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Growing Tomatoes

There is nothing like a fresh, sun-warmed tomato, so growing tomatoes is on everyone's list. There are many kinds of tomatoes to consider, from beefsteak to cherry to heirloom varieties. There are also petite types bred specifically for hanging baskets. Tall and rangy cherry types can be trained up a trellis or over an arch.

Tomatoes grow best when the daytime temperature is between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. They stop growing above 95 degrees Fahrenheit. If nighttime temperatures are above 85 degrees Fahrenheit, the fruit will not turn red. Tomatoes need full sun and warm, well-drained soil.

Staked tomatoes.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Stake tomatoes to help them grow.

Start tomatoes either by seed planted in the garden on the average date of last frost or from transplants set in the garden about a week after the average date of last frost. If you use transplants, either purchase them from a reputable nursery or garden center or start your own indoors six to eight weeks before the planting date. Plant transplants 18 to 36 inches apart, depending on whether you will stake or cage the plants or let them sprawl.

Set transplants out on a cloudy day or in the late afternoon. If the sun is very hot, protect the plants with a temporary shade of newspapers. Disturb the roots of transplants as little as possible. If the stems are leggy or crooked, set the plants deeply or in a trench. Side roots will develop along the stem, and the top will turn in the right direction.

Harvesting Tomatoes

The time from planting to harvest is 50 to 180 days from transplants, depending on the variety. The color when ripe depends on the variety. Ripe tomatoes should feel firm, neither squashy nor too hard.

Tomato Growing Tips

These tips will help you grow sweet, delicious tomatoes:
  • Prune tomato plants to direct maximum energy into tomato production. Choose your pruning plan based on what you want from your tomatoes. For larger and earlier (but fewer) tomatoes, remove any shoots that emerge on or beside the main stem, and tie the stem to a stake. For more tomatoes later, let plants bush out and support them in tomato cages. Pinch off any flowers that open before July 4.

  • Choose between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes according to the way you prefer to harvest. Determinate tomatoes (such as Celebrity) tend to stay compact and produce most of their tomatoes at about the same time. This is convenient for freezing, canning, and sauce making. Indeterminate tomatoes (such as Big Beef) keep growing and developing new tomatoes as they go. They produce a greater yield but spread it over a longer harvest period.

  • Dozens of different cultivars are in each class; there are plenty to pick from. You might have to check seed catalogs to find out whether a particular tomato is determinate or not.

  • Stake your tomato cages so a bumper crop won't pull them over. Work a tall stake through the wire mesh near the perimeter of the cage, and stab or pound it to 8 inches deep in the ground. This will anchor the cage (and the plant inside) firmly despite the pull of strong winds and branchfuls of ripening tomatoes.

In the next section, we'll talk about all of the different kinds of tomato types.

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