Home Growing Tomatoes

Home Growing Tomatoes: A Start-to-Finish Guide to Growing Tomatoes at Home

There is a joy that comes with biting a fresh and tasty tomato. As a result, many people prefer to grow their tomatoes at home instead of buying bland tomatoes from the supermarket.

But unfortunately, tomatoes can have more trouble than other vegetables in your garden. But this shouldn’t intimidate you; you can master the dos and don’ts and get a perfect harvest!

On that note, the secret to growing flavorful tomatoes is choosing the best varieties, growing the crops in the right ways, and controlling problems before they happen.

So, hereunder, we shall go through a tested and approved step-by-step guide for home growing tomatoes.

Varieties

There are many types of tomatoes available today that you can choose from for your home garden ranging from new hybrids to tasty heirlooms. 

But you shouldn’t pick just any tomato variety without first finding out its productivity, the potential for fruit splitting, and disease resistance. 

So, remember to check the tomato seed catalog before buying tomato seeds to see which seeds are disease resistant, among other important features. 

Let’s now see a list of tomato varieties and the diseases each variety is resistant to.

Disease resistance key:

F – Fusarium wilt resistance

N – Nematode  resisatnce

T – Tobacco mosaic resistance

V – Vascillium wilt resistance

Better boy (FNV)

This variety has been around for years and has maintained its popularity. Better boy features productive plants, with firm and globe-shaped fruits weighing 10 to 12 ounces. These plants mature in around 75 days.

Better boy (FNV)

Big beef plus (FNV)

This is an advanced version of the famous big beef variety. This type of tomato has better disease resistance, flavor, and adaptability. 

The fruits of the big beef plus have smooth outer skin with a rich red-colored interior. Additionally, these fruits weigh around 10 to 13 ounces per fruit and mature in about 73 days.

Big beef plus (FNV)

Early girl (FV)

As the name suggests, this pretty fruit matures early – within 52 days. Unlike the previous two tomato types we discussed, the early girl produces medium fruits weighing between 4 and 6 ounces. 

The Early girl will be great for you if you’d love to get your tomatoes early and abundantly.

Early girl (FV)

Celebrity (FNTV)

This type was indeed a celeb and an American award winner in 1984 and has maintained its popularity even today.

Celebrity determinate tomatoes are short; thus, they don’t need staking. Also, the plants are highly productive and mature in about 70 days.

The fruits are red and weigh between 7 to 8 ounces.

Celebrity (FNTV)

Jet star (FV)

Many home gardeners consider this type. The fruits weigh about 8 ounces and are abundantly produced.

Jet star is crack resistant. Also, this fruit is flavorful and has a meaty taste. 

Most people love Jet star since it’s relatively low in acidity.

Jet star (FV)

Red deuce (FTV)

This tomato type is popular among commercial tomato gardeners. The fruits of this plant have a globe shape and a good flavor, size, and physical appearance.

Red deuce does well in short-trellising or tomato cages.

Red deuce (FTV)

Lemon boy (FNV)

If you would love to try out a new tomato variety with a different color, you can look out for the Lemon boy. 

This boy is a newer variety in the market, has an attractive appearance, and the plant produces abundantly.

Additionally, lemon boy fruits are firm, yellow in color, weigh about 6 to 7 ounces, and mature in around 72 days.

Lemon boy (FNV)

Supersweet 100 (FV)

These indeterminate tomatoes yield multiples of small cherry tomatoes and are popularly known for their high levels of sweetness. 

Super sweet 100 variety matures in about 665 days.

Supersweet 100 (FV)

Producing Homegrown Tomato Plants

As discussed earlier, the quality of a tomato plant largely determines its productivity.

That said, an ideal plant ready for transplant should ideally have a length of 8 to 10 inches with a dark green color, stocky stem, and good roots. Depending on environmental conditions, producing transplants matching this description often takes around 4 to 6 weeks.

But how many seedlings will you need? Well, this will depend on family size. You can transplant 3 to 5 plants per person for the fresh tomato bites and 5 to 10 plants per person if you’d want enough tomatoes for processing.

Now that you have the quality factor and the number of plants you need in mind, the next thing to think about is where or how to get the tomato seedlings.

Well, for best results, you can purchase your seedlings from a local nursery or greenhouse during the appropriate time. 

But if you are confident enough to raise your seedlings, you can do so in the right porous seeding mix. You can get more information on how to raise plants from seeds from MU Extension Publication.

Producing Homegrown Tomato Plants

Where to Grow Tomatoes

Most tomato varieties thrive in full sunlight, from growing to harvesting. So, ensure you choose a good location for your plants, away from shades of trees, other tall plants, or buildings. 

Additionally, tomatoes require alot of watering, so arrange on that too. Also, ensure your soil is well-draining since poor soil aeration can lead to root loss or fruit diseases like blossom end rot.

Where to Grow Tomatoes

Preparing the Soil

After picking a good location for your tomato plants, it’s time to make the soil in that location fit to grow them.

At this point, you can add some organic matter to the soil, such as compost, well-rotted manure, peat moss, or leaf mold; this will improve the health of your garden.

Also, ensure the soil PH is between 5.5 and 7.0. If needed, you can use lime to neutralize acidity in the soil.

Preparing the Soil

Fertilizer

After preparing the soil, add some garden fertilizer to the earth. Use a fertilizer low in nitrogen (N), medium to high in potassium (K), and high in phosphorous (P). 

Avoid using ammonia fertilizers, e.g., urea or ammonia nitrate, with your tomato plants.

Also, follow the right steps for fertilizing your garden soil.

Fertilizer

Planting the Tomato Seedlings

Before transplanting the tomatoes, ensure the weather outside is warm and the soil temperature is above 60°F. Soil temperatures below 50°F can impair tomato growth.

Next, dig some holes. The distance between these holes mainly depends on the type of tomatoes. 

Generally, the distance between the holes should be 24 to 36 inches for home garden tomatoes. You can dig the holes 36 inches apart for the large vine tomatoes.

Planting tomatoes lesser than 24 inches apart can hinder air circulation around the plants and promote disease transfer from plant to plant. 

Additionally, the space between the rows should be between 4 to 5 feet.

After digging the holes, place a seedling in each and add soil firmly upto just below the first leaves. This way, you will have enough portion of the stem under the soil to form roots for healthy plants.

Planting the Tomato Seedlings

Staking

Staking increases the yield, ensures you get good quality fruits, and makes harvesting easy. Also, providing support to your tomato plants reduces the risk of diseases.

So, place the stake firmly in the ground, 4 inches away from the transplanted plant. Then use a soft twine to tie the plant to the stake. Ensure you don’t tie the plant tightly; leave about half an inch of space to allow stem enlargement.

Some people use cages or wire mesh to support the plants, and all this is acceptable.

Staking

Pruning 

Determinate and semi-determinate tomato plants often don’t need pruning. 

But pruning is necessary for large-vine (indeterminate) plants. Here, you will need to remove the side shoots to keep the plant from being too bushy and tall since this can tamper with the harvest quality.

However, for the tomatoes growing in cages, you will require minimal pruning; you will just break off a few shoots that could hinder the smooth movement of light in the cage.

Pruning

Watering

95% of a tomato is made of water. Therefore, tomato fruits need water to grow and bring forth fruits

So, you can water your plants once a week, thoroughly soaking the soil around the roots. However, you will need to water your tomatoes daily if you planted them in small containers.

Also, it will be good to note that frequent light watering of your plants is discouraged since it can lead to a poor root system.

One more thing, you can mulch your garden with clean hay, straw, compost, or paper to prevent evaporation.

Watering

Side-dressing

The fertilizer you use when preparing your garden for the transplants is never enough to feed your plants all through to maturity. 

That said, add some side-dress fertilizer around the roots when the plants have gained about one-third of their growth. Then mix the fertilizer carefully with the topsoil.

Calcium nitrate is a perfect side-dress fertilizer.

After the first side-dress, you can repeat it two weeks after picking the first fruits, then do a third side-dress a month later.

Remember to water your crops after every fertilizer application if rain can’t find your address; this will ensure the nutrients get to the roots.

Side-dressing

Weed Management

Weeds carry diseases that insects or humans can later transfer to your tomato plants. Also, weeds can create a dwelling place for insects whereby weeds, insects, and your crops compete for nutrients.

Therefore, you can apply the mulch we discussed earlier in your tomato garden to suppress weed growth.

Weed Management

Harvesting

If you long for delicious tomatoes, you will need to allow them to ripen fully while on the vine and pick them before they soften.

Additionally, your fruits will have an optimal flavor and color when the daily temperature in the garden is about 75°F. 

But, temperatures above 92°F during harvesting can affect the fruits’ flavor, color, and texture. High temperatures cause white tissue to form in the fruit’s interior while the exterior develops yellow spots. 

Therefore, it’s good to have great vine growth to partially shade the fruits from intense sunlight. 

After harvesting your fruits, do not refrigerate them. I know this sounds tough to some, but the only way to preserve the flavor and quality of tomatoes is by storing them at room temperature.

What if the conditions outside are not good, and you rescue your matured green tomatoes? Well, this happens, and all you need to do is select the disease-free tomatoes, wrap them in a piece of paper and store them at 60 to 65°F. Within no time, they will ripen, and you can use them over several days.

Harvesting

Psychological Tomato Problems

Many of the following disorders are common, and you can easily recognize them on your tomatoes. However, there isn’t much you can do for most of them, but you can still eat the fruits by cutting off the affected areas.

It’s good to note that these disorders are not caused by disease or insects.

 

Blossom end rot

This is a common disorder among homegrown tomatoes. This problem affects the blossom of a fruit, turning it brownish.

Blossom end rot results from calcium deficiency and moisture fluctuations. 

Your next move after you notice this disorder on your tomatoes is to pick the affected fruits to give room for other fruits to develop properly. Also, ensure you water the plants adequately and provide them with calcium.

Additionally, you can mulch to keep the moisture supply even and avoid using ammonia fertilizer. 

Also, don’t use a hoe or any other garden tool to remove weeds around the roots; this can destroy the roots leading to poor moisture absorption.

 

Catfacing

As the name suggests, fruits affected by this disorder have a malformation at the blossom end. The affected parts often resemble the face of a cat. Cool weather when the blossom is setting can intensify the deformities.

Catfacing is common in large tomatoes such as beefsteak tomatoes.

Catfacing

Cloudy spots

Tomatoes affected by this disorder have irregular whitish spots under the fruit skins. This problem indicates that stink bugs fed on the fruit at some point during development.

Cracking

Several things can cause your fruits to crack: soil moisture fluctuations, tomatoes directly exposed to sunlight, soil drying before watering, and growing tomato types that are not crack-resistant.

Cracking

Flower drop

This disorder often results from bad weather, as mentioned below

  • When the temperatures at night are below 55°F
  • When the night temperatures stay above 75°F for long
  • When the temperatures during the day are above 95°F
  • Hot drying winds

Different tomato varieties can respond differently to the above temperature conditions.

Also, you can use fruit setting hormones if you bring fruits early during the growing season.

However, the problem often disappears, and the fruits develop properly after the temperatures improve.

Flower drop

Leaf roll

This problem is often seen in plants after pruning or in early tomato types. Some tomato types’ bottom or low leaves roll and become stiff, usually after pruning.

The best thing is that this condition rarely affects the yield.

Leaf roll

Sunscald

This problem appears on ripe or unripe tomatoes when they are exposed to direct sun rays. You will notice some white patches on your fruits in the areas that received intense heat. 

Good foliage cover can help prevent sunscalding.

Sunscald

Chemical Problems

Two common chemical problems that affect tomatoes include herbicide injury and walnut toxicity. Let’s now see these two problems briefly:

Herbicide injury

Chemicals used on lawns or the fields can tamper with the health of your plants. For example, the chemicals can damage the tomato leaves, twist stems, cause flower dropping or lead to fruit deformities. 

Also, chemicals applied some miles away can affect your tomato crops. 

Additionally, using a sprayer on your tomatoes that was previously used with herbicides can harm your plants.

Herbicide injury

Walnut toxicity

Plants grown near black walnut trees can wilt or die. So, ensure your plants are about 50 feet away from these trees. Or, just ensure your tomato plants don’t come into contact with the roots of these trees.

Walnut toxicity

Insects

Different types of insects can invade your tomato garden, but you can control them through regular spraying. 

Some of the insects that attack tomatoes include aphids, cutworms, flea beetles, horn worms, leaf miners, spider mites, stalk borers, stink bugs, and tomato fruit worms.

Insects

Diseases

Here are the diseases that attack tomatoes: 

  • Bacterial speck and spot
  • Fusarium wilt
  • Early bright
  • Anthracnose
  • Tobacco mosaic virus
  • Septoria leaf spot
  • Verticillium wilt
  • Curly top virus
  • Tomato blight

You can follow this publication on ways of preventing and treating tomato diseases.

Diseases

The Wrap Up

Growing tomatoes is not for the fainthearted. But with the right plants, equipment, time, and attention, nothing is impossible!

With the detailed guide above on home growing tomatoes, there is no doubt that you will soon be enjoying a fresh and flavorful harvest.

Lastly, plant your tomatoes with herbs like basil, parsley, or chive. We call this kind of planting “companion planting.” The herbs repel pests that destroy tomatoes. I have written an article on how to grow some of these herbs: A Beginners Guide To Growing Herbs Indoors.

Resources

  1. Growing home garden tomatoes
  2. Starting plants from seeds
  3. Tomato diseases and disorders
  4. Growing tomatoes at home
  5. Sustainable gardening for the home and school gardens – Tomatoes
  6. Inspiring everyone to grow tomatoes
  7. How to grow tomatoes at home
  8. Growing tomatoes in home gardens
  9. Extension gardener – tomatoes
  10.  List of tomato cultivars
  11.  Staking & pruning tomatoes in a home garden
Robert Silver

Robert Silver

Robert Silver is a writer, speaker and certified master gardener who has been sharing his landscaping experiences through personal blogs. Taking it to the next level, Robert Silver has come up with this progardeningblog.com to shine a light on new planters and experts, discussing plants, landscape projects and much more. He has published numerous research articles on horticulture that have helped many people attain fruitful outcomes.