Tomatoes are one of the top types of vegetables grown in a home garden because they simply taste so much better than store-bought tomatoes. And if you’re growing an heirloom tomato garden, they’ll taste even better. Tomato plants also yield quite a few of the vegetables, so they are worth the work that goes into growing them, even though tomatoes are not the hardest vegetable to grow. But, you do need to understand the proper conditions that will help you grow the perfect tomato garden so that you can reap the wonderful rewards.
Choose a Sunny Location
Tomato plants require a lot of sunlight and are in fact, one of the most sunlight-hungry plants you can grow in your garden. Only corn and sunflowers need more sunlight. You’ll want to situate your garden so that it receives direct sunlight all day long in the summer. As you’re planning out your tomato garden, make sure you pay attention to shadows that can block the sunlight from your tomato plants at certain times of the day so that you avoid those locations. Tomatoes must get direct sunlight for at least six hours every day.
Prepare the Soil Correctly
You can’t just plant your heirloom tomato seeds in just any dirt. Healthy soil is integral to healthy tomato plants, and if you want a bountiful harvest, you’ll need rich, earthy soil that encourages plant roots to penetrate deeply into the ground. If your native soil is clay, you’ll need to use raised garden beds or containers in which to grow your plants. Add up to 50% compost, manure, or leaf mold to your soil to increase the amount of carbon in the dirt. Carbon will improve the nutrient content in your soil, making your plants healthier.
As with sunlight, tomato plants require copious amounts of water, especially after they have begun to bear fruit. The water encourages deep root systems, a defining characteristic of healthy tomato plants. If you properly prepare your soil, you will have an excellent drainage system, which will prevent pooling, but this also means you’ll need to pay close attention to the soil to make sure it doesn’t dry out. The soil around your plants should always be damp or wet. Allowing the soil to dry out and then become soaked again can lead to problems with the development of your tomatoes. A drip irrigation system is also a good idea to ensure the soil remains damp and will lower the risk of airborne diseases such as blight.
Grow Only in Warm Environments
Tomatoes will not grow when it’s cold. They are adversely affected by low temperatures and will die if exposed to frost. For this reason, you should only plant your tomato plants when you know the night temperature won’t dip below 60°F. Planting them early in the season will not produce early fruit. The plants will not yield fruit unless the temperature is warm and you could cause your plants to die by putting them into the ground too early. Tomatoes can be grown in humid or dry environments as long as it’s warm.
As with most annuals, tomatoes like a lot of nutrients and they probably won’t get enough from your soil without adding fertilizer. You’ll want to have your soil tested before you add fertilizer to make sure you’re not causing an imbalance of nutrients by fertilizing your plants. If your soil is well-balanced or slightly high in nitrogen, you’ll want to use a fertilizer that has a higher phosphorus content and a lower nitrogen content. If your soil is low in nitrogen, choose a balanced fertilizer.
If you can’t get your soil tested, use your past experiences with tomato plants to determine what type of fertilizer you’ll need. Plants that were healthy in the past mean you probably have balanced soil, but if they were sickly or poorly developed, you’ll need more phosphorus. Provide your tomatoes with fertilizer when you first plant them, then again after they start bearing fruit. From that point on, fertilize them every week to two weeks until the first frost.
Harvest in Late Summer
Color is not a good indication of when your tomatoes are ready to be picked and if you wait until they are perfectly red, they are too ripe. Of course, some varieties want you to wait until they are ripened on the vine, but you’ll need to eat these right away. If you intend to wait a bit before eating them, you should harvest your tomatoes when the fruit is deep green because they will continue to ripen off the vine. This usually will occur in late summer.
Growing tomatoes is often a favorite task of vegetable and fruit gardeners as it’s one natural food that really tastes better when grown at home. Just take care to follow the tips here and you’ll have a tomato harvest that you can be proud of.