The Quick and Dirty Guide To Growing Tomatoes

growing tomatoes

The tomato is the single most popular vegetable that grown in the organic gardening circle. Heck, it’s the most popular vegetable grown in the home vegetable garden – period. So here’s every basic you need to know about growing tomatoes.

Here are some of the main points to consider.

When to Plant

To begin, sow seed early indoors. Calculate 8 weeks back from your last frost data and sow your seed then. I put my transplants outdoors in mid-May so I’d plant the second week of March. If you sow earlier than 8 weeks, your seedlings will be long and lanky and stretched-out ugly.

Plant outdoors after all danger of frost.

Where to Plant

In full sun in a fertile, well-drained soil. Your basic great gardening soil that only exists in writer’s imaginations. Give them your best location and add as much compost as you can.

How to Plant

The easiest thing for you to do is sow seeds directly into small pots of soilless mix. Sow two seeds per pot (and thin the seedlings to the strongest one after 3 weeks). Grow as many pots as you need plants. This gives the transplant enough room to grow and develop a thick top and full root system. A plant that has been grown in its own pot will not suffer transplant shock when it is moved to the garden.

Giving adequate space is particularly important if you do not have full outdoor light levels with a greenhouse or large grow light system. Crowded seedlings tend to be long and thin. Grow light systems will be needed if you don’t have a greenhouse or full south-facing window (and maybe even with the window too). Keep the lights about 4-6 inches above the seedlings as they grow (move them upwards but keep them close or your seedlings will get spindly)

Need A Lot Of Seedlings For Growing Tomatoes In Your Vegetable Garden?

If you need a LOT of seedlings, you can sow them in a flat by keeping the seeds approximately 1-inch ( 2-3 cm) apart. Then transplant them into growing cells. The problem here is that unless you have adequate light levels you will produce inferior transplants.

The soil temperature for germinating tomato seed should be around 72-73F (23C) . Use a heating cable or mat to produce this heat because room temperatures will only give sporadic germination. When seedlings break the soil around the 10-day mark, reduce the temperature to 64F (18C) and then when they have 4 true leaves, reduce the temperature again and grow on at 59F (15C) . Too high temperatures produce spindly plants.

Feed seedlings twice a week with a quarter-strength fish emulsion or other liquid plant food. A lack of fertilizer will create a tall spindly plant.

Lack of light, too much heat and not enough fertilizer can create the same spindly condition. Get them all right for short, blocky, dark green, fast-growing transplants.

Planting in Garden

Staked plants can be grown on 17-24-inch centers with rows 36-inches apart. The rule of thumb is that each tomato gets 2 square feet of growing space if you’re growing it straight up on a wire or stake.

Sprawling plants should be put into the full sunshine at 24-36-inch spacing. The rows should be 3-5 feet apart. This plant can really spread.

Full sun.

Growing Tomatoes: Care & Maintenance

After all danger of frost, transplant outdoors. “Harden off” your transplants before planting; I usually put mine outdoors during the day and indoors at night for a week before I put them in the ground. This gets them used to high light levels, the wind and the vagaries of the garden before being left to fend for themselves.

Transplants long and leggy?

If your transplants are too long and leggy, harden off as above, dig a trench six inches deep and lay the transplant into the trench so only the top 15 cm of the plant is showing at the end of the trench. Cover the entire stem (leaving only the top 15 cm above ground) and the stem will root. This eliminates weak growth and prevents the plant from flopping around like a fish out of water in every breeze.

As The Tomatoes Grow

As my tomatoes grow up the stakes, I tie them to the stake every 8-10 inches with binder twine. Any thick twine or old pantyhose will do well. You simply want to avoid cutting into the stem with thin ties. I pick a single leader – a single stem – to train to the stake and I remove all other branches. You’ll often see a “sucker” trying to grow from between the stem and a big leaf. Pinch all these suckers off and only allow the main stem to grow.

Is there special care needed if I let my plants sprawl? No. Just plant, water, feed, take care of pests and harvest. Pretty simple really.

Now that you’re read the summary – let’s dig into the details. (yeah, it was a poor attempt at humor) 🙂

Click here for more organic gardening tomato growing tips

What Causes The Black Spot on the Bottom of the Tomato?

The biggest tomato problem and the highest number of fake news posts is for a problem called Blossom End Rot. You’ll know you have it when a big black rotting spot on the bottom of your tomato ruins the fruit.

There are three causes

  • Too low a temperature when the blossom is setting fruit (bottom line: the plant shuts down when it’s too cold and calcium is not transported to the fruit.)
  • Too high a temperature when the blossoms are setting fruit (bottom line: the plant shuts down to preserve moisture and calcium is not transported to the fruit.)
  • Not enough water on the garden. Without water, not enough calcium gets moved to the fruit.

Bad Advice On The Net For Growing Tomatoes Includes:

Bad advice #1 Feed the plant milk or milk powder to add calcium. The issue isn’t a lack of calcium, it’s a problem with the transporting of the calcium. So adding more doesn’t help.

Bad advice #2 Add Epsom Salts. This one is all over the Net. Epsom salts are composed of a magnesium salt. And if you read the above causes of the problem, a lack of magnesium isn’t one of the causes.

My vegetable gardening posts are here

But if you need even more advice on growing tomatoes, click here

2 thoughts on “The Quick and Dirty Guide To Growing Tomatoes”

  1. Doug, I live in Mid-Missouri and we have lots of hot and humid summer weather. I have battled early blight often with my tomato crop. I have singled stemmed them as you describe but I wanted more tomatoes per plant. This year I planted my plants 4 feet apart and allowed each plant to have a center stem and two side steams. All others suckers were removed weekly. I had the largest crop I have ever had, very little blight issues and just picked the last of my crop two days ago!! I think the success was because I planted them further apart, there was no risk of disease transfer by touching. You often discuss making sure there is enough room between the plants for air movement and to not let them touch to avoid the possibility of disease transfer between plants. I am now a true converted believer in your teachings!!
    Thanks for your site and God Bless.

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