Successfully Growing Tomatoes
Tomatoes are by no doubt one of my favorite things to grow in the garden. They are relatively easy to manage and an exciting home-grown snack for adults and kids alike. One of my favorite memories from last summer was watching Luci carefully inspect her little tomatoes and eat them right off the stem as soon as they’d ripened. For a two year old growing up in the city, it was one of the first hands-on experiences of learning that food doesn’t just appear on our plates but takes time and care to mature, and we can play a vital role in its creation. She was often eager to water HER plants and began to take ownership, as much as a two year old can, in the process of growing her own little snacks. It’s also worth noting that she hardly ate tomatoes when they were served on a plate with a meal, but she would eat every last red fruit straight from the stem. So if you want your kids to eat veggies, try growing them!
A big thank you to Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs for helping bring this post to life and for supporting urban growers and small farms all around the country. This is the second in a four-part series of blog posts to promote growing practices in small spaces. I am very grateful for their support and mission and hope you enjoy the upcoming content with a sprinkle of upcycled eggshells.
Where to Plant Them:
Tomatoes are perfect plants for small, edible gardens because they do well in containers as well as garden beds, and the varieties are truly endless. They love sun, so you want to make sure you plant them in an area where they’ll receive full sun all day long. If you are planting in containers, you want to make sure to use 3-gallon pots or larger. Tomatoes tend to have an extensive root structure, and they are more productive when their root systems are not restrained.
What Kind of Soil Do Tomatoes Like:
Tomatoes like well-draining, nitrogen-rich soil. This means extra compost, blood-meal or crushed Pete and Gerry’s Organic eggshells will make them happy. You want to make sure they have a steady source of calcium carbonate throughout the growing season. This also helps to regulate the soil’s acidity level to the plants’ liking.
Staking, Caging or Trellising:
Your plants will need some support structure, such as tomato cages or wooden stakes. It is best to put this structure in place before getting your plants into the ground so that you don’t disturb their root systems later. Personally, I tend to stake my tomatoes with a single bamboo shoot per plant and tie them with soft Velcro ties.
You want to encourage your plants to have strong, healthy root systems. This is done by trimming down the lower part of your seedlings and planting them deep into the soil. (See above images.) I usually add peat moss to the root area to help with water retention and add a source of extra nitrogen—in this case, some crushed Pete and Gerry’s Organic eggshells (shown in the lower images).
Tomato plants like to be moist but not soaking wet, so water them accordingly. As noted above, you can use peat moss when planting to help with water retention. Mulching is also a great practice to help keep the moisture levels high. As a general rule of thumb, it’s usually better to water in the early mornings or evenings, when the sun is not at its peak, to minimize evaporation. I tend to water mine daily, unless there is a heat wave in which case I try to water them twice a day, morning and evening.
Feeding the Plant for Optimal Growth:
Throughout the growing season, I tend to add compost/plant food at the root of the plants. This helps them grow to their full potential and be more productive. You can sprinkle compost at the base of the plant every 1-2 weeks once they start to bear fruit for most optimal growth. To learn how to make your own compost, check out a post on Composting 101.
Tomato plants send out suckers (the little shoots that grow between your main stem and an already established secondary stem). If you remove these suckers, your plant will focus on more robust growth and production.