Along with the potato, tomatoes are one of the most popularly consumed vegetables in the United States! Although culinarily it is used as a vegetable, botanically it is actually a fruit, and more specifically, a berry. Native to central and south America, tomatoes have been adapted to cuisines around the world. Read on for more information about growing this popular vegetable (fruit).
Determinate vs. Indeterminate Tomatoes
Tomatoes are categorized into two main varieties - determinate and indeterminate.
Determinate varieties stop growing at a certain height and produce their fruit all at one. This is an advantage if you’re planning on canning or freezing.
Indeterminate varieties are actually perennials in their native climates! Treated as annuals throughout most of the world, they will continue to grow and bear fruit throughout the growing season.
What is an heirloom tomato? Are they better?
Heirloom plant varieties are those that have existed for 50 years or more, and traditionally the seeds have been preserved by gardeners! There are many seed companies now that specialize in heirloom seeds.
Seeds from heirloom plants will grow into their parent plant. Seeds from hybrid plants do not necessarily grow true to the parent plant.
All heirloom plants are considered indeterminate.
Heirloom plants are often best known for their taste.
What is a hybrid? Is it the same as GMO?
Hybrids are not GMOs. A hybrid is a variety that was produced by cross-pollination of two different varieties of parent plant.
They are typically bred to have some favorable characteristics, such as resistance to disease, drought, mildew, cracking, and even taste!
Genetically modified (GMO) tomatoes are not commercially available.
Don’t plant too early! Tomatoes won’t survive a frost, and in fact, won’t even grow much until the soil is warm. Our frost date may be May 15th, but it’s best to wait until the soil has warmed.
Soil temperatures less than 50°F can stunt plant growth. The ideal soil temperature for planting tomatoes is around 60°F.
You can also plant fairly deep to increase the strength of the plant. All of those hairs on the stems are actually root starts, and will grow if exposed to soil and moisture. As a rule of thumb, go ahead and plant down to the first set of leaves to allow it to grow extra roots.
Provide support! Tomatoes are vines, and require support to remain upright.
Water deeply and regularly. Tomato plants need an inch to an inch and a half of water every week. Mulch will help preserve moisture in the soil.
Tomatoes growing in containers will likely need water daily!
Tomatoes will have the best flavor if they are allowed to fully ripen on the vine.
After picking, tomatoes should be stored at room temperature.
Storing with the stem down can help reduce bruising.
Once a tomato has been refrigerated, its taste and texture will be permanently altered.
What is the best tasting tomato?
We get this question often! Truthfully, ANY tomato that you grow in your garden and eat fresh from the vine is going to taste fantastic and far superior to a supermarket tomato.
Beyond that, it is personal preference! Part of the fun of planting tomatoes is developing your own personal taste and favorites.
We have over 30 varieties. Read all about them here!
Our pick would be Brandywine or Celebrity.
What is blossom end rot?
Blossom end rot starts as a small brown or black spot at the bottom of the tomato, and will expand and soften (rot) as the fruit ripens
It’s caused by calcium deficiency in developing fruit. The soil may be calcium deficient, or much more likely, irregular watering can inhibit calcium intake by the roots of the plant.
Discard affected fruit - they will not recover, and this will prevent the plant from wasting energy on bad fruit.
Water regularly and deeply once or twice a week, and mulch around the plants to conserve moisture (never all the way up to the stem).
Remember - water the roots, not the leaves!
Why do tomatoes split?
Tomatoes split when a sudden increase in moisture causes the inside of the tomato to grow too quickly for the skin to keep up!
Irregular watering, followed by a deluge of water, causes this.
Preventing splitting and preventing blossom end rot go hand in hand - water deeply and regularly, and mulch to preserve moisture!
If there is a heavy rainstorm on its way and you have almost ripe tomatoes, you can pick them and let them finish ripening on a windowsill (just make sure they’ve at least started to develop their color before you pick them).
Plant in soil that has good drainage - this will help protect your plant from heavy rains.
Watch out for hornworms!
If all of a sudden you see a section of your plant missing all of its leaves, you are probably dealing with a hornworm.
Do not delay - a hungry hornworm can decimate a tomato plant within a few days. If you have multiple hornworms on a plant, it can be destroyed in a single day.
Fortunately, hornworms are big caterpillars and can be easily removed from your tomato plant. Unfortunately, they are the same color green as your tomato plant and take some concentration to find.
Sometimes they will have little white nodules all over them - this is a hornworm that has been infected by a parasitic wasp. Parasitic wasps are good, but that hornworm will still eat your tomato plant. Kill it.
Have chickens? Hornworms are a tasty treat.
See you at the greenhouse!