You don’t have to have a green thumb to grow your own tomatoes at home. Even if you don’t plant your seedlings until July, you can still reap the harvest of a bright red (and yellow, and green) crop of tomatoes.
Have you ever bitten into a tomato that you grew, plucked right off the vine? There aren’t many things in this world that taste better than a homegrown tomato – and today, you have hundreds of heirloom varieties to choose from. With these handy tips, you’ll be biting into a succulent beauty before you know it.
- Plant a handful of tomato varieties that are well suited for your area, and make sure that they have different DTMs (days to maturity). That way, you’ll enjoy an ongoing harvest – and you’ll still have fruit even if a couple of varieties fail. Choose a cherry-type tomato, some for slicing, a hearty beefsteak, and one funky wild card.
- Pick the right seedlings, and plant them deep. Tomato seedlings should have bright green leaves and sturdy stems. Choose an area that gets six to eight hours of sunlight per day, and set the seedlings in a hole that is 15 inches deep. Cut off the lowest ring of leaves, and then fill up the rest of the hole with soil.
- Don’t forget the mulch. Cover the soil around your seedlings with a 2” thick layer of seedless star or hay, which you can find at a feed store. This will help to retain moisture and nourish your plants.
- No garden lot? Tomatoes grow wonderfully in a pot. Remember to choose one that is at least 15 inches deep and wide. Your plant needs this much soil to keep the roots from roasting during the heat of the summer. Use premium, organic potting mix for your plants – feed your babies well.
- When you grow your own tomatoes – or anything – one of the most difficult things to do right is to water the correct amount. Too much or too little can kill your tomato salad dreams. For the first few weeks, water deeply every three or four days. Once the plants really start growing, you can water less often – but still irrigate deeply for best results. Use soaker hoses, or just water slowly and with patience – call it garden meditation.
- Don’t over-fertilize. This may seem counter-intuitive, but tomato plants will use the excess fertilizer to grow leaves, not fruits. You only need a well-balanced, organic fertilizer twice: once when you plant the seedlings, and once when the flowers appear.
- Harvest your tomatoes at the right time. Ripe tomatoes are richly colored, and have just turned slightly soft. When you grow your own tomatoes, it might be tempting to rush, but don’t let impatience affect the taste of the (literal) fruits of your labor.
There’s only one thing left to do now: Enjoy!
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Photo by Manjith Kainickara