Tomatoes are a popular crop staple for farmers across America. They are versatile, tasty, and easy to grow once you know-how.
If you’re not a farmer, you can still benefit from big, juicy, natural tomatoes – all you have to do is read this article!
We’ll be covering how to grow, store, and use tomatoes to create delicious meals.
Planting and Caring for Tomatoes: Tips and Tricks
- Designate a sunny spot for growing your tomatoes. Since tomatoes need 6-8 hours of sunlight a day, the spot should have frequent full sunlight.
- Be sure to trellis, stake, or cage your tomato plants to keep them off the ground. Set up your chosen support system directly after you finish planting.
- Plant tomatoes in the late spring and early summer seasons unless you are located in zone 10. In this case, tomatoes are a fall/winter crop.
- Give your tomatoes enough room to grow. Long vined tomatoes should be placed 3 feet apart, stocky plants should be 2 feet apart.
- Plant starter plans instead of seeds to get a head start on your crop.
- Planting your tomatoes with 3-4 inches of compost will provide plenty of minor nutrients as well as help maintain moisture and tomatoes fertilizers.
- Plant your crop in potting soil that has a pH range of 6.2 to 6.8 for best results.
- Bury your tomato plant stems up to two-thirds of its length. This allows the plant to grow roots and sprout, as well as helps the plant stay upright and supported. It also ensures that it can find underground water during a drought.
- Water your tomatoes on a regular basis and aim for at least one inch of water per week, whether it via rain or manual watering. Water the plants more often during the hot summer months.
- Water seedlings immediately after planting.
- Minimize weeds in your tomato gardens by covering the ground with 2 to 4 inches of mulch. Consider using shredded leaves and straw as your source of mulch.
Troubleshooting Tomato Problems
Sometimes, as summer sets in, tomato plants have problems budding fruit. With a bit of patience, though, cooler nights will bring with them little green tomatoes. In the meantime, be sure to pick the ripest tomatoes promptly, in order to take some stress off the plants.
Here are a few extra tips and tricks to help you overcome problems that you might have with your plants.
- If you live in an area that’s prone to droughts during the summer or you have a tendency to forget to water your plants, set up soaker hoses, drip irrigation, or any other drought-friendly watering techniques that help the soil maintain its frugal moisture. Soaker hoses a great option because tomato plants have very long roots, and this kind of hose allows the plant to be watered from tip to root.
- Humid weather is known to cause fungal diseases such as early bight, which is a disease that causes dark spots to form on lower leaves. So, to conquer early blight before it turns into late blight, which kills entire plants quickly, remove the diseased leaves as soon as possible. You might also choose to spray the leaves of your tomato plants with a fungicide.
- Keep an eye out for pests. The mid-summer season is a prime time to catch big green caterpillars, also called tomato hornworms, munching away at your tomato plants. They can even sometimes damage the fruit. Deal with pests as soon as you first spot them – even if there’s only one or two.
- Plants that started producing fruit early in the season will begin to show signs of exhaustion by late summer. Luckily, you can extend their life by pruning withered leaves and subsequent dead branches. Follow this up with treatments for leaf disease and insects and liquid plant food.
- If you’re able to, plant your tomato plants somewhere that is shielded from harsh winds. This is particularly helpful if you’ve planted indeterminate varieties of tomatoes, which are known for growing branches in every possible direction.
- The beautiful blossoms of your tomato plants can be temperamental and hard to manage. If the weather is too cool, say 55 degrees Fahrenheit or below, or too hot, above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, most flowers (regardless of variety) will stop setting fruit. Tailor your planting to the general weather of your area to reduce the risks of this happening.
Harvesting and Storing Tomatoes
- As your homegrown tomatoes start to ripen, their color will go through a variety of transformations. First, it starts as a vibrant medium-green, then goes to a lighter shade of green that has pink or yellow “blushing”. These are called “breakers”; they are mature green tomatoes that can be pickled, chopped, and used in salsas, or pan-fried. As the fruit continues to ripen, the flavors become more complex, which is what makes it desirable to so many tomato farmers to wait it out.
- Most tomatoes are fully ripe when they have a deep color but are still firm when gently squeezed.
- Tomatoes that are picked from your garden after weeks of growing in the best soil for tomatoes that you can find, should be stored at room temperature inside. Alternatively, they could be stored in a cool, shady place outside.
- Tomatoes should never be refrigerated as temperatures below a mere 55 degrees Fahrenheit can cause their flavors to be leeched out as their compounds break down.
5 Ways to Use Tomatoes
Tomatoes can be used in a variety of ways. Here are a few of our favorites.
Pickling tomatoes is one of the many tomato uses that gets forgotten about. However, it’s been an age-old favorite for hundreds of years. Pickled tomatoes are excellent for snacking.
Of course, tomatoes can be frozen. When they are, they become the perfect ingredient for soups and stews.
As we mentioned, green tomatoes are ideal for making salsa.
A convenient way to use extra tomatoes, putting your fresh tomatoes in a salad is both tasty and sensible.
A hearty wrap filled with ripe tomatoes, bell peppers, your choice of meat or tofu, and sour cream is guaranteed to always be delicious.