Growing tomatoes is one of the easiest and most fun vegetables to try in a home vegetable garden. There are many great varieties to choose; from small cherry tomatoes, to medium sizes for salads and sauces, and large slicing varieties. Nothing tastes better than a vine-ripened home-grown tomato. If you haven't yet eaten one, you are missing out on one of the greater pleasures in life! Store-bought tomatoes pale in comparison. So, if you don't believe me, try growing tomatoes in your garden and see for yourself!
When choosing cultivars, it all depends on your preferences. If you’re for flavor, then home cultivars are best. If you want uniformity in size and shape as well as pest and disease resistance, then commercial cultivars are for you.
Which Variety to Choose?
With over 7,500 tomato varieties, you might not know where to begin in choosing tomato plants for your garden. Luckily, most garden centers only offer 5 to 10 of the most popular varieties that will grow well in your area and climate. You might want to start with one cherry tomato, and one larger variety such as "Early Girl", or "Beefsteak" which are both good for slicing, sauces, and salads. (If you plant more than one plant, be prepared to give away tomatoes to friends and neighbors, or perhaps you will want to try your hand at canning your own homemade salsa, sauce, or tomato juice.)
When and Where to Plant
It is time to plant tomatoes in the ground when the weather starts to warm, after all danger of frost has passed. This is because growing tomatoes prefer 8 hours of sunlight a day at temperatures between 65 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The ideal conditions necessary for successfully growing tomatoes are soil pH levels of 5.5 to 6.8, presence of abundant organic fertilizer or compost in the soil, and deep planting. If possible, till generous compost matter into the soil. Depending on your choice of varieties to be planted, you will have to allocate space between plants from 12 inches apart (dwarf varieties) to 36 inches apart (trellised types). Many gardeners recommending planting your tomato plants by laying them at a 45 degree angle, and covering not only the roots, but one half of the plant with soil. Surprisingly, the tomato plant starts growing straight upwards in just a few days time.
Tomatoes make excellent container plants. If you are limited for garden space, growing tomatoes in pots placed in a sunny location will provide an abundance of fruit. Tomatoes are always a good choice when planning a container garden in a sunny location. Use a good quality potting soil with added compost or fertilizer to fill your containers. Immediately after you transplant your tomato plant, place a "tomato cage" over the small plant. As your plant grows, it will have the necessary support in place to keep it upright, and to keep the branches from breaking. Don't wait to add the cage later, as it is hard to get a large plant inside the cage without damaging or breaking some of the branches. (Yes, I learned this the hard way.)
When planting tomatoes, always plant them on their sides and then cover the whole root and part of the stem with soil. Don’t worry since the plant will grow upright in just a few days. You may also want to trim your tomato plants to maximize their growth. Be sure to trim only the non-fruit bearing branches. These branches do not have any flower blossoms or small tomatoes growing on them.
As to water and fertilizers, just make sure that these are provided in moderate quantities. Once the plant is well established and small tomatoes are beginning to grow, it is not necessary or desirable to water as often. Infrequent deep waterings are best at this point.
Seeds or Seedlings?
Although you can cultivate tomatoes from seeds, as a beginner you should start with the transplant varieties. You can purchase transplants at your local garden center. Shop early, as garden centers and online stores sometimes sell out of the more popular varieties early. When setting out the transplants, you can add starter fertilizer if needed, and cultivate it into the soil. Growing tomatoes as a beginner is sometimes a challenge, as you do not want to disturb the plant's fragile roots when transplanting. So be very careful! Also, you will want to transplant during cloudy days or in late afternoons. If you must transplant it when the sun is very hot, provide temporary shade for the plants, even that made of newspapers. If possible, build trellises or cages to support the tomato vine, and help keep the fruit off the ground. As you can see, growing tomatoes is quite easy. And nothing in the world beats the taste of fresh home grown tomatoes from your vegetable garden! You will be amazed at how delicious and flavorful vine ripened tomatoes taste. You will save money and enjoy much superior flavor with your home-grown tomatoes.