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Growing Tomatoes A Guide For Vegetable Gardeners

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 6 19

Growing Tomatoes

A Guide For Vegetable Gardeners

Growing tomatoes is one of the most popular vegetable gardener’s challenges. They are delicious, nutritious and gorgeous to look at! The other challenge with growing tomatoes is getting them from the garden to the kitchen safe from pickers. Once in the kitchen, they can be prepared for fresh cooking or preserved in many ways for later enjoyment.

Vegetable Garden Soil
Growing tomatoes is best done in a rich, vegetable garden soil high in organic matter. A slightly acidic soil is best, with some sand content. Sand helps the soil warm up faster during the early months and this leads to faster ripening of the first batch of fruit.

Seeds vs. Plants
Growing tomatoes can be done in two ways: start from seed or buy young plants from the garden centre.  Growing tomatoes from seed takes 5-8 weeks before the plants are big enough to go in the ground. Start off the seeds under plastic, and aim for an ideal soil temperature of 15- 21C/ 60-70F.  Once the seeds germinate, take off the cover, pinch out the small plants, and fertilize once a week using a weak solution.  You can also plant seeds right into your garden beds around the beginning of May, remembering to keep the area free of weeds. Plant out your seedlings (store bought or home grown) in May, once the danger of the last frost has past. Plants are best placed between 1-3 feet apart, depending on the variety.

Fertilizer, in the form of manure, or store bought at a ratio of 5-10-10, will give seedlings a good start. Place the fertilizer in a circle around the base of the plant, about three inches away from the main stem. Once the fruit of your growing tomatoes begin to appear, then apply a fertilizer mix high in nitrogen, again in a circle, twelve inches away from the plant. As the roots spread through the soil, they will seek out the nutrients you have set out for them and in turn help to grow a strong, healthy plant.

Greenhouse Effect
Plastic covers can be a great aid in growing tomatoes. Build an arch to go over your plants using heavy gauge wire or PVC pipes for the structure and sheet of poly plastic as a covering. A small opening at the top provides good ventilation for your vegetable plants. Other techniques include building teepees or laying down row covers over direct-seeded plants. They key is to keep temperatures below 32C/ 90F inside the plastic greenhouse.  A general rule of growing tomatoes is that it is usually safe to remove the plastic once your plants begin flowering. Remember that by using plastic you are increasing the intensity of the sun by 2-3 times. Avoid having soaring temperatures in your plastic structure for longer than 2-3 days in a row.


Keeping your soil moist is another key to growing tomatoes. Uniformly moist soil, that is! The best way to achieve this is to water for longer periods (20-30 minutes), really allowing water to penetrate your soil deeply. If you apply mulch on top of your soil at the beginning of the season, this also helps retain moisture by reducing the amount of evaporation your soil experiences during hot days. This way, you can water your growing tomatoes every 7-10 days, rather than watering a little bit on a daily basis. Hey, we all need to get away for a least a few days in the summer! When watering, keep the nozzle at the base of the plant and avoid getting foliage, fruit and flowers wet. Once fruit begins to ripen, you can greatly reduce or stop watering altogether.

Support Structures

Providing a support structure for your growing tomatoes is vital to keeping them away from slugs and cutworms as well as preventing rot. Cages are handy at first, but more often than not, plants quickly outgrow their support system. Depending on the varieties you have chosen, install a tall stake, trellis or bamboo teepee structure up to five feet high. This way, the plant is free to grow and you are free from having to prune fruit-bearing branches.

Pests and Disease

If you do end up with pests or diseases attacking your plants, and you choose to apply pesticides or fungicides, remember to protect your skin and eyes from contact. Read the instructions on the packaging, especially as your harvest time approaches. Following the label instructions closely will ensure that you are applying the right amount that will cause the least toxicity to birds, children, pets and the surrounding environment.



Apr 13, 2012 6:33am
Good article. We grow lots of tomatoes on allotment. Suffered with Tomatoe Blight last year - so will be giving crops good spray.
Apr 13, 2012 5:59pm
Tomato blight is unfortunate, you could try again in a different spot. Thanks for the comment, you have inspired me to write an article about blight - it's such a common issue!
Apr 13, 2012 7:51am
Two articles, two features. Comgrats.
Apr 13, 2012 6:00pm
Thank you!
Apr 13, 2012 10:24am
Mmmm....makes my mouth water. We really want to garden, but are a little scared to here in the Texas heat. Any idea how to make sure the garden gets enough light but isn't just scorched alive by the hot sun?
Apr 13, 2012 5:57pm
You are fortunate in your own way, because most full sun vegetables need and want 8 hours of direct sun to thrive! Of course, your challenge will be watering, so I would strongly recommend installing a watering system (drip irrigation or soaker hoses) that is controlled by a timer attached to the tap. You'll be the envy of all tomato, pepper, and cucumber gardeners out there!
Apr 13, 2012 12:52pm
Thanks for the tomato growing tips. I am just waiting to get past the last frost and warmer ground to plant my tomatoes. I am enjoying your garden tips and look forward to more. Congratulations on being featured again.
Apr 13, 2012 6:01pm
Thank you! What state are you in and when is the last frost? I am in the Pacific Northwest and we are having a late year (3 weeks "behind"), but generally tomatoes can go in the ground at the end of May.
Apr 13, 2012 1:06pm
I tried growing tomatoes once...it did not go well. Perhaps I should give it another go after reading this article!
Apr 13, 2012 6:01pm
Yes! Keep us updated!
Apr 13, 2012 5:38pm
Many thanks for this article. I found the info on watering very useful, that instead of watering a bit daily, you could water the tomatoes but every 7-10 days.
Apr 13, 2012 6:49pm
Years ago my parents would use huge buckets, drill holes in the bottom and plant 2-tomatoes, 2-peppers and 1-cucumbers. It worked out just fine and they did that for years. Good article.
Apr 14, 2012 3:50am
Tomatoes are one of my favorite vegetables. So usable in all kinds of foods. Nice article, didn't know about the watering cycle once the fruit ripens.
Apr 15, 2012 5:55am
Came from surrounding allotments. We are going to put some in greenhouse we inherited. Spray the rest with Bordeaux mixture. The blight is airborne so greenhouse works pretty well. Growing some at home as well.
Apr 17, 2012 12:15pm
Hey HigherGroundJess

Thanks for the article, congrats on getting featured! I started a small tomato house last year. Is there anything I should do differently here in Switzerland?

Apr 17, 2012 3:08pm
Great article - right on time to get everything set up on time.

Thanks for the reminder!

Apr 18, 2012 12:33pm
You've pretty much covered the important basics. Great feature!
Mar 25, 2013 4:30am
Thanks for this article and i love grow tomatoes in my garden.
Jul 11, 2013 2:23am
Nice feature! I do love tomatoes in any form..
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