The Ultimate Tomato Growing Guide

three tomatoes
Photo by Jackelin Slack

The tomato — is it a fruit or vegetable? It’s possibly the most delicious and versatile summer fruit ever! There’s a lot to learn about growing and preserving tomatoes. Our tomato growing tips and secrets will give you all the tools for growing the perfect tomatoes and preserving them.

Note: If you want to grow tomatoes in the winter, read our reviews of indoor hydroponic systems.
tomatoes in bowl
Photo by Deniz Altindas

How to save tomato seeds

Tomatoes are one of those vegetables that you can’t help but love. That’s because they’re used in everything from ketchup to marinara sauce. Talk about tasty! Did you know, though, that you can plant the tomato seeds to grow even more of these vegetables in your backyard? We’ll go through the process with you step-by-step.

Supplies you’ll need

  • Clear container
  • 
Kitchen strainer
  • Drying substrate
  • 
Open-pollinated tomatoes

How to proceed

  1. Cut the tomatoes in half, so that you can see the seeds. Using your hands or a spoon, and remove all the seeds and the pulp into the container.
  2. Put the container in a safe spot for anywhere from one to four days. Unless you see the tomato’s juices drying up before the fermentation process is over, you don’t need to add any extra water to the container. If need be, add ½ cup of non-chlorinated water to 1 cup of pulp. The time it takes for the seeds to ferment depends on a few factors. This includes air temperature, humidity level and the overall ripeness of the vegetable. If you see a white layer of mold growing on the top of the seeds, that’s completely normal. You’ll know the seeds are done fermenting when the jellylike coating over the seeds floats to the top of the liquid.
  3. When you notice that the fermentation is over, add water to the container and stir. You should only save the seeds that sink to the bottom since those are the ones that are mature. Then, pour out the mixture into a kitchen strainer and wash the seeds thoroughly with water.
  4. Dry the washed seeds using coffee filters or paper plates. Make sure not to use paper towels or newspapers since the seeds will end up sticking to those as they dry. When the seeds start cracking in half that means they are fully dry. Typically, this takes about four weeks.

In this video you can see how to save the seeds:

How to grow perfect tomatoes

growing tomatoes

If you want to try your hand at growing veggies, tomatoes may be your best bet. They’re pretty hardy and when you get them right, you could end up with quite a few beautiful tomatoes. Plus, they’re a lot cheaper to grow than to buy, especially if you want to go organic. Here are a few tips to help ensure you get a better crop of tomatoes:

Give your tomatoes plenty of room

Tomatoes do better when they can spread out a bit. First and foremost, to get the best tomatoes, choose a spot that gets plenty of sunlight. You need to plant in an area that gets 6-8 hours of sun and at least 10 hours of sunlight per day in the summer. Any less and your tomato plants will barely grow and their branches and stems will be flimsy and under-grown, making it prone to easy breaks. Open air will keep them healthy.

Feed your soil

To improve the size of your tomatoes, enrich your soil. Use organic matter in the first few inches of topsoil to provide a more nutritious environment for your plant to grow. Opt for manure or compost if you want to stick with all-natural fertilizing options.

Plant in warm soil

It’s better to wait a little longer to plant tomatoes because the cold ground can delay the growth of your tomato plant or kill it completely.

Careful with the water

Your tomato plants only need to be watered about once a week. But, when you do water them make sure you soak the soil so there is enough moisture. Make sure you water the soil so the water can seep into the roots. If you just water the leaves, your plants won’t get enough moisture and they won’t grow.

Prune and stake

If you let your plant get overgrown or lie on the ground, it’s going to take longer for your fruit to grow and it’ll likely be smaller. Overgrown plants and plants close to the ground produce too much shade for its leaves. Keep your plant properly staked and keep excess leaves trimmed to provide maximum sunlight. There are a variety of methods for deciding where to trim and when to stake. To encourage stronger main stems, don’t stake the plant until after the initial flowering begins.

Keep an eye out

Tomatoes are ready to be picked when they are fully colored. You can leave them on the plant for a few more days to get even more flavor, but you risk the tomatoes getting snatched away by hungry animals.

Growing tomatoes is pretty simple. They are generally a low maintenance plant and can produce a healthy amount of fruit if given proper care.

The following video provides some great tomato growing tips:

How to grow sweeter tomatoes

When growing tomatoes, you’ll get fantastic flavors with every batch. However, sometimes the acidity in your soil isn’t the best, and you’ll get rather tart tomatoes. In order to get sweeter tomatoes, you could purchase all sorts of garden nutrients, and spread them into your soil for better results. However, there’s one simple trick that almost never fails to help you! Learn how to grow sweet tomatoes using baking soda, and never have a tart tomato again.

baking sodaWhy baking soda?

It sounds weird, right? After all, you use baking soda to neutralize smells in your home, along with other home improvement uses. What use does it have in the garden? The truth behind it is pure chemistry. Acidic soil, soil with a pH of less than 7, causes tart tomatoes. The tomatoes react to their soil content and aren’t able to produce really sweet flavors. While you can go and buy garden supplements to help raise the pH of your soil, baking soda does the same trick.

Baking soda is actually something called sodium bicarbonate, which is basic. A base is the opposite of an acid and will neutralize acid so it’s less harmful. Adding in the sodium bicarbonate will lessen the acidity of the soil, helping the tomato pull in the nutrients it needs to become sweeter. However, mixing in a large amount of baking soda will make the soil basic, or a pH of more than 7, and can harm the tomato in other ways. The best thing for your tomato is to carefully apply the baking soda, so as not to harm the plant.

How to add baking soda

If you’re noticing tart tomatoes, don’t worry. You won’t have to transplant your tomato and mix a brand new soil. Once a week, carefully sprinkle a small amount of baking soda onto the dirt. This will not take your fertilizer’s place, so be sure to properly fertilize your tomato as well. Be careful not to get the baking soda on the plant itself, and don’t worry about mixing it into the soil. It will mix in well enough during the next watering.

If you’re trying to avoid tart tomatoes with your brand new plant or seedling, then you’ll have to be much more careful than with your established plant. Plant your new tomato in its new spot, being careful to try and avoid transplant shock. Once you’re sure the tomato will not suffer too much, sprinkle a teaspoon of baking soda around the soil, and leave it be.

This first application will help you determine whether you should add more, or if your tomato starts looking sick because the soil was already pretty basic. After a couple weeks you can sprinkle a little more of the baking soda onto the soil, and keep track. Again, wait a full two weeks to a month in order to see how the plant is affected. If you see no negative side effects, then you can continue the weekly application of about a teaspoon of baking soda into the soil.

heirloom tomatoes
Photo by Anda Ambrosini

How to water your tomatoes the right way

Growing tomatoes? Congratulations! Tomatoes are great plants for beginners and experts alike, and they don’t need a lot of space to give you plenty of tomatoes year after year. However, they can become a little picky about their water and nutrients, and if you don’t water them right, your tomatoes will become small and deformed. Learn how to water your tomatoes the right way, and get large and healthy tomatoes all season long!

Water in the right spot

Some people put a soaker spray on their hose and just hose down their plants every day. However, tomatoes don’t need water on their leaves, that doesn’t help much. Wet leaves can be a problem since the sun can heat up the water as it evaporates and end up burning the leaves. Burned leaves won’t gather sunlight as well, and your plant will suffer. Also, just putting water near the plant or in the pot doesn’t guarantee good watering. The plant must be watered at the roots, where it has a chance to really soak up the liquid. When you’re watering, aim the flow of your water around the stem of the tomato, to avoid too much water wastage.

Water at the right time

Another huge mistake that is usually made is watering during the wrong time of the day. The best times of the day to water is in the early morning or the evening. At this time, the worst of the heat and sun is over, and there’s less of a chance for the plant to get burned. As well, it has more time to soak up the water you’re giving it before the sun heats up the soil and causes water evaporation. Water when it’s cool and shady out, to allow your tomato to get the most water and help.

If you’re noticing that your tomato is still struggling to get through the day without wilting or having really dry dirt on top, then consider deeper watering, so that there’s more water available for the tomato. Also, start using mulch in your garden. Mulch is really inexpensive, and if you cover the ground with it, it helps keep the moisture trapped. It provides a great barrier between the wet ground and the sun, keeping your tomato’s soil damp for long periods of time.

Water at the Right Frequency

It can’t be promised that every tomato should be watered once a day. There are all sorts of variables, including whether they’re in a pot or the ground, and where you live. Warmer areas will most likely need more water more often, but if you’re somewhere like Seattle, you’re probably getting enough rain and moisture that you just have to supplement your tomato with weekly waterings. When you first get your tomato, keep an eye on it and check on it every day.

If it appears dry, stick your finger in to see how deep the dryness is. You don’t want to overwater your plant, as it can cause root rot, but you don’t want to wait until it’s the Sahara near your tomato. Once you figure out approximately how often you need to water, stick to the schedule as much as you can, and your tomato will thank you.
tomato plants

How and when to stake tomato plants for best growth

For many gardeners, there is nothing more rewarding than growing fresh organic tomato plants in your garden. Having access to your own fresh tomato plants offer endless possibilities in the kitchen. From making your rich and flavorful tomato sauces to serving up tomato slices in salads, the ideas are endless. Part of creating a successful tomato garden it staking the plants. We will give you tips on when and how to properly stake your tomato plants for optimal growth.

Why stake tomatoes?

If you’re new to tomato gardening, you may be asking yourself why you should stake the tomato plants. For one thing, it keeps the plants off the ground and prevents the tomatoes from rotting. Tomatoes that stay on the ground are more likely to get rot or disease. Another perk for staking your fruits: it’s easier to spray pesticides or organic pest control products directly on the plants and the fruits get more sunlight.

How To Stake Tomato Plants

You will need to start with long metal or wood stakes. The length of the stake depends on the type of the plant. For instance, determinate varieties require stakes three to four feet and indeterminate varieties require stakes five to six feet. Another important thing to consider is proper spacing. You should space the stakes at least 2 feet apart. If you’re planting new tomato plants, be sure to plant the seedlings deep into the ground up to where the leaves start. Then you drive a stake 8 to 12 inches into the ground next to the tomato plant. Wrap the stem of the plant with twine and then tie it to the stake.

When To Stake Them

Not all tomato plants need to be staked but some varieties (like the indeterminate varieties) need it otherwise the vines of the fruits will continue to grow vines along the ground. The determinate varieties don’t necessarily need to be staked but it’s still recommended. Be prepared to do a lot of pruning. You will need to prune weak stems to ensure stronger stems that grow better tomatoes. As the stronger stems lengthen and start to droop, support them by tying them to the stake.

Alternatives to staking tomatoes

Staking tomatoes isn’t the only way you can “train” your plants. Other options include trellises and cages. You can support your plant by placing them in cages of reinforced wire. This makes it easier to care for the plants as they won’t need as much pruning. If you want to place your tomato plants on a trellis, it’s important to point out that this works only for indeterminate varieties.

When placing your plants on the trellis, be sure to space them out by at least a foot apart on each row. You can build a trellis with metal fence posts that measure six feet in height and attach a horizontal metal bar to the top. Cut pieces of twine at least the height of the trellis plus an additional 15 to 20 inches. Tie the twine to the crossbar above each plant. Wrap the bottom of the string around your growing tomato plant, continuing to wrap the plant as it grows.

How to identify tomato plant diseases

When you’re growing tomatoes in your garden, the last thing you want is for diseases to destroy everything you’ve worked so hard to develop. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of ways to identify tomato plant diseases as soon as the first signs start appearing.

Signs on the skin

Using your gardening gloves, pick up the tomato and take notice of any obvious dark patches, sunken spots, and marks where the tomato skin has been ripped. Typically, if your tomato displays circular sunken areas with a dark spot, it has anthracnose or canker. For those unfamiliar with this term, it is a fungus that emerges once the tomato has matured.

Examine the tomato for smaller black spots. This is a clear red flag that your tomato has alternaria, which is a kind of infection involving fungus that has latched on to ripe tomatoes.

Inspect the tomato’s skin for cracks. Many times, these fissures indicate that fungi are growing on your tomato, like Alternaria and Pythium.

Signs on the leaves

When discoloration and dark areas begin appearing on the leaf, it is a sign rotting has begun. In particular, darker areas of the leaf usually point to bacterial canker and beet damage. On the other hand, lighter parts could signal salt damage, a mildew disease or the spotted wilt virus.

Signs on the stems

After lifting up any leaves that may be in your way, check the tomato’s stems for patches that are darker, drier, or lighter than the rest. A lot of times, the stems suffer from diseases like early blight, Alternaria canker, and southern blight.

Signs on the roots

If possible, dig the tomato plant up so that you can get a good look at the roots. There are two problems that are commonly detected here. The first one is southern blight. With this, the root wilts, while maintaining its original color. Then, there is root knot, where a quick change occurs in the plant, causing a mass production of tomatoes and swollen roots.

Late blight in tomatoes: watching out for the worst

late blight tomato
Photo via Wikimedia

Are you ready for some cool, wet weather? Well, we know that the spores that cause late blight are sure ready. They’re probably already eying your tomato crops. And once they take hold of their fungus (officially, it’s Phytophthora infestans), then they’re going to spread rapidly across large areas. So maybe now’s a good time to think about the best way to avoid that whole late blight thing.

Plant resistant varieties

For starters, it would’ve helped if you’d planted resistant crops. Even that’s a gamble, though. There are a handful of varieties that can claim to be resistant, but none are immune–except for the amazing Mountain Magic Cherry Tomato. Scientists are working even as we speak on figuring out why this little guy has so much power. It’s pretty much the only sure thing in the tomato family.

Keep the spores away

You’ll also want to keep those spores away from your crops. Yes, that’s obvious, but there are good tricks for keeping the disease at a minimum. Those spores can last over a winter in tomatoes infected from a previous crop. Seeds of your old fruits can cause all kinds of new problems. If you’ve seen blight before, don’t hold on to any tomatoes for the next crop. Keep them out of your compost pile, too. But while you can’t reuse the seeds, the tomatoes are still fine to eat. The taste isn’t even affected. We’ll still understand if you’d rather throw them out.
And don’t do any canning with tomatoes that have late blight. The tissue damage and changing pH can leave them open to other microorganisms that simply aren’t good for you.

Plant certified seeds

We’ve gotten pretty paranoid about only planting certified seeds. We also get really nervous during any rainy stretch of summer. Follow the local farm reports of any reports of late blight in your part of the world. Then apply some fungicide. It won’t save any plants that have already been affected, but you can sure stop the infection and spread. Don’t get carried away, though. Use that stuff sparingly–or at least as recommended.

If you’re trying to stay organic, go with a fungicide that makes a big deal of halting tomato blight on the packaging. Also look for fixed copper as an active ingredient. You’ll want to be able to recognize late blight, too. Watch for infections that looks like watery lesions on the stems and leaves of your tomatoes. They may first seem firm and dark, but will soon get soft, wrinkly, and sunken.

As noted, check them out before doing any canning. And be every vigilant. Late blight is a blight on our joys of gardening–but we still have faith that the plucky lil’ Mountain Magic Cherry Tomato will save us all someday.

green tomatoes
Photo by Chad Stembridge

How to ripen green tomatoes: three methods

Isn’t it frustrating when you go to grab those tomatoes you harvested all season long and they’re not quite ripe yet? Not only do these tomatoes look unappealing, they taste horrible too. Now instead of tossing those vegetables in the garbage, you can ripen them up the natural way. Thankfully, there are simple ways for you to ripen these tomatoes up.

1. Jar method

Start by removing the lids from a bunch of airtight jars. Then, throw in one ripe banana per container. This will help quicken the ripening process for your tomatoes. Once that’s in, place two to four medium-sized green tomatoes in each jar. However, make sure you don’t overfill the jar because that could cause the tomatoes to bruise or burst. From there, screw the lid back on tightly and leave the container in a warm, somewhat humid spot away from direct sunlight. With this method, you should have ripe tomatoes in one to two weeks. Remember, though, to check on your tomatoes regularly because if the banana begins to rot before the tomatoes are ripe, you’ll need to remove it immediately and replace it with another one.

2. Cardboard box method

If you need to ripen a lot of tomatoes at once, this is your best bet. For this method, take a cardboard box and begin lining it with newspaper. Then, put down a layer of tomatoes, with each one placed right next to the other. If you start running out of space, you can put one on top of the other, but don’t make any more than two rows, since that could end up destroying the fruit on the bottom. When you finish stocking up the fruit, leave the cardboard box in a cool, slightly humid room far away from any light. We recommend keeping it on a pantry shelf if you have one. Over the next week or so, the tomatoes will release ethylene, allowing one another ripen.

3. Plastic Bag Method

Take any plastic bag you have in the house, and start punching a few “air circulation” holes into it. Then, similar to method 1, place three or four tomatoes, as well as one banana, in it. Depending on how big the plastic bag is, you may be able to fit more than that. Tie up the bag and leave it in a warm, humid area away from any direct exposure to UV rays. Again, thanks to this method, you should have ripe tomatoes in a week or two.

What to do with all your tomatoes

End of summer harvest is a busy time for gardening. The fruits and vegetables that mature at this time seem to happen all at once and in abundance. I recently wrote about what to do with all of the cucumbers. A lot of people ask me what they can do with all of their tomatoes, so here it is.

Supply tomatoes to friends and family

When tomatoes come to maturity, they come in great numbers, often leaving the gardener scratching their head in amazement and wonder. Wonder what the heck can be done with all of these tomatoes. I think most people’s first instinct, aside from utilizing them in daily meals, is to begin supplying family and friends with a share of the plentiful bounty from the garden. Then it moves on to neighbors, the postman, your favorite clerk, and so forth on down the line. I’m often surprised at how fast some people run out of ideas on what to make in the kitchen with their tomatoes.

What to do with all your tomatoes in the kitchen

Tomatoes offer a great source of nutrition when eaten raw sliced up on a sandwich or tossed in with a salad. Other great ideas on using your fresh tomatoes right away in the kitchen include making a batch of sauce, salsa, soup, or juicing them. If you’d like to save some of your tomatoes for a later use you should be glad to know they can be jarred or canned easily. They also freeze quite well or can be dried in the sun or in a dehydrator.

Freezing tomatoes for later use

Here are five steps to freeze tomatoes:

  1. Clean Your Tomatoes. After you gather up your tomatoes from your garden, make sure that you wash them thoroughly. You want to be certain that you get any dirt stuck on them wiped away. Then, when you’re done cleaning your tomatoes, let them air dry or use a paper towel to pat the water off.
  2. Start Preparing. Before you place your tomatoes in the freezer, you must take out a baking tray and gently layer your dry tomatoes on them. This way none of your tomatoes end up getting squished along the way. After that, simply clear out some room in your freezer for the tray.
  3. Flash-Freeze the Tomatoes. For roughly 15 to 30 minutes, leave your tomatoes in the freezer uncovered. By doing this, you’re allowing the tomatoes to truly freeze over. However, if you have any large tomatoes, those may need to stay in the freezer for a longer period of time.
  4. Take Out Your Tray. When you eventually remove your tray from the freezer, it is crucial to check that the tomatoes are hard. If not, leave them in the freezer a little longer. Next, grab your tomatoes and place them into large freezer bags, with all the air removed. By keeping air in these bags, you could ruin the whole preserving process. Then, label and date your frozen tomatoes, as they should be used within two or three months.
  5. Put the Tomatoes Back into the Freezer. Obviously, you don’t want to leave your tomatoes just sitting out in the open, as they will thaw out before you’re ready to use them, so place them back into the freezer until that time comes. Then, remove your tomatoes from the freezer and lay them down on your counter. Once they defrost, you’ll be able to peel away any of the loosened skins.

What to do with all your tomatoes outside the kitchen

What a lot of gardeners don’t know is the numerous things that can be done with tomatoes outside of the kitchen. You might have known tomatoes have a very high acidic level, but did you know that they actually make a great facial cleaner? Depending upon your skin type, mix the juice of a tomato with the appropriate amount of aloe vera juice and you’ve got skin cleanser. Tomatoes are also great for aide common skin burn, and sunburn. Even the ingestion of tomato helps with protecting your skin from the sun. These things and much more should give you plenty of things to do with all of your tomatoes.

Great fresh tomato recipes you’ll love!

tomato salad
Phto by Monika Grabkowska

I love tomatoes and how they smell fresh off the vine. We would always keep tomatoes around to add to any dish that needed a bit of spicing up. After the harvest, there would be a ton of tomatoes to deal with and usually, they would all get canned and preserved for winter. I always had my favorite tomato dishes that would quench my hunger and served as my comfort food. Here are a few of my favorite recipes that I would like to share. Feel free to add anything you like or use substitute ingredients if you like. Make it your own and enjoy!

Tomato Sandwich

Ingredients: 2 slices of bread (your choice), 1 or 2 tomato slices, Miracle Whip, salt, pepper

Preparation: Spread the Miracle Whip or any type of mayo on the two slices of bread. Place the tomato slices on one of the slices of bread. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Place the second slice of bread on top. Cut the sandwich in half. Now eat.

 

tomato soup
Photo by Heather Schwartz

Tomato Bean soup

Ingredients: 1 can of pinto beans, 1 tomato, 1 slice of onion, salt, pepper, 1 tsp basil

Preparation: Chop the tomato into small chunks. You may take off the skin or leave it on if you like. Dice the onion and set aside. In a medium saucepan, pour in the can of pinto beans. Bring the beans to a simmer then stir in the tomatoes, onions, and basil. Salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 15 minutes and serve.

tomato pie
Photo by LUM3N on Unsplash

Tomato Pizza

Ingredients: Pizza dough, 1 or 2 tomatoes, Mozzarella cheese shreds, olive oil, 1 tbs basil, spaghetti sauce

Preparation: Spread pizza dough in a greased 10 inch round pan. You can spray the pan with Pam or grease it with some olive oil. Spread some spaghetti sauce over the dough and leave edges uncovered. Sprinkle a layer of mozzarella cheese over the sauce. Chop or slice the tomato, and add a layer on top of the cheese. Sprinkle basil all over the pizza, and drizzle the pizza with olive oil. Preheat oven to 450 degrees and bake until the edges are brown for about 10 to 15 minutes.

Tip: You can buy readymade pizza dough from a local pizza parlor, or use the Pillsbury pizza dough in the grocery store. Add your own ingredients that you love to the pizza and make it unique.

These recipes are very simple and easy to make. They are for the people who are too busy to spend hours in the kitchen cooking dinner after work. Most of these ingredients may be lying around in your kitchen right now, so you can get started on these new recipes today. If you have kids, allow them to add their own twist to the recipes and just have fun with them.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our tomato growing tips. Share your own tips in the comments.

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