If you’re just starting a small backyard or community garden, try growing just a few tomato plants at first- perhaps 4 to 8 plants of 2 to 3 different varieties.  Your harvest can stretch out over many weeks if you choose varieties that mature at different times.  If you are buying seeds to start your own plants, thoroughly read catalog information too carefully to find out when different varieties ripen.  Nursery-grown plants are often labeled early, midseason, or late to indicate their ripening period.

     Another consideration in choosing tomato varieties is whether they are determinate or indeterminate type vines.  Determinate plants grow to a certain height and then stop.  Because of their more restrained size, determinate varieties often need no staking.  They set all their fruit within a relatively short period of time- usually about a week to 10 days.  This can be a boon if you are canning, but for the gardener who prefers to have a fewer number of tomatoes over a longer period of time, indeterminate varieties are better.  These continue to grow in height throughout the season, and set fruits over a longer period of time.

     There are many varieties to try out and plenty of them would probably do well in your garden.  Talk to your local county extension agent and to other home gardeners to find out which varieties are tried and true performers in your part of the country.  There are many varieties suited for eating fresh tomatoes, making tomato paste, canning, and for growing in pots and other small containers.

     Most gardeners transplant young nursery-grown or home started tomato seedlings when all danger of frost has past and the soil has warmed up rather than sowing seeds directly in the garden.  In southern Florida, parts of California and the Southwest, gardeners can set out tomato plants in the fall for a winter harvest.

     If you buy your plants, you may not have a wide choice of varieties.  Starting your won plants from seeds lets you choose from an almost endless list of varieties.  You must be able to offer proper growing conditions to produce strong healthy transplants, however.  Seeds should be started 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date in your area.  .

     For starter trays, you’ll need seed starting trays, most trays are called “flats” or other containers, such as paper cups, milk cartons, or peat pots.  Just be sure there are holes in the bottom for drainage.  You’ll need adequate amounts of light for the seedlings-either sunlight of fluorescent.  Regular fluorescent lights work fine.  And pasteurized soil mixes, these come in a variety of options.  The soil mixes in most garden stores are very good.  They are pasteurized, that is, free of weed seeds and disease-causing fungi that can cause young seedlings to collapse and die-a problem called “damping off.”

     If you’re thinking about using garden soil to start your plants, you should pasteurize it first.  You can do this by baking it in the oven at 200 degrees in a shallow pan for about an hour.  This kind of baking doesn’t do anything for your appetite; however, it can really smell.  Garden soil should not be used straight for starting seeds; it’s now well-drained when it’s put in a pot.  Combine equal parts of pasteurized soil, peat moss and vermiculite or perlite for a good seed-starting soil mix. 

     The step-by-step growing process is very simple.  First, moisten the soil mix, put it in your container and level it out.  The soil should be moist, but not wet.  Next, Sprinkle the seeds on top of the soil about ½- inch apart.  They can be scattered over the surface of placed in rows.  Then, firm the seeds into the soil with a small piece of wood or other flat object.  Then put a thin layer-about ¼ inch-of moist soil over mix over the seeds, level it, then firm it again.  This brings the seeds into good contact with the soil, which is important for germination.  Next, place the container inside a plastic bag or cover it tightly with a sheet of plastic.  The plastic should not touch the soil surface.  This will keep the soil mix from drying out.  As soon as the seedlings start to poke through the soil, remove the plastic cover.  Then, place a few sheets of newspaper on top of the plastic for insulation to help support an even temperature-another help for germination.  Put the container in a warm spot-about 70 degrees is ideal-where the temperature is even.  The seedling will begin to emerge from the oil in a few days.  Check daily so you can remove the plastic and newspaper at the first sign of green and move the container to a well-lit place.  Lastly, remove the covering and put the seedlings in a sunny window or under fluorescent lights.  If you use lights, set the plants an inch or two below the tubes and maintain that distance as the plants grow.  If too far away from the lights, the plants will stretch towards them and not develop properly.  Keep the lights on for up to 16  hours a day and then turn them off at when going to bed. 

     Give your seedlings proper growing temperatures.  Daytime temperatures in the range on 60-75 degrees and night temperatures in the range of 60-65 degrees will encourage sturdy, stocky plants.  The more light you can give your plants, the higher the growing temperatures that are suitable.  Keep the soil moist, but not wet.  When you water the plants, do it gently so you don’t wash any of them out.  Try to use room temperature water, if possible.  Don’t worry about fertilizing the seedlings right away.  Wait a week-or even until after the first repotting brefore feeding plants.  Then apply a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer diluted to ¼-strength in with the plants’ water once a week.

    So, as you can see, tomatoes  pretty easy to grow.  Following these simple steps will get you on your way to having strong, healthy, and tasteful tomatoes.