Mother Earth Living

Killer Tomatoes! Tips for Growing Great Tomatoes

From plant selection to harvest, our tips will help you grow amazing garden tomatoes.
By Tabitha Alterman
July/August 2011
Add to My MSN

Content Tools

Related Content

Natural Itching Relief: Make a Plantain Anti-Itch Balm

Find itching relief in nature. Narrow-leaved plantain is a common garden weed and also, ironically, ...

Please your Taste Buds with Watermelon and Tomato Salad

Tomatoes and watermelon combine in this unique salad with flavors that will wow every part of your p...

What To Plant Now: Summer Herbs and Vegetables

It's not too late to start or expand your garden this summer! Plant sun-loving herbs, vegetables and...

Five Resources to Plan a Great Garden

Use these five excellent resources for help planning a productive, healthy, money-saving vegetable g...

Tomatoes are one of the most popular home garden plants, and for good reason. Homegrown tomatoes are flat-out, hands-down, guaranteed more delicious than any tomatoes you can buy. You can grow your favorite kinds and harvest them at the peak of ripe juiciness. Plus, they’re truly easy to grow—for any level of gardener.

A Planting Primer 

Plant tomato seedlings as soon as the last chance of frost has passed and you’ve had a short stint of warm weather (around 50 degrees for a week or so). If you want to start tomatoes from seed, do it indoors under grow lights about eight weeks before your last frost. Visit your local nursery for organically grown seedlings, or purchase seeds from a reliable seed source such as Seed Savers Exchange.

Choose a growing spot with loose, fertile soil that gets plenty of sun all summer. Raised beds allow you to fully control the quality and content of your soil. Set tomato plants, along with a scoop of compost, into holes about 18 inches apart in each direction. Bury plants so only the top few sets of leaves are above ground (even if a lot of the stem is buried), then tamp the soil down gently around the stem and cover the base with thick mulch. Unlike most vegetables, tomatoes prefer to grow in the same place every year, so plant in the same spot unless you have had a disease problem.

Companion planting can help tomatoes grow. Tomatoes are compatible with chives, onion, parsley, marigold, nasturtium and carrot. Planting garlic between tomato plants can help protect them from red spider mites, and planting stinging nettle near tomatoes improves their longevity after picking.

Tips for Success 

Tomato plants require a lot of nutrition, so they benefit from regular applications of organic fertilizer. (Follow label instructions.) If the sky doesn’t water your plants every few days, water gently and generously at the root zone.

It’s important to stake tomatoes so they are supported as they grow upward. The easiest and most popular staking tools are wooden or wire cages. Vigorous plants may also need a tall pole for support along the central stem. Secure the stem to the pole with loose cloth or wire every 8 inches or so. Check plants regularly for tomato hornworms (large, green-and-white-striped caterpillars) and pick them off and destroy them when you see them.

Prune the lowest tomato stems to about 18 inches above ground to avoid potential problems with a disease known as early blight. Immediately pick off and throw away any leaves with brown patches surrounded by black rings. Most tomato plants will continue to produce despite losing some leaves to early blight. Late blight, however, can kill plants quickly after a cool, wet period. Your best defense against late blight is to trim branches to provide good light penetration and air circulation so plants stay dry.

Harvest Hints 

Tomatoes will tell you when they’re ready to be picked—when they’re full, juicy and can be pierced easily. For the best flavor, never refrigerate tomatoes. If you have trouble keeping up with the harvest, freeze, dry or can them, whole or as a sauce.

Save Your Own Seeds 

You can save your own seed from open-pollinated varieties (seeds should say OP on the package). When the best-looking tomatoes are fully ripe, squeeze the gelatinous seed mass into a jar, fill it with water and shake well. In a day or so, rinse the seeds through a strainer and dry them on a plate for a couple of weeks, or until fully dry. Store in a cool, dry spot. Note that if you grow different OP varieties near each other, your seeds may cross. But don’t worry—you may find that you’ve created an awesome new variety!

Tomato Talk 

Determinate tomato plants: all fruits ripen around the same time and plants are fairly compact in size

Indeterminate tomato plants: produce tomatoes over a long period and shoot out many stems

Previous | 1 | 2 | Next

Post a comment below.


Subscribe today and save 58%

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Subscribe to Mother Earth Living!

Welcome to Mother Earth Living, the authority on green lifestyle and design. Each issue of Mother Earth Living features advice to create naturally healthy and nontoxic homes for yourself and your loved ones. With Mother Earth Living by your side, you’ll discover all the best and latest information you want on choosing natural remedies and practicing preventive medicine; cooking with a nutritious and whole-food focus; creating a nontoxic home; and gardening for food, wellness and enjoyment. Subscribe to Mother Earth Living today to get inspired on the art of living wisely and living well.

Save Money & a Few Trees!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You’ll save an additional $5 and get six issues of Mother Earth Living for just $14.95! (Offer valid only in the U.S.)

Or, choose Bill Me and pay just $19.95.