Tomatoes are a delicious and versatile food that are used in hundreds of tasty recipes. Even people who hate tomatoes often love tomato sauces that are vital to some of their favorite meals. Not all tomatoes are created equal, though. Experienced chefs will tell you that the quality of the tomato can make or break a recipe. You may already know that the tomatoes you buy in the grocery store, even the expensive organic variety, are far from the best when it comes to taste. The best tomatoes are the ones that come out of your own garden. If you have tried to grow tomatoes before and not been impressed, you may be skeptical, but when tended correctly tomato plants will produce lots of succulent fruits better than any bland store-bought variety.
Home grown tomatoes are worth the effort. The first time you eat a tomato grown the way they should be, you will never be satisfied with anything less. And you don't have to be! Growing your own tomatoes does not have to be difficult or frustrating. All you need is the right information and the will to make it happen. Without knowing a few key things about how to grow tomatoes you may get disappointing results, and if you have attempted to grow them and given up because of a poor turnout I hope you will give it another shot. Armed with a few important tips, you will be shocked at how different it can be. If you have never tried growing your own tomatoes before I'm glad you are reading this first. The following guidelines will save you a lot of headaches and give you some of the most delicious tomatoes you have ever had.
The most crucial time for a tomato plant is when it is a seedling. A lot of people buy small tomato plants to transplant instead of starting them from seeds. I would advise against doing this, unless you can find seedlings less than two weeks old. Even this option isn't as good as starting from scratch with seeds. Why? There are some important factors you need to control in the first few weeks of the plant's life. For one thing, seedlings need a larger pot than you would think right off the bat. Being cramped in a small pot or sharing a pot with other seedlings will have a permanent effect on the plant's long term growth. You can pretty much guarantee plants bought from a store will have been packed into the tiniest pots possible, dooming them to never reach their potential for size or nutrient transfer.
Another reason to start your own seedlings is you can have a huge impact on how strong the stems and early roots are with one simple trick: let a fan blow on the seedlings frequently, and from different directions. Don't turn it up high enough to flatten the seedlings, but mimicking a natural breeze forces stems to become thicker and stimulates more root growth right from the start. Plants with a stronger, thicker stem and more extensive root network will be able to sustain more fruit. The difference this one trick makes can be HUGE. Try isolating one or two seedlings from the fan and watch their growth compared to their tougher counterparts.
Besides room to grow roots and a breeze to toughen them up, young tomato plants require up to 18 hours of strong light and warm soil. Sunlight is best, but if you use grow lights (either exclusively or to supplement short hours of sunlight) just make sure the light is continuous and lasts at least 14 hours a day. One reason tomatoes are planted later in the spring or early summer is the longer days. Another reason is the temperature. Tomatoes cannot deal with cold weather. Anything below 50 degrees will severely affect their growth pattern, if it doesn't kill them outright. If there is any shred of a chance that the soil is going to be too cold when you want to transplant your tomato plants, use this tip to warm up the soil: A week or two before transplanting, cover the planting area with black plastic. The ground underneath will get hotter and stay hotter than uncovered areas, and your plants will thank you for it.
These pointers will get you off to a good start, but there is a lot more you can do to insure healthy plants with a lot of juicy tomatoes. When you transplant, bury them deep... all the way up to the leaves. Tomato plants will develop roots all along the stem which will deliver more nutrients to the growing fruit. When the plants get about two or three feet tall, remove some of the lowest leaves to reduce the chance of fungus. Constantly prune the tiny suckers that grow in the joint of two branches, but avoid pruning the rest of the plant if you can. Those shoots that try to grow between the branches will not bear any fruit, they just divert nutrients away from the growing tomatoes. Water the plants regularly and deeply until the tomatoes start to ripen, then taper your watering a bit to force the plant to concentrate its sugars in the fruit. Do everything you can to avoid irregular watering, that leads to cracked or rotted tomatoes if it gets out of hand. If the weather is especially hot and dry, step up the watering to compensate. Remember this: it's much easier to UNDERwater tomatoes than it is to overwater them, but don't try to make up for missing a scheduled watering time by doubling the volume. Just stick with the regular amount.
Following this advice will improve the quality of your tomatoes dramatically, but there is still a lot more information that can take the quantity and taste of your tomatoes to the next level. If you want to know more about improving your plants and the flavor of the fruit they produce, let me refer you to the source of much of my knowledge: Organic Tomato Magic. The author of this goldmine shares the secrets his tomato-farmer grandfather passed down to him to achieve not only the best tasting tomatoes, but how to double the amount usually harvested from a crop. I highly recommend you take a look at his website, GrowingTomatoSecrets.com. The author tells you a little about the source of his knowledge on the site, but even better you can get some free secrets from the book emailed to you with no strings attached. The one about microorganisms in the soil is worth it all by itself, but he also goes into more detail about watering and seeds. Click here to get it from the horse's mouth: GrowingTomatoSecrets.com, and may your tomatoes be large, abundant, and mouth-watering!