How to Grow Tomatoes for Beginners.

 The tomato is the most common plant grown in gardens throughout the world. With that being said many new gardeners struggle to grow them. In this article we'll go over what you need to know so that you can grow fantastic tomatoes year in and year out. 

We'll begin by briefly discussing the growing habits of tomatoes. We have determinate and indeterminate tomatoes. Determinate means that the tomato will have a determined amount of tomatoes and a determined height it'll grow to. On the other hand a indeterminate tomato will have a indeterminate height and will continue to grow until the first frost, same goes for the fruit. Depending on the type you grow it will slightly alter the care. We'll discuss that later in the article. When it comes to heirloom or hybrids that decision is yours. If you don't know the difference follow this link to learn more

Planting: Once you've decided what tomatoes you want to grow you need to know how they should be planted. For tomatoes the ideal pH should be around 6.8-7.0. You can find a soil test kit or soil meter at a local hardware or garden center. Tomatoes benefit from being planted deep into the soil. If you look closely at a tomato's stem it looks like fine hairs but those actually form into secondary roots. So once you get your tomatoes, prune off any side shoots and plant it deep. Determinate tomatoes should be spaced out 12-18" apart. Indeterminates COULD be spaced out 8-12" apart depending how much effort you put into your garden.

Watering: Watering is key for any success in a garden. For tomatoes they need atleast 1" of water a week. Watering twice a week will be just fine for them. If you'd like to know more about how to water a garden properly I have a full guide here

Staking: A proper staking method is important in the health of a tomato plant. A gardener has a choice of the simple one stake method where you stake each tomato individually. You could use a variety of items such as a fence post or scrap wood, as long as it's straight and can hold weight without bending or breaking. Another method used in a garden, typically used if growing a lot of tomatoes is the Florida weave method. With this method a gardener would space out a stake every 2-3 tomato plants and weave in and out of the tomato plants and around the stake with garden twine. Staking our tomatoes prevents soil born diseases and ensures that the tomatoes don't rot or get eaten.

Fertilizing: Every plant benefits from a routine fertilizing schedule, this includes the tomato. Tomatoes need a balanced fertilizer just like we need a balanced diet. A personal favorite of mine would be a mix of blood and bone meal. The blood meal gives the tomato a boost of nitrogen so it could grow and put on healthy foliage. We need healthy foliage so the plant can photosynthesize and make great tasting fruit. Just remember that too much is not a good thing, the plant will only put on greenery and not make as much fruit. In order to prevent that we add bone meal. Bone meal aids in the production of calcium and phosphorus. The phosphorus is important in helping the plant make healthy roots and produce more flowers. Another fantastic substitute to blood and bone meal is compost. Compost has everything a plant could ever need. A well aged and broken down compost is the best fertilizer available. 

Pruning: Pruning is a simple task but should not be overlooked at all. If you ignore pruning it could severely harm your plant in multiple ways. The only reason you should ignore pruning is if you grow a determinate tomato. Like I stated earlier in the article a determinate tomato has a determined height and will produce a determined amount of tomatoes. So pruning will hurt your harvest but even so you shouldn't totally ignore it. A major reason we prune is to cull dead or diseased leaves. Letting these leaves go can spread disease throughout the rest of the garden and kill your plants. For the gardeners who are growing indeterminate tomatoes we prune so we can get fruit the whole growing season. Once your tomato starts growing we want to prune off any lower growth that is near or touching the ground. Blight is the biggest issue seen in a garden which we'll talk about in our disease section later on. We also want to prune off any suckers. Suckers are little off shoots that use nutrients that could otherwise go to fruit production. Once again if you're growing determinate tomatoes do not prune anything that isn't dead or diseased.

Pests: With tomatoes you'll find that they're a few pests you'll have to deal with. Tomato hornworms, aphids and even birds. The tomato hornworm is by far one of the most destructive pests you'll deal with. They strip the plant of it's leaves and eventually fruit as well. Eventually the plant will die if not taking care of ASAP. The best way to take care of tomato hornworms is by using a chemical spray, organic if available. Another way to get rid of them is simply picking them off the plant and squishing them. We could also run into an aphid problem. Aphids are little white colored insects that suck out the sap of plants. They won't cause severe damage to your tomatoes but can become unsightly. Aphids can be treated by using neem oil or a solution of dish soap and water. An extremely odd pest some gardeners run into with tomatoes are actually birds. A gardener will go outside to pick some fresh tomatoes only to find that the tomatoes have holes in them. You may think to yourself "do birds actually like tomatoes?" The answer to that is no they don't. Birds will peck at tomatoes so they can access the water that is inside the tomato. I've never had this happen myself but have heard of it before. The simplest solution for this is a bird bath. A bird bath will allow birds to have access to easy water, keeping them away from your tomatoes. 

Diseases: A huge issue for many are the diseases tomatoes can suffer from. When growing tomatoes we have to look out for multiple diseases that can plague our gardens. Early and late blight, curly top virus, and blossom end rot are common across many gardens. Early and late blight are the same disease, difference is the timing, hence why one is called early and the other late. If your tomatoes contract early blight this will ruin your whole crop and give you little to no harvest. Blight is a soil borne disease, so if any soil comes into contact with leaves there's a chance the plant could get blight. The best defense is to keep your tomato plant off the ground and make sure you have proper airflow to keep the plants dry. Early blight can be prevented but as far as late blight goes it's almost impossible. If you live in a northern climate that has winters late blight won't affect your harvest. By the time the tomato has contracted late blight you would have harvested the majority of tomatoes anyways. This makes staking and pruning so important with tomatoes. Curly top virus or also known as beet curly top virus is extremely devastating to tomatoes and there isn't a solution to this problem. The way a tomato gets curly top virus is through infected grasshoppers. A tomato isn't part of a grasshoppers diet but it will still be curious to try it and therefore if an infected grasshopper bites the tomato than the tomato will become infect with curly top virus. Once infected, the tomato plant will have it's growth completely stunted. This includes new growth and production of flowers and fruit. Unfortunately there isn't any chemical that can prevent curly top virus and no sure fire method of preventing it. The best a gardener can do is remove the infected plant or plants and burn or dispose of the plants away from the garden. A more simple problem we will come across is blossom end rot. Blossom end rot or BER for short is when a tomato rots at the bottom of the fruit. The reason this happens is because of a lack of calcium in the plant. A tomato intakes its calcium through the cell wall via water. So if you find that your tomatoes are suffering from BER try watering them more. The best way to know if you have a lack of calcium or aren't watering enough is a simple soil test through your local agriculture extension. 

Growing tomatoes is such a rewarding experience. They are known as one of the easier plants to grow for beginners. I hope this guide gave you the information needed to successful grow tomatoes.                             


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