you can make use of grow bags that are durable and can be reused several times. You can use clay pots but the problem is during summer they tend to lose a lot of moisture because they are porous.
How to take care of your tomato plants
You’ve done the hard work of planting the tomato plants whether in ground or in a raised bed or container. You’ve taken care of the soil and added the required compost and nutrients to it.
You’ve also added the mulch to protect your plants from disease, weeds and help the soil retain moisture.
Now you just need to take care of the plants till they grow and provide you the fruits for harvesting.
Staking the plants
The first thing you need to consider is providing support to the tomato plants by staking. Tomato plants are naturally weak and as they grow tall and bear fruit they can no longer bear their weight.
The indeterminate tomato plants can grow up to 8 feet in height while the determinate or dwarf plants can grow up to 4 feet in height. You need to provide stakes that are of the appropriate height so that the tomato plants don’t topple over.
You could let the tomato plants sprawl on the ground which saves you the effort and gives a big yield. But the problem is you need to use the right amount of mulch or your plants will be damaged by disease and pests like slugs. It will be difficult to traverse through the plants while harvesting and you’ll end up damaging the plants.
You can choose stakes that are sturdy and can be hammered into the ground. There are stakes available in plastic, metal, and wood variations.
You can put the stake in the ground or the container as you plant the tomato plants. Then as the plants grow you need to loosely tie the plants to the stake every 6 to 12 inches depending on how much support the plant needs.
Even if you grow in containers you can consider placing the containers in the garden where you can put the stakes in the ground and provide support to the plants.
Caging the plants
Since tomato plants are not typically pruned, caging them can help get a good yield while providing them sufficient space to grow.
The caging material can be reinforced concrete wire that is sturdy enough to hold the plants. This material also has enough space between the wires to allow easy access to the tomato plants and the fruits. The cages should be at least 4 to 5 feet in height so the plants can grow comfortably in them.
You will need to place stakes at opposite ends of the cage so that it can hold the plant once it grows into its full size so it does not topple over.
The best way to place the cage is so that the seedling is in the center. You should place a stake in the center to provide vertical support to the growing plant. And you have the two stakes at the opposite ends of the cage to keep the cage strong so it does not topple.
You should also keep at least a foot of space between the cages so you can allow the plants enough breathing space as well as easily access the plants.
Pruning the tomato plants
Whether you should prune the plants or not and how much depends on the type of tomato plants you choose.
If you have the indeterminate type that can keep on growing you may have to think about pruning to provide the plants good air circulation as well as to maintain the right amount of growth.
Indeterminate tomato plants grow suckers at a 45 degree angle between the main stem and the leaf stem. And these suckers can grow additional suckers. This helps the plant increase the yield as well as the foliage. The yield increases the survival chances of the plant and the foliage protects the fruit from intense sunlight.
If you feel that the suckers have grown a lot and are restricting the airflow you should prune them and provide more breathing space to the plant.
Determinate tomato plants grow till a certain level and are in a way self-pruning so you don’t need to worry about pruning them. The same can be said of dwarf tomato plants that are limited in their growth so you don’t have to worry about pruning. If you find that some foliage is blocking airflow through the plants you should still consider pruning some of the branches.
Topping off the indeterminate plants could also be beneficial to them. You can use a good pair of shears and cut the top of the plant that has grown beyond the stake. This will help the plant focus on fruits and flowers that are growing in the season and prevent the plant from toppling over due to excessive weight at the top.
Watering the plants
Tomato plants need sufficient water to grow at their best. If you have planted in a garden bed you may not have to worry much about watering if your garden gets a good amount of rainfall.
If you have some good mulch on your garden bed it will also help retain moisture for a longer period of time. And tomato plants with a well developed root system also get moisture from the soil even if the ground seems dry.
If you find your plants are getting dry and wilting you should consider deep watering about once a week. If you don’t want to spend the time and effort watering you can consider a drip irrigation system.
If you have tomato plants in containers you will need to water them more often. This is because the soil in containers is less and it tends to dry out quicker.
When you have planted seedlings in the containers, they won’t need as much water and you can consider watering each week. But once the plants are fully developed you will need to water every day in the morning. In case the weather turns too hot you may need to water twice every day in the morning and late afternoons.
Fertilizing your tomato plants
The nutrients that you tomato plants need are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Under ideal conditions, they need it in the ratio of 1:4:2.
This means a higher amount of phosphorus is needed by tomato plants and less nitrogen. Too much nitrogen increases the foliar growth but lowers the nutrients for the fruit.
How much fertilizer you need to add to your plants depends on the deficiency of the nutrients in your soil. You need to use a soil test first to determine how much of each nutrient your fertilizer should contain.
If you have planted in a garden bed you don’t need to add fertilizer as often as you would in a container. This is because when you water plants in a container the nutrients tend to wash out and you need to keep adding more.
You may not need to add fertilizer if you make your own compost and add it to the soil. This will again be determined by the soil test that indicates if there is any nutrient deficiency in the soil.
Whether you should use organic or chemical fertilizers is really based on you preference as well as your experience in the garden. Use whatever you are comfortable with and what works best for your garden.
How much fertilizer you need to use depends on your experience with the garden. You can start with applying the fertilizer every few weeks and once your plants are fully grown you may increase the frequency to every week.
How to harvest your tomatoes
You’ve done all the hard work and now it’s time to reap the rewards from it.
You’ve been patient while planting the seeds and taking care of the plants. Now you’re waiting for the harvest and it begins slowly.
You see a flash of red in the lower foliage of the plants and are excited to start plucking the ripe, juicy fruit for the dinner table.
When to pick the tomatoes
The best time to pick tomatoes are when they are ripe and you’re going to immediately use them.
However, knowing when a tomato is best to pick needs some trial and error on your part. If you’re planting for the first time you will get the experience of whether you picked the tomatoes at the right time or not.
The more plants you harvest the better you will get at knowing which variety you can pick at which time.
You can pick tomatoes when they are raw and use a ripening agent such as the ethylene gas that apples produce to ripen the tomatoes. However their flavor will be inferior to those that ripen on the vine.
You can also pick tomatoes when they are close to fully ripe and then let them ripen on the shelf. This will allow you to get tomatoes that have almost the same flavor as those ripened on the vine.
One of the major factors that determine when you should pick the tomatoes is the flavor.
A tomato that is just short of being fully ripe is going to be a little tart and have a crunchy texture to it. A tomato that is fully ripe will have a higher level of sweetness and have a soft texture. A tomato that gets overripe will be very sweet but tend towards blandness and the texture may be mushy.
Texture can be used to determine if the tomatoes are ripe enough to be picked. When you press the tomatoes they should feel firm but still be soft. Some modern varieties are bred to be quite firm even when they are ripe and you need to be experienced enough to judge them for picking.
If you’re an experienced gardener you may be able to know when a tomato is ripe just by smelling them. But as a beginner this might not be the best criteria to determine if a tomato is ready for the picking.
One of the characteristics that can help you determine the ripeness of a tomato is the color. But even this is not easy in situations and will need your experience as a gardener.
The color of a tomato depends on its genes and you can get a variety of colors like red, orange, pink, yellow, white, black, purple, and brown based on the level of carotenoids in the flesh and the chlorophyll in the skin.
Even an experienced gardener can have trouble determining when a yellow tomato has ripened to its full extent.
A tomato can be harvested on a range of spectrum before it is fully ripened and this depends on the taste you prefer. So once you’ve gone through a few harvests you will know which taste you prefer and harvest the tomatoes at that particular time of their ripeness levels.
How to store the tomatoes
If you have planted more than a few tomato plants in your garden, you will get a ton of tomatoes in the harvesting season.
You will be overwhelmed on how to store the tomatoes and consider things like storing them in the refrigerator. But this is not the best choice because tomatoes lose their texture and flavor when they are in a cool environment.
You can keep it on the shelf and use them before then turn overripe. However you would do better to keep them stem side down because this blocks air from entering the tomatoes and keeps them fresher for a longer period of time.
If you have too many tomatoes than you can consume, consider sharing it with family and friends. You can also use some of the tomatoes for saving the seeds to be used for the next planting season.
You can also learn some new recipes and techniques that will help you preserve the tomatoes and use them even days after the harvest.
How to save the tomatoes and seeds
Once you’ve harvested the tomatoes and consumed some of them you may have several remaining that you can use in the further seasons. You can also save seeds from the varieties you enjoyed and use them in the next planting season.
Preserving the tomatoes
Even after consuming a lot of tomatoes you harvested and giving some away to family and friends, you may have several left.
You don’t want them to spoil and go to waste so the next best thing you can do is to preserve them.
There are several ways of preserving the tomatoes such as freezing them, dehydrating them, storing their juice, or making a sauce.
Freezing the tomatoes
You can select the tomatoes that are free from any damage then wash and dry them up. You can then put them in ziplock freezer bags and store them in the freezer.
The best way to use them after unfreezing is to chop them up and put them in soups, sauces, and stews. The frozen tomatoes don’t retain the texture of freshly picked ones but they do retain the intense flavor.
The only thing you need to worry about is that your freezer needs to have ample of space for storing such frozen tomatoes.
Juicing the tomatoes
If you enjoy tomato sauces for your pasta you can consider juicing the tomatoes and preserving them.
The best way to do this is to use a good quality tomato strainer that will separate out the seeds and the skin from the juice.
You should either cook the tomatoes before putting them through the strainer or get the juice from the raw tomatoes and then cook the juice till you get a thick sauce.
The juice or sauce that you get from this process can be frozen or canned for later use during the cold season.
Dehydrating the tomatoes
If you enjoy sun-dried tomatoes you will enjoy the ones created after the dehydration process. You can either use an oven or a dehydrator for the dehydration process.
Such tomatoes can be used as toppings in pizza, omelettes, or frittatas and they taste wonderful.
If you are going to use an oven you need to use a low temperature and carefully monitor the tomatoes. You need to cut the tomatoes into thin slices and space them apart for the dehydration. It will take about 6 to 12 hours in the oven with a low temperature to dehydrate the tomatoes depending on the thickness of the slices and the oven you use.
This process works best with meaty tomatoes so that there is sufficient flesh remaining after the dehydration process.
You could also use a dehydrator for this process and it will take about 8 hours till the tomatoes are ready.
Once the tomatoes are dehydrated you can store them by freezing, or as is, or in oil based on your needs.
Canning your tomatoes
If you want to save a lot of your tomatoes for the winter season and don’t mind extra work then you can consider canning the tomatoes.
It is quite a lot of work and at the end you get a small canned quantity out of a large supply of tomatoes. So you really need to have the time and inclination and enjoy the process.
However, once you use those canned tomatoes as part of your recipes in the cold seasons of fall and winter you may find it worth the effort.
Saving the seeds of your tomato plant
You will want to save the seeds from the tomato plants you would like to grow for the next season.
The best time to get the tomatoes for saving the seeds is as soon as the first tomatoes start to ripen. This will avoid problems such as getting tomatoes seeds that have been cross-pollinated by bees and you end up with tomatoes plants you did not expect.
You can even choose tomatoes that have ripened but are not in the best of condition. This is because the seeds of a healthy plant remain good regardless of the condition of the fruit from which you took them.
Saving unfermented seeds
This is a simple method of saving seeds where you don’t need to do too much work.
Just cut the tomatoes and extract the seeds from them. Then rinse the seeds a bit and push them through a sieve to remove any pulp on them.
You then put the seeds in a single line on a piece of absorbent paper such as newspaper or paper towels. The seeds will dry out in about a week and you can then peel them off and store them.
This method is good if you want to save a few seeds and don’t mind the extra bits of paper stuck on the seed. It does have the problem that if there are any diseases on the surface of the seeds they will not be removed.
Saving fermented seeds
Saving fermented seeds has the advantage that you can get rid of pathogens on top of the seed as well as inside the coating.
It also helps remove the germination inhibitor found on top of the seed. Though you need to be careful not to keep the seeds in fermentation for long or they will start to germinate.
Storing the seeds of your tomato plant
The main concern when storing the seeds of your tomato plant is moisture. You need to ensure that the seeds are dry enough.
You can use glass containers or plastic vials to store the seeds and they will last you a long time before you take them out and germinate the. Well-preserved tomato seeds can last 12 to 14 years without any problems.
You could extend the life of the seeds even further if you freeze them in the freezer in a glass or plastic vial with a packet of silica gel placed along with them. Just make sure that before you take the seeds out for germination you let the container reach room temperature.
If not, the moisture from the air will affect the seeds and they will not germinate as expected.
When storing seeds you might find it useful to keep some documentation marked on the vials that tell you the dates of storage as well as the type of tomato plant the seed will produce.
How to protect your tomatoes from pests and diseases
Tomato plants can be quite delicate and be affected by weather changes, pests, disease, and physiological problems.
It is easier to prevent or take care of most of these problems except tomato plant diseases that are tough to resolve. It’s best to take the help of experts in your area to understand the particular diseases and what you can do about them.
Physiological problems are those that affect the physical structure of the plants. They need not be caused due to pests or disease and could be due to things like plants not receiving enough water, sunlight, or nutrients.
You need to be experienced in the garden to determine the symptoms of such physiological problems. If the days are too hot the tomato plants may shrivel up during the day but return to normal when the sun sets.
But if you see that even after sufficient watering of the plants they are still wilting, there could be some disease affecting the plants.
The foliage of tomato plants comes in a variety of colors from dark green, bluish, to pale yellow and you should be capable of knowing from the leaf color whether the plant is healthy or suffering from problems.
There can be many insects attracted to the tomato plants in your garden and you’ll need to decide on the measures you want to take.
Either you decide to leave the insects alone and damage some plants and fruit or you choose to destroy such insects using organic or chemical pesticides.
The simplest way to get rid of insects is to pick them and destroy them. If they have affected the plants and fruits, you could choose to destroy those particular plants and fruits.
You may also face the problem of two or four legged animals attacking the plants and eating the fruit before you can harvest them.
One solution is to fence the plants and fruit to protect them from such animals like rabbits and deer.
You can use a cage to protect your tomato plants and enclose them in a wire mesh that is small enough so that such animals cannot reach the plants and the fruits. You will need to dig the mesh at least a foot into the ground because rabbits can burrow themselves below the mesh.
The disadvantage of using a cage and mesh is the cost and the restriction it places when you want to access the plants and the fruits yourself.
You could consider using animal deterrents such as predator urine, fake owl, transistors, motion detected sprinklers, etc. But they tend to work only for a short period of time before the animals get used to it.
You could use an electric fence that will keep most animals away from your plants but you should be willing to bear the expense it creates.
There is also the option to trap these animals when they reach into your garden but this arises the problem of what you need to do once you’re trapped these animals. In some places, it might not be allowed to trap animals so this option is out of the equation.
It’s not easy to deal with tomato plant diseases and you may need to take help of an expert with such problems.
However, it is good to know what kinds of diseases affect tomato plants so you can consider the appropriate actions.
Some tomato diseases spread from the soil into the roots of the plants. If that is the case you will need to change the soil or move the plants to another location next season.
Other tomato diseases are spread by splashing of the infected soil on to the lower foliage or the wind carrying such soil on to the plants. You need to ensure your garden has a good layer of mulch to prevent water from splashing as you water the garden.
Some diseases spread from one plant to another and the best thing you can do is isolate the diseased plants and destroy them before the disease can spread.
If you have infected plants but want to save the seeds for the next season you should be aware whether the disease spreads through the seeds or not before you can safely use them.
The tomato seeds you purchase have an indication on the packets whether they have resistance to any diseases. This does not mean that the plants can always fight off diseases if you place them in infected soil. But they will be resistant to such diseases up to some level.
When using open-pollinated or heirloom seeds you may not know whether the plants are resistant to some diseases but this does not mean they are not. It just means they have not been tested against such diseases.
If you are using container gardening you should ensure the containers are sterile and washed with a mix of bleaching agent and water before you can use them. This will ensure there is no disease transmitted from the containers to the plants.
Get ready to grow your own tomatoes
Imagine growing a healthy batch of tomato plants in your garden.
Imagine waking up every day and watching beautiful tomatoes grow.
And imagine harvesting those ripe, juicy tomatoes you only dream of.
With all this information you should be able to start growing tomato plants in your garden and enjoy the flavorful tomatoes you want.
So start planning your tomato garden today.
And you can thank me later.