Nothing is more gratifying than a big tomato harvest in the summer season!

The tomato is the most popular warm-season crop, but it can be surprisingly tricky to tend to full productive glory. Tomatoes require at least 6 hours of full sun per day, are fertilizer and water hogs, and produce fruit most vigorously when days are warm (between 78 and 92 degrees Fahrenheit) and nights moderately warm (at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit). Vining (indeterminate) types need caging or trellising, while bush (determinant) types may or may not need staking; both benefit from seasonal pruning. For temperate growers, late winter is the best time to plant homegrown tomato plants from seed for spring planting.

‘Gold Medal’ is one of the best-tasting and prettiest beefsteak tomatoes.

These savory fruits come in all colors, shapes, and sizes and flavor is surprisingly variable. In my garden I always choose several slicers, sauce tomatoes, salad tomatoes, and cherries each year. This year’s pickings include the heirloom red and yellow slicer ‘Gold Medal‘, the French salad tomato ‘Crimson Carmello‘, and orange beefsteak ‘Kellogg’s Orange Breakfast‘. My favorite sauce tomatoes are the Italian powerhouses ‘Pomodoro‘, ‘San Marzano Redorta‘ as well as the salad-sized ‘Principe Borghese‘, which is touted as the best tomato for sun drying. My cherry tomatoes of choice are the sweet, golden ‘Sun Gold‘, tiny red ‘Matt’s Wild Cherry‘ and delectable yellow and red ‘Isis Candy‘. All are beautiful and have exceptional flavor. Here are the basics for starting, growing, protecting, and harvesting your tomatoes for success and high yields.

  • Common Name: Tomato
  • Botanical Name: Lycopersicon esculentum (syn. Solanum lycopersicum var. lycopersicum)
  • Days to Harvest: 65 to 85 days after planting
  • Soil: Rich, porous, friable loam amended with Black Gold Garden Compost
  • Common Problems: Tomato hornworms, damping off caused by Pythium and Phytophthora pathogenic fungi, cool temperatures (causes fruit toughness, cat-facing, and reduced productivity), Colorado potato beetles, and blossom end rot (a physiological disorder caused by calcium deficiency), splitting/cracking (happens to mature or nearly mature fruits on the vine when plants get excessive water or temperatures dramatically fluctuate.)
  • Planting Time: After the last frost date, in temperate zones; in warmer climes, they can be planted at any time of year as long as temperatures are warm enough
  • Fertilization: Feed at planting time with an organic fertilizer formulated for tomatoes, as these always contain sufficient calcium.

Contents

Days to Harvest Timeline

‘Pomodoro’ is a fantastic all-purpose tomato for fresh eating and cooking.

Starting Seeds: It takes around six to eight weeks to grow tomatoes from seed to plantable seedlings. Start seeds indoors for best results. In 5 to 12 days your tomato seeds should germinate. Germination is best in warm temperatures (68° to 75° Fahrenheit (20-24° Celcius)). A heat mat for seed starting will dramatically hasten tomato seed germination. Sow seeds in cells filled with seedling mix and lightly sprinkle a bit on top to cover. Gently moisten the cells with water and place right under the warmth of grow lights. (.)

Tending Seedlings: Tomato seedlings are very delicate and have two lance-shaped seed leaves. True leaves start to appear in 2 to 3 days. Continue to keep plants lightly moist and feed with a diluted all-purpose fertilizer, once the seed leaves have appeared. To avoid leaf burn, lift grow lights up as seed leaves get closer to the bulbs. (*Grower’s warning: Don’t allow soil to become too saturated. Wet soil can encourage fungal disease and cause seedlings to rot or “damp off.”)

Tending Small Plants: Tomato plants should be around 8 to 10 inches tall after 42 to 56 days and garden ready. Before planting outdoors, plantlets need to be hardened off for at least a week. Hardening off means acclimating seedlings from their cushy indoor growing conditions to the windy, sunny outdoors where temperatures fluctuate greatly. Indoor grown seedlings are very tender, have weak stems and need time to adjust to full sun. If directly planted outdoors they will fry.

To harden them off, place your potted plantlets in a protected spot that gets a few hours of sun per day. Check them daily and slowly place them in a location where they get a little more light each day. After a week of so, they should be ready to plant in the garden.

‘Matt’s Wild Cherry’ is a delicious, tiny cherry tomato with big flavor.

Garden Planting: Amend planting beds by digging and turning the soil deeply and adding rich compost and an OMRI-Listed tomato and vegetable fertilizer. Plant tomatoes around 4 feet apart and mulch with a 2 to 3 inch layer of compost. Young plants can be planted deep, with only a couple of nodes with foliage above ground, but leaves should be gently removed from all stem parts that will be covered with soil. Indeterminate tomatoes should be fitted with a sizable tomato cage right away to support vines and fruits as plants develop. Water regularly to keep plants moist, not wet. Days to harvest vary, but plants usually begin to bear fruit 65 to 85 days after planting.

Container Planting: Tomatoes are such aggressive feeders and water hounds, you have to give serious attention to container grown plants. Start with a really large pot. Determinant tomatoes are best, but indeterminant tomatoes will also work if you keep them caged and pruned. A good organic water-holding potting soil is perfect for container culture. I recommend Sunshine® Advanced Rain Forest Blend 0.06-0.02-0.05, which also contains Resilience™ for stronger stems, more compact growth & better root development. Container-grown tomatoes need to be watered daily and fed more frequently, but if you give them ample attention, they should thrive and produce beautifully.

Harvest: Tomatoes can be harvested green for fried green tomatoes and green tomato chutney, but they are best picked fully colored and ripe. Some tomatoes are naturally easy to pull from the vine when mature, while others cling to the vine. I always keep a pair of harvest sheers on hand for clingers. If you accidentally harvest a few fruits with a bit of green, let them stand on a sunny window for a couple of days, and they will ripen up right away.

Pruning: Tomatoes can be cut back and shaped to keep them from overtaking a trellis or container. Use sharp, clean pruners to cut whole branches back to main stems as needed. Try to maintain productive, fruit and flower laden branches, if at all possible. As a precautionary measure, it is wise to dip pruners in a 10% bleach solution when pruning from plant to plant, just to avoid the possibility of spreading disease. Dip and wipe the pruners after pruning one plant and going to another.

Preparation: This is the easy part. Lavish burgers with big, hearty tomato slices, eat them fresh in salads or make homemade tomato sauce and salsa. To extend the season, freeze whole tomatoes and sauce for winter. (This generally requires at least 10 healthy tomato plants to provide enough to store all winter.)

Growing tomatoes is gratifying if you follow the proper steps and give them the best care. If you do it right you should have more than enough tomatoes to enjoy and share. I wish you the best tomato season!

Follow these instructions and you’ll have enough tomatoes for storing and sharing with friends.

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How long does it take to grow tomatoes from seed is a question most gardeners who have done this have asked at least once in their life.

Environmental Factors That Affect How Long It Takes To Grow Tomatoes From Seed

The environment plays a factor in how long it actually takes to grow tomatoes from seed.

This is because rain, drought and of course temperature plays an important role.

Under ideal conditions, tomato seeds can sprout in as little as three days, however it can take up to twelve days for tomato seeds to sprout in some cases.

Of course, if the tomato seeds are planted in less than ideal conditions, that is going to affect germination and delay or even prevent it from happening.

Once the tomato seeds have sprouted, typically it takes six to eight weeks to get them large enough to transplant outdoors.

After that, it takes anywhere from 65 to 85 days before they begin to fruit.

Other Factors That Affect Tomato Seed Germination

Older tomato seeds often take longer to germinate than fresh seed.

Tomato seeds that have not been properly stored might not germinate at all.

This is why I prefer germinating tomato seeds in damp paper towels instead of planting them directly in soil.

This lets me easily see how fast the seeds germinate as well as what percentage of the seeds germinate.

Sometimes seeds are immature, meaning they do not contain all the parts necessary for them to actually germinate.

This is usually caused by someone harvesting and saving the seeds before they are fully mature.

Chemical, insects and plant pathogens also affect germination.

It is common practice for conventional seeds to be treated with insecticides and fungicides.

When this is done incorrectly or when too much is used, it damages the seeds.

Insects and mites are other enemies of seeds and they can get into seeds in storage if the seeds are not stored correctly.

Plant pathogens, or diseases as they are commonly referred to, can either kill the seeds or effect germination.

How Long Does It Take To Grow Tomatoes From Seed In Reality

If you add it all up to figure out exactly how long does it take to grow tomatoes from seed, you come up with anywhere from 110 days to 153 days or longer.

This is why it is best to start seeds indoors under grow lights no later than six weeks before the last frost in your area.

Starting the seeds under grow lights eight weeks before you intend to plant them outdoors is even better.

Just keep in mind, that many factors affect seed germination and the growth of the resulting seedlings, so it is better to start more seeds slightly earlier than to wait until the last minute and plant only what you need.

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Tomato Growing FAQ’s

Are there different types of tomato leaves?

Yes, There are two leaf types, Regular (RL) & Potato Leaf (PL) and there are also leaf variations for both types, (Rugose-a darker green rough-surfaced leaf, or Angora–a fuzzy, hairy type regular leaf.)

Regular Leaf is the most typical leaf type with leaf edges that are serrated. There are many variations in terms of size of leaf and leaf color with various shades of green or green-blue tint. Some leaves are very narrow and are sometimes called dissected because they look like a saw tooth cut them.

Potato Leaf usually has fewer cuts or serrations on the leaf edge. Sometimes there are a few large notches in the mostly smooth leaf edge.

What’s the difference between “indeterminate” and “determinate” tomatoes?

Determinate tomatoes, or “bush” tomatoes, are varieties that grow to a compact height (generally 3 – 4′). Determinates stop growing when fruit sets on the top bud. All the tomatoes from the plant ripen at approximately the same time (usually over period of 1- 2 weeks). They require a limited amount of staking for support and are perfectly suited for container planting.

Indeterminate tomatoes will grow and produce fruit until killed by frost. They can reach heights of up to 12 feet although 6 feet is normal. Indeterminates will bloom, set new fruit and ripen fruit all at the same time throughout the season. They require substantial staking for support.

Should I prune or not prune tomato suckers?

Never prune a ‘determinate’ type tomato. You want all the fruit you can get from these shorter plants. Indeterminate varieties vary in their response to pruning, some reportedly have increased yields when the young plant is pruned back to three or four vines. I prefer to let the plant produce stems for better fruit production and better leaf canopy to protect the fruit from sunscald. However, I like to remove most of the suckers at the bottom 10″ of the plant to invite greater air flow at the base of the plants and reduce the risk that fruit will touch the ground where they insects and disease might be encouraged. Know that removing new flowers near the end of the growing season can help speed up the ripening of mature fruit.

Is pruning necessary at all?

Pruning is not necessary at all. However, if you want taller plants or huge fruits you will need to prune excess vines that start to form where the leaf meets the main stem.

It turns out that different tomato cultivars vary in their response to sucker removal. For some, light pruning (removing the first four suckers) results in the greatest yield; for others, no pruning gives the highest yield. Experiment with your favorite variety.

What is the best spacing for my tomato plants?

Indeterminate Heirloom tomato plants can get really big (generally 7′ tall and 4′ wide). If you are planting the same variety in a row, I suggest spacing your plants 3′ apart. If you are using a circular wire trellis I suggest 4′-5′ apart. Determinate plants can be planted 2′ apart. You’ll want to separate different varieties by at least 8′.

What’s the difference between a regular tomato and an heirloom tomato?

For the past 40 years or so, when most people spoke of “regular” tomatoes they meant hybrid tomatoes because these were the most commonly available in markets and seed catalogues. Hybrid tomatoes are genetically created for a particular purpose the marketing and distribution interests (i.e., thick skins so they can withstand the weight of huge amounts of tomatoes stacked in a truck, a longer shelf-life so they might last a week or longer at the market, or a particular disease resistance). Too often a hybrid’s last priority has been taste. That said, there are some fine tasting hybrid tomatoes that have a loyal following. Like many gardeners, I only grew hybrid tomatoes BEFORE discovering the superior flavors of heirloom tomatoes. Heirloom tomatoes are open-pollinated tomatoes, whose seeds have been handed down from generation to generation. They are generally thin-skinned, extremely flavorful and have a natural resistance to disease.

Can I save the seeds from hybrid tomatoes?

Yes. However, you will not get a tomato like the parent. If you want to have fruit that is identical to the fruit you are seeding, you need to do so from an open-pollinated or heirloom tomato. One of the primary reasons that heirloom tomatoes are so popular is because after finding a favorite heirloom tomato variety, you can save the seeds of that variety for many generations to come.

Why are heirloom tomatoes so ‘ugly’?

Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. When I hear this comment it generally comes from someone who has only experienced the classic red, round, clear-skinned tomato. Heirloom tomatoes come in many ‘strange’ shapes, colors and sizes. They can also have markings that some might consider less-than-perfect or unattractive (cat-facing, concentric cracking, zipper or stitching lines, green shoulders) or deep folds or fluting. I like to point out to heirloom tomato novices that the wonderful diversity of physical features possible in the many varieties of heirloom tomatoes, are, like in people, a blessing. In fact, many of the colors and shapes of some heirloom tomatoes are more reminiscent of jewels. And behind the face of these wonderful diverse looking heirlooms, is the TASTE that will forever change how you think of a tomato.

What can I do to get my kids to like tomatoes?

Introduce them a tomato that has something to be excited about in the taste. Most kids have never tasted a tomato with taste. I would start them out with some of the sweeter cherry tomatoes. (Snow White, Isis Candy Cherry, Blondkopfchen, Camp Joy, Black Cherry, Yellow Pear) Offer them several kinds so they can distinguish the flavor differences and select favorites. Try have them grow their own tomatoes and appreciate some of their own harvest.

What does “days to maturity” mean?

This is the number of days from transplanting your seedlings in the garden until the first appearance of mature fruit. With all of my all my tomato descriptions on tomatofest.com I have (“Days 65”)

Is the tomato a fruit or a vegetable?

Generally I respond to this question with, “What do you think it is? And regardless of what they answer I say, “You’re right.” It’s a fruit, botanically speaking because it develops from a botanical ovary that contains the egg cells. According to the government, it’s classified as a vegetable so it can be taxed for additional revenues. If you have a bet going with a friend, say “it’s a fruit” to win.

What kind of tomatoes are best for canning?

Tomatoes with flavor. Although medium-sized, higher acid, red tomatoes have most often been used for canning, any colored tomato is suitable if sufficient acid (citric acid or lemon juice) is added to make up for the sweeter (low-acid) varieties. I love to chop a selection of different colored tomatoes or select a blend of yellow varieties or can variety-specific tomatoes.

What tomatoes best for container planting?

I used to grow almost all my tomatoes in containers around the house. You really can grow any variety in a container as long as the container is large enough for adequate nourishment, water, root growth and is available to sunlight. The larger your planter is the better. Staking opportunities for your plants in containers are limited especially if your planter surface is a solid patio. Under these circumstances, I’ve used stakes into the planter soil and where possible I tie the stems from above (roof eve, patio above if you are in an apartment, etc.) Planting determinate and semi-determinate tomato varieties offer less of a challenge since they don’t need much, if any, staking. See my determinate varieties. Generally, medium to smaller fruited varieties are better suited to container planting. Most important is to make sure your containers have a good amount of sunlight.

To mulch or not to mulch my tomato plants?

I believe in mulching. The benefits have been proven. Warms the soil, holds moisture in soil and keeps back weeds. I prefer plastic mulch (regardless of whether clear, black or red) to organic mulch.

How do I get rid of Stink Bugs and leaf Footed Bugs?

Here are a couple of links that you may find helpful.
Durham Extension Master Gardeners
Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of California

I have a problem with squirrels. They have been eating up my tomatoes.

If they are only eating your ripe fruit you can try harvesting your tomatoes earlier than full ripeness to complete the ripening indoors. You might also try providing the squirrels a source of water to access away from your tomato plants. Other than that you might have to provide your tomatoes a physical barrier against these pests like a netting. Or resort to live trapping the beasts and moving them away.

What can I do organically to prevent pests like hornworms attacking my tomatoes in the hot and humid area of South Florida? Also, how can I reduce the fungal issues that are common here in Florida?

Firstly, if you are not able to manage the hornworms or caterpillars by picking them off by hand (by the way, chickens love them) then BT, which is an organic pesticide that uses the natural pathogenic bacteria bacillus thuringiensis, (thus the name BT) will kill the critters before they are big enough to eat your plants. The BT is eaten and the BT cells germinate inside the pest causing death in a few days. Larger caterpillars, like the hornworm, should be sprayed with BT for it to work.

Using a mulch will help prevent fungal issues by keeping the soil off the lower leaves. Also, water your plants only at the base of the plants not wetting the leaves. It is advisable to keep the lower leaves as dry as possible by opening up space between the plants for adequate air flow. If you do find any blemished or damaged lower leaves remove them so the spores don’t spread to the surrounding leaves. I personally do not spray my plants but if you wish to then a copper spray is a standard organic fungal remedy. Once a fungal problem is identified it is best to respond as soon as possible before spreading of the problem occurs.

I live in the high mountain country. What tomato varieties are best suited for me?

There are many tomato choices available to you that are better suited to your shorter season and cooler climate. Seek those shorter season varieties with early maturity dates (50-65 days) Azoychka, Sasha’s Altai, Early Wonder and Buckbee’s New 50 day to name a few.

I just moved to Florida from cold country. What tomatoes do well here?

Florida can be wonderful for growing tomatoes. However your different growing conditions (hot & humid) will offer you different considerations in your tomato growing. Best to plan the starting dates for your tomatoes so that you have flowering before or after the most humid and hottest part of your season. Remember that it takes approximately two months from seed to putting out your tomatoes and another two months for getting ripe tomatoes. Here are a few varieties that I’ve found successful for the hot/humid area you are in: Arkansas Marvel, Atkinson, Creole, Florida Pink, Homestead 24, Neptune, Tropic.

I have fur on the tomatoes of some of my plants. Is this unusual?

Some tomato varieties do have a light fuzz on the fruit and some have this fuzz on the fruit and the plants. Some varieties have a light fuzz on the fruit when the fruit is young but then this disappears when the fruit ripens. There are varieties where this fuzziness is true to type and preferred, like Garden Peach and Wapsipinicon, which are both delightful and full of delicious flavors.

Are cherry tomatoes good to grow for making a sauce?

Well, you can make a sauce out of cherry tomatoes. However, generally cherry tomatoes are NOT suggested for making a good sauce because there are too many seeds and too much gel to the fruit, and not sufficient flesh. The best tomato varieties to grow for making the best sauce is a good paste tomato variety, like any of the San Marzano varieties, Amish Paste, or Long Tom. A favorite of mine is San Marzano Redorta.

I am unable to find access to a couple hybrid tomato varieties that my family considered favorites in my youth. Do some hybrid tomatoes just become unavailable over time?

The parents of any hybrid tomato are proprietary and owned by the company that has created the hybrid. Any hybrid may be discontinued or replaced by an ‘improved’ hybrid over time due to its lack of popularity and therefore no longer available to purchase or grow. (Unless you find some older saved seed.)

What purple or red tomato would be best for growing in containers in the hot and humid South?

You can grow ANY tomato in a container. It’s about the size of the container to suit what kind of tomato. For tall, indeterminate tomato varieties you should select at least a 10 gallon pot (15 gallon a better choice). And for determinate, shorter varieties or dwarf tomato varieties a 5 gallon pot would be ok. For a tall-growing purple, a good choice would be Cherokee Purple, Paul Robeson or Black From Tula. For a shorter purple: Black Sea Man or Pride of Flanders. For a tall growing red, Brandywine, OTV, Aussie, Good Old fashioned Red. For a shorter red there are many: Aurora, Bison, Bush Beefsteak, Sophie’s Choice and Tiny Tim are good choices.

My father likes the more robust acidic varieties of tomato. What is a tomato with a real bite of acid to its flavor?

To respond to the acidic quality of a tomato requires some explanation. My dear friend and Craig LeHoullier, Author of Epic Tomatoes, probably explained it best.

“Some decades ago the USDA ran a large scale test on hundreds of tomato varieties – a selection of different colors, shapes and sizes. Turns out that the pH range (true acidity levels) of tomatoes runs in a very, very narrow range – they essentially are all “acidic” (the pH tends to be in the 4.1-4.2 range or so), but the perceived acidity (how that acid comes across, or not) varies widely – which is why tomatoes are described as running very tart/acidic to very sweet/mild, even to bland. What DOES vary widely in tomatoes are sugar levels. As with wines, higher sugar levels mask acidity, and the flip side hold true of course – low sugar levels allow the acidity to show.” So what your father is seeking is a tomato with low sugar levels?low enough to let the acidity to show some boldness. And you can find this regardless of the color of the tomato. For example, Reds: Good Old fashioned Red, Andrew Rahart’s Jumbo Red, Rutgers. Blacks: Paul Robeson, Black Prince, Black From Tula. Yellow/Orange: Amish Gold, Azoychka, Flamme, Aunt Gertie’s Gold. Striped: Green Zebra, Black Zebra.

It’s important to remember that taste is subjective and can be very different from person to person. The same variety might be considered sweet to one person or slightly acidic to another.

Aside from the personal perception of sweetness of each person there is the scientific level of sweetness to each tomato measured in brix. (1 degree brix equals 1 gram of sucrose dissolved in 100 grams of solution, therefore the higher level of the brix, the more dissolved sugar, resulting in a sweeter flavor.)

On the whole, most tomatoes are well-balanced between sweet and acidic. However, many of the white varieties are sweeter and may appear as bland tasting because the sweetness overshadows the acid.

Are the green tomato varieties considered sweet tomatoes or tart tomatoes?

They can be either sweeter, yet balanced, (like Green Giant, Aunt Ruby’s Green, or Cherokee Green) or lower in sugars and therefore have a citric tartness to them (like Green Zebra and Green Grape).

Can you generalize whether a tomato will taste sweeter or tart by the color of the tomato?

Generally not, because all tomato colors can have a range of sugar content. I used to think the red, purple and black tomatoes had the biggest boldest, most acidic flavors but I’ve found the same quality in every color, with exception of most of the whites.

What are the terms most often used to describe tomato flavors?

I generally use the following: I compare: sweetness to tartness (or acidic), complex to simple, fullness to bland. I use the descriptions: mild, moderate and intense/bold or robust. I also, at times, might make an attempt to describe nuances I might pick up: earthy, chocolaty, spicy, fruity, citrusy but at different times for the same varieties I might also contradict my prior nuance descriptors. I too am subjective and able to be influenced by soil or fertilizer differences and even emotions. (As an example, at a tomato tasting I met a man who was seeking a tomato that would be boldly delicious and sweet as the tomato his grandfather used to grow when he was a kid. I advised him that he would most likely never find a tomato that sweet and bold in flavor because of how much he cherished his grandfather.)

How to grow tomatoes

Speedily grown under glass, placed in cold storage and ripened with gases… it’s hardly surprising that commercially grown tomatoes often taste bland. They’re a world away from home-grown tomatoes, which are juicy and have tangy flavours that develop gently over summer, as they ripen.

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More expert advice on growing tomatoes:

  • 10 of the best tomatoes to grow
  • Blight-resistant tomato varieties
  • Video: Planting tomatoes in a growing bag
  • Tomato types explained
  • How to avoid tomato blight
  • How to grow tomato plants from cuttings
  • How to grow the tastiest tomatoes
  • How to boost tomatoes with a comfrey feed

Follow the expert advice in this guide to growing your own delicious crop of tomatoes.

Keep tomatoes well watered because irregular watering causes fruit to split or develop hard black patches. Watering pots of freshly sown tomato seeds

Growing tomatoes from seed

There are many different types of tomato, including cherry, plum and beefsteak, each with its own distinctive shaped fruit, flavour and culinary use. They grow in one of two ways – either as a bush, or trained as a cordon, which is a tall single stem.

Tomatoes are available as young plants, but if you’d like to try some of the more unusual varieties it’s worth growing them from seed.

Start sowing in late January. Sow seeds in 7.5cm pots of moist compost, top with a thin layer of vermiculite, then water and cover with cling film. Stand on a warm, bright windowsill or in a propagator.

When your seeds have germinated, remove the cling film (or take them out of the propagator) and keep the compost damp. Transplant seedlings when they reach about 2-3cm tall into 5cm pots filled with moist multi-purpose compost. Return them to the windowsill. Keep potting on as necessary. Support stems by tying them to a pea stick with soft string.

Planting tomatoes outside

Move your tomatoes outside after the last frost in May. Choose a sunny, sheltered spot, where you can plant them into a border (into soil that has had plenty of well-rotted garden compost added), or into 30cm pots, or put two or three plants in a growing bag. If growing tomatoes in a greenhouse, try growing alongside basil, which enjoys the same conditions.

Watch Alan Titchmarsh’s video guide to planting tomatoes in a growing bag:

Looking after cordon and bush tomatoes

Tall-growing cordon tomatoes will require pinching out (removing side shoots) and staking (tying plants to canes with soft string). When the first tiny fruits begin to appear, strip away the leaves underneath to allow light and air to reach them better. When there are four trusses (clusters) of flowers, pinch out the plant’s growing tip.

Watch Alan Tichmarsh’s No Fuss video guide to caring for cordon tomatoes:

Once flowers appear, feed your plants weekly with liquid tomato food, such as Tomorite. Keep tomatoes well watered because irregular watering causes fruit to split or develop hard black patches, known as blossom-end rot. This is caused by a lack of calcium, which is found in water.

With bush tomatoes, which have a sprawling habit, you can pretty much leave them to get on with it. If the fruits are hidden under the leaves, thin out the foliage a little to let the sun through to ripen them. Support heavy trusses on top of upturned flowerpots to prevent their stems snapping.

Ripening tomatoes on the vine

Harvesting tomatoes

Leave tomatoes on the plants so they can ripen naturally, which greatly improves the flavour. Towards the end of the season, prune off the older leaves to let in more light and prevent grey mould fungus taking hold. If the weather turns cold, pick the trusses to ripen indoors.

Harvesting cherry tomatoes

Storing tomatoes

Tomatoes are best eaten straight from the vine, when they’re still warm from the sun. They don’t freeze well, but you can store them for a week or so. Avoid storing your tomatoes in the fridge where possible, as this will give them a mealy texture.

Preparing and cooking tomatoes

Enjoy tomatoes in salads and sandwiches. Most types are also suitable for cooking, but plum varieties are especially so. If you’re lucky enough to have a glut of tomatoes, try experimenting with your own pasta sauces.

Tomatoes: problem solving

Whitefly can be a problem in greenhouses, and tomato blight can affect plants grown outside, especially in warm, wet summers. Prevent blight by spraying plants with a suitable fungicide. Blossom end rot is caused by a lack of calcium, and splitting fruits can be a result of erratic watering.

Growing tomatoes in a greenhouse

Growing tomatoes in a greenhouse is very similar to growing them outside, except you get a longer growing season. You’ll need to shade your plants from excessive heat, which could cause tough skins, blotchy ripening and, if you forget to water regularly, blossom-end rot. So fit some blinds, use shade paint, or hang woven shading fabric.

Yellow and red tomato varieties

Great tomato varieties to grow

Outdoor tomatoes:

  • ‘Astro Ibrido’ – produces vast quantities of small to medium plum tomatoes with outstanding flavour
  • ‘Gardeners’ Delight’ – a bush or cordon cherry tomato, with heavy crops of richly flavoured fruits
  • ‘Garden Pearl’ – this compact cherry type is ideal for growing in a large pot
  • ‘Ildi’ – deliciously sweet, yellow, pear-shaped cherry tomatoes in large trusses of up to 80 fruits

Indoor tomatoes:

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  • ‘Juliet’ – a cordon cherry plum, with fewer seeds than most. It cooks well
  • ‘Reduna’ – this cordon type has a delicious, classic flavour and is easy to slice
  • ‘Sparta’ – a cordon variety with lots of well-shaped and well-flavoured fruits

How to germinate seeds to get best results when growing tomatoes from seeds

Germinate seeds before you sow them in potting mix. Pre-sprouting helps accelerate your tomato seedling crop.

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Get your free copy of “10 Must-Know Tomato Growing Tips.” This 20-page guide is filled with tips you need to know to have a successful tomato crop, whether you’re a beginning or experienced gardener.

Pre-sprouting is easy. It takes just a couple of days.

When you germinate tomato seeds before planting them, they have a greater chance of growing into seedlings than those you sow directly.

You’ll give your seeds a jump start on the growing season.

Plus, you’ll get more plants from the same amount of seeds that you sow directly into your indoor pots.

What you need

  • tomato seeds
  • paper towel or paper napkin
  • ziploc sandwich bags
  • marker to label bags
  • water
  • seedling heat mat

What to do

  1. Moisten a single paper towel sheet or paper napkin. Paper should be damp but not sopping wet.
  2. Sprinkle tomato seeds on paper towel so they are not touching. Seeds will adhere to paper. Use only one variety of tomato seed per roll. If you’d like to pre-sprout just a few seeds of one variety, tear the paper towel into smaller sections.
  3. Starting at one end, roll the paper towel or napkin loosely in cylinder-fashion.
  4. Place the rolled paper towel into a zipped plastic bag.
  5. Label the bag with tomato variety and date.
  6. Place bag in a warm place away from drafts, such as on the top of the refrigerator or stereo. Or use a seedling heat mat.
  7. Check the seeds a couple of times each day for germination. Carefully unroll the paper cylinder and look for the root emerging from the seed. Some seeds germinate within 24-48 hours. Other varieties, especially smaller varieties and those suited to grow in containers, take longer to sprout – as much as 10-14 days.
  8. As soon as the seed’s tap root emerges, plant your germinated seeds.
  9. Plant your germinated seeds in seed cell trays within 12-24 hours of sprouting. Be careful to not allow the seed’s root to grow too long while still in the paper towel, or the root will penetrate the paper and be difficult to manipulate without breakage. Once the root is broken, your seed will no longer be viable.

Video: How to Germinate Tomato Seeds Before Planting

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End Of Tomato Growing Season: What To Do With Tomato Plants At End Of Season

Sadly, the time has come. The days have shortened and temperatures are dropping. The time has come to consider what needs to be accomplished in the vegetable garden. You may have questions regarding the end of tomato growing season. Questions such as, “Do tomato plants die at the end of season?” and “When is the end of tomato season?” Read on to find out.

When is the End of Tomato Season?

Everything, to the best of my knowledge, has a life cycle and tomatoes are no exception. Although in their native habitat, tomato plants grow as perennials, they are usually grown as an annual for cultivation. Tomatoes are referred to as tender perennials, as they will generally succumb once temperatures drop, especially once frost hits.

Other tender perennials include bell peppers and sweet potatoes, which will also die back once frost is in the forecast. Watch the weather forecast, and when temps are dropping below the 40’s and 50’s (4-10 C.), it’s time to decide what to do with your tomato plants.

End of Season Tomato Plant Care

So what steps need to be taken for end of season tomato plant care? First of all, to hasten ripening of fruit, remove any remaining flowers so the plant’s energy goes towards the fruit already on the plant and not into development of more tomatoes. Cut back on water and withhold fertilizer to stress the plant towards the end of tomato growing season.

An alternate method for ripening the tomatoes is to pull the entire plant from the ground and hang it upside down in a basement or garage. No light is necessary, but comfortable temperatures between 60-72 F. (16-22 C.) are needed for continued ripening.

Or, you may pick the green fruit and ripen in small batches in a paper bag along with an apple. The apple will release ethylene, necessary to the ripening process. Some folks spread individual tomatoes out on newspaper to ripen. Keep in mind that once the tomato is removed from the vine, sugars will cease to develop so while the fruit will change color, it may not have the same vine ripened sweetness.

What to Do with Tomato Plants at End of Season

Once you have decided it’s time to pull the tomato plants out of the garden, the question is what to do with tomato plants at the end of the season? It is tempting to bury the plants in the garden to rot and engender additional nutrients for the following year’s crop. This may not be the best of ideas.

There is a possibility that your fading tomato plants have a disease, insects or a fungus and burying them directly into the garden risks infiltrating the soil with these and passing them on to next year’s crops. You may decide to add the tomato plants to the compost pile; however, most compost piles do not attain high enough temperatures to kill off pathogens. Temps need to be at least 145 F. (63 C.), so be sure to stir the pile if this is your plan.

The best idea is to dispose of the plants in the municipal trash or compost bin. Tomatoes are susceptible to Early blight, Verticillium, and Fusarium wilt, all soil borne diseases. Another effective management tool to combat the spread of disease is to practice crop rotation.

Oh, and the last end of tomato growing season chore may be to harvest and save seeds from your heirlooms. However, be aware that saved seeds may not grow true; they may not resemble this year’s plant at all due to cross pollination.

What do I do with tomato plants after summer is over?

Don’t discard those tomato plants after the growing season is over, unless your plants are nearly lifeless and have no remaining fruit or flowers on them. By following some easy steps you can still get tomatoes from plants after summer
Cover tomato plants with a blanket or rug so the frost does not kill the roots of your still producing tomato plants. Cover at night and remove the rug or blanket in the sunny morning.
Water the tomato plants less than usual and only on warmer sunny days. You don’t want to freeze the area dirt around the tomato plants you want to get tomatoes from after summer growing has ceased.
When the frost is imminent, dig up plants, being careful not to disturb the dirt around the roots as best you can. Replant indoors. Keep in a sunny area if possible.
Remove as many of the non producing leaves from the tomato plants. This will put all the growing energy into producing more tomatoes from the plants instead of to the leaves.
If you do not have any place to put the repotted plants, remove the plants from the ground and hang upside down in a dark place like a garage so you can still get tomatoes from those plants as they ripen on the vines.
If tomatoes fall from the vines, wrap them in newspaper and store in a cardboard box until ready to use in a few days. You can keep getting tomatoes from your tomato plants long into the fall.
Read more: How to Get tomatoes from plants after summer | eHow.com ehow.com/how_5119057_tomatoes-plants-after-summer.html#ixzz0zj5cCFLX

Fall Tomato Garden Clean Up

Tomato garden clean up is an important step in getting ready for next season. Time spent now will pay off big for next year’s tomato plants and for years to come. In fact, garden clean up is essential for the long-term health of your garden. Your soil will be healthier, your equipment will last longer, you’ll have a better plan for next season, and you’ll enjoy a neat garden throughout the winter. (.)

Here’s the dirt on cleaning up your garden in the fall.

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Keep Records

Before you begin clearing out your tomato patch, make notes about this year’s layout. Record where you planted tomatoes and what variety in a gardening journal. Note what worked well so you’ll have a log of successful varieties. Your layout records will also help you know where to plant and where not to next year. Crop rotation helps reduce diseases and improve the soil.

Remove Supports

Pull out stakes, trellises, and cages. Dispose ties. Remove leftover bits and pieces of vines and leaves. Scrape off excess soil from supports that have been sunk into the ground. Then, disinfect supports with a pump sprayer using a 10% bleach solution and allow them to dry in the sun. Bundle together stakes. Roll or stack cages and trellis material. Store supports indoors to prevent rodents from using them for nests: find a dry, cool corner of your garage, under the deck, or in a shed or barn. Cover securely with a tarp. (More on removing tomato supports.)

Remove Plant Materials

Pull up spent tomato plants and weeds, collect dropped or “mummified” fruit, and rake the garden to remove plant remnants. Burn (see below) or discard plant materials, including roots.

It may be tempting to simply till this organic matter into your garden to break down or add it to your compost pile. But beware. Fungi, bacteria, insects, and larvae that affect tomatoes – including septoria leaf spot, early blight, late blight, fusarium wilt, verticillium wilt, and bacterial wilt – overwinter in the garden.

By removing tomato plant debris (rather than composting it, working it into the soil, or leaving it until spring) you reduce build up of diseases and pest infestation. Most of the time, interior heat in compost piles does not reach a high enough temperature to kill pathogens. If you compost affected tomato plants or surrounding debris that have been exposed to fungi or bacteria, you risk infecting next season’s tomato plants. Remember that organisms can survive in weeds as well as tomato plants, so any growth surrounding tomato plants should be removed, too. (More on removing tomato plants from the garden.)

Burn Debris

You might also consider piling discarded tomato debris in your tomato patch, along with gathered autumn leaves, straw, yard clippings, and other garden remnants. Then burn them. Burning adds wood ash to your garden and also destroys weed seeds, fungi, bacteria, and other microorganisms that overwinter in the soil. Be sure to obtain necessary local permits for burning. Have a working garden hose on hand to contain burning.

The ash helps replace all of the trace minerals in the soil, allowing them to migrate from the roots to the leaves in any plant so when the leaves are burned, the trace metals are in the ash. A good suggestion is to break the ground deeply before you burn. Breaking the hardened soil allows moisture from the winter rains to be deeply absorbed. This step will greatly improve the quality of the soil for your upcoming crop as it will allow the ash (and associated nutrients) to be restored.

If you don’t have farm equipment, you may wish to use a middle buster or plow attachment, as most tillers will not penetrate the soil deeply enough to break the hard pan beneath the topsoil. Turning the soil with a spade also works.

Retest soil in the spring to determine its adjusted pH after burning.

Turn Over the Soil

A spade or a tiller/cultivator will help aerate the garden and encourage elimination of microorganisms over winter. There’s no need to finely till right now. Save that for spring.

Clean Garden Tools

Assemble your wheelbarrow, , spades, , trowels, and garden pruners. Rinse off excess soil with a garden hose. Scrub surfaces with disinfectant and a 10% bleach solution. Allow tools to dry. Oil metal tools to prevent rust. Store tools for winter. Follow manufacturer’s instructions for winterizing power tools.

Store Fungicides and Pesticides

Make sure applications are properly labeled and tightly sealed. Place them in a dry, safe location where they won’t freeze.

When to start preparing your tomato garden for winter

It’s a good idea to record your garden layout and notes about this year’s crops throughout the growing season in a gardening journal. You can also clear out garden debris as it accumulates.

Once the first frost has killed local annuals, your garden clean up can press forward in earnest. If you live in an area that doesn’t get frost, take your cue from flower gardens anyway. Watch to see when summer annuals turn brown and die. That tells you it’s time to clean up your tomato garden this year.

More on Fall Garden Clean Up

Tomato Garden Fall Cleaning Checklist, Part 1: Remove Tomato Plants

Tomato Garden Fall Cleaning Checklist, Part 2: Remove Tomato Supports

Tomato Garden Fall Cleaning Checklist, Part 3: Turn, Burn, Mulch …

3 Mistakes to Avoid When You Prepare Garden for Winter …

How to Take End of Season Notes about Your Tomato Garden …

Get more tips on our Garden Clean Up Pinterest board…

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