Tomatoes are ingredients for delicious dishes, beverages, natural skincare products. Knowing how to grow tomatoes is useful if you like cooking or making your own beauty products. You can grow tomatoes indoor or outdoor, and there are tons of varieties to choose.
Interested? Use this guide to successfully plant tomatoes at home.
1. Tomato Varieties: Determinate VS Indeterminate
There are two groups of tomato varieties based on their growing season. They are:
Determinate tomatoes grow faster and can be harvested earlier. They are small and have a short living period. Popular varieties from this group are Sophie’s Choice, Glacier, Tumbling Tom Yellow, Amelia, and Santiam. Most dwarf tomatoes are also included in this group.
Indeterminate tomatoes are larger and living longer than determinate tomatoes. They produce fruits throughout the growing season. You need larger planting areas or garden beds for these tomatoes. Popular varieties include Sungold, Brandywine, Beefsteak, Big Boy, Early Girl, and Sweet Million. Most cherry and heirloom tomatoes are included in this group.
Knowing your goals and climate condition will help in choosing the tomato plant. If you live in areas with short summer, determinate tomatoes are better. Determinate types are also great if you plan to pickle or can the tomatoes. If you need fresh tomatoes all year round, indeterminate tomatoes are the best.
2. Requirements to Plant Tomatoes
Regardless of the varieties, tomatoes need several requirements to grow healthily. They are:
Tomatoes need a warm temperature to grow well. Indeterminate varieties need at least three to four months of a continuous warm season to grow properly. The ideal night temperatures for planting tomatoes are between 55 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit (13 and 14 degrees Celsius).
Tomatoes need six to eight hours of sunlight every day. If you live in the subtropical region, you can plant them indoors several weeks before the last frost date before moving them outside.
Loose, rich, neutral soil
Tomatoes can grow on various soil types, but clay or sandy loam soil is the best. The soil must be loose enough to allow good drainage. The ideal pH is between 6.0 and 7.0 (neutral or slightly below it). However, if you grow the first seeds, you better use starter mix that contains no soil.
Tomatoes also hate extreme temperatures and strong wind. Provide shade cover to protect tomato leaves and roots during really hot summer. Use plastic tunnels or hot caps to protect tomatoes during winter or frost.
3. How to Plant Tomatoes Indoor
Growing tomatoes indoor is perfect for determinate or dwarf tomatoes. Despite the smaller sizes, you can enjoy fresh tomatoes even during cold season with this method. Here are the steps:
Prepare the pots and soil
Tomatoes love unglazed pots that have good drainage holes on the bottom. The unglazed material is ideal to let the soil and root “breathe”. Mix the starter mixture (no soil) with natural compost. Find a warm, well-lit spot to place the pot, such as near the window. The first pot should be at least 6-inch high, but you must prepare larger pots for later.
Plant the seeds
To plant the very first tomato seeds, make a ¼-inch hole in the starter soil mix. Plant the seeds and cover them, but don’t pat the soil too tightly. Place the starter pots in warm and well-lit areas, such as near the windowsill or on top of the fridge. You don’t need to fertilize at this point.
Transfer the seedlings
Once the seedlings grow 3-inch tall, transfer them to bigger pots. Start adding organic fertilizer every two weeks. Keep the soil moist, but never overwater.
Help with the pollination
Once you see flowers blooming, tap the stem slightly to encourage pollination. You can also use a cotton bud to swab the pollen into the flowers.
If everything goes well, you can harvest these tomatoes in eight weeks or so.
4. How to Plant Tomatoes Outdoor
Want more stable harvest all year round? You can start by growing tomatoes in pots before transferring the seedlings to the garden. Here are ways to grow your tomato seedlings in the garden:
Prepare the seeds
Follow the first two steps of growing tomatoes indoor but replace the varieties with the indeterminate types (which are more suitable for the garden). Let the seeds grow into 4 to 6 inch-high “transplants” before the last frost day.
Prepare the soil
If you want to plant tomatoes after winter, heat the soil by upturning the surface and covering it with a plastic tarp. Pull it tight and secure the edges. Let the plastic stays for two weeks before you are ready to plant.
Plant the transplants
Dig the hole with twice the diameter and depth of your tomato transplants. Add fertilizer for tomatoes inside, such as organic fertilizer or compost. Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizer to prevent dark spots. Place the root ball inside and leave two rows of leaves outside the soil.
Install stakes or cages
You will need to support your tomato plants once they grow. You can install a stake next to each plant, or surround it with a three-ringed “cage”.
Depending on the varieties, you can harvest in 60 to 80 days after the first planting.
5. Tomato Plant Maintenance
Tomato needs watering, but not excessive. You may water the seeds on the first several days, but only 2 inches per week when the plants are growing. Always water your tomatoes in the morning, because the plants can retain moisture better during the day.
Mulching is important for tomato plant care. You must start doing it five weeks after the first seed planting. Mulching prevents weeds from robbing nutrients from the plant. You must also remove the “suckers”, which are small, extra side branches that will suck nutrients from the main branches.
Finally, you can use an organic pesticide to protect your tomatoes. You can also handpick pests such as tomato hornworm or fruit worm.
Tomatoes need meticulous care to grow properly, especially if you live in a four-season country. However, you can choose tomato varieties that suit your local warm period and needs. Whether you choose determinate or indeterminate varieties, make sure you know how to grow tomatoes properly to get fresh produces all year round.