I love tomatoes. I try really hard not to indulge in them until it’s summer and they’re ready. I think about them all the time and when it’s finally tomato season, I’m all about them! There’s really nothing better than a ripe, juicy and warm tomato picked fresh from the garden. With the right start and some careful attention, you can grow them yourself.
On our farm, we grow tomatoes in the fields and also in the greenhouse. Below, you’ll see an image from our high tunnel. Small plants are inserted right in the ground, attached to strings for support. One tomato vine can grow up to the top and all the way across, if we let it. Growing tomatoes indoors can speed up the growing process (they like it HOT!), and for those of us in the produce business, this means earlier sales. It’s also a great way to protect them from disease like blight.
Here are some tips for the home gardener:
When to plant:
Plant tomatoes outdoors after any danger of frost has passed. In New England, it is considered safe to plant after Memorial Day. It is critical that if you are starting tomatoes from seed, do not start too early! Tomatoes grow very quickly and leggy tomato plants are more disease prone and will have lower yields. For the average home gardener, it’s easier to purchase tomatoes already started from a small-scale organic farmer (instead of a big box store, which has a higher chance of selling diseased tomatoes).
My personal favorite varieties are:
- Cherry Tomatoes: Sun Gold (also fantastic grown in containers!)
- Slicer: Striped German
- Paste/Plum: San Marzano
You still have time to start them indoors, if you want to give that a shot. Johnny’s Seeds is a good source for organic heirloom tomatoes.
Tomato plants require lots of space. Providing space not only leads to greater yields per plant, it also lessons disease and insect pressure. Allowing space for air circulation will provide similar benefits to most fungicides. 18″ – 36″ apart is recommended.
Days to maturity:
Tomatoes will begin to yield fruit about 70 days from transplanting outside.
When is it ready:
For tomatoes firmness, not color can often be the safer indicator of maturity. Tomatoes can be harvested early and matured off the vine. If harvesting “green”, wait until there is a little color before harvesting.
Tomatoes can be a difficult crop to grow. The best yielding plants are given a lot of attention. Staking, trellising, suckering and pruning tomatoes are all necessary to ensure success.
3 Easy Steps for Pruning Tomatoes:
1. Ensure Proper Support:
As part of the tomato plant cultivation process, you’ll need proper support. With indeterminate tomatoes such as these, choose one or two stems to be the uprights.
2. Attach Securely to Steak
Pests and diseases
Learn the major diseases for your area. Common pests are white flies and Tomato/Tobacco Horned Worms. Both pests can be controlled if the grower is vigilant. Neglected tomato plants will be devoured by tomato horned worms. Vigilance is critical with this pest. Left unchecked, a very manageable pest can lead to a complete crop disaster. Squishing bugs is a very effective method of controlling outbreaks. We pay kids up to $1.00 per tomato horn worm – kids LOVE collecting them. The money is well spent.
For more info on growing your own food and how to cook it, check out The Homegrown Paleo Cookbook by myself and Andrew. It’s a full guide to organic vegetable and pasture-based animal production for the homesteader, plus over 100 gluten free, seasonal recipes right from my kitchen. Even if you’re not a full-blown homesteader, you’ll learn what to look for when you go to the farmer’s market or visit a local farm.