I love speaking with new gardeners. Their first question tends to be “How hard is it to grow tomatoes?” For me personally, they are quite easy, but for a novice they can be intimidating. Planting is really the easy part. It is caring that takes a bit of time and a lot of patience.
Getting Started Growing Tomatoes
First thing on your tomato planting to do list is the same when choosing to plant anything — know what their sun and soil requirements are. Tomatoes require eight hours of sun per day and well drained soil. Well drained soil, by the way, is soil that will allow air flow to the roots and not become compacted when you water. The soil should be full of organic matter (compost) and slightly acidic.
For first timers, I recommend a local source for started tomato plants. Someone else has already babied the plants along and gotten them ready for planting outdoors. Choose plants that have strong stems and healthy looking leaves (no yellow). Make sure that the potting soil is damp, just in case you cannot plant them right away.
Whether you are planting in a container or directly in a garden bed, you will need to make a hole that is at least three inches deep. I always remove the bottom two leaves and gently push the plant into the hole up to that point. Fill in soil around the plant and water it. Do not make the soil too wet.
It is advisable to set up a stake for each plant right away and not wait until the plant is bigger. This way you can train it to grow along the take or even cage as it grows. I use a plain twine to attach tomatoes to a bamboo stake.
Caring for Tomatoes
As the plant grows, pinch off new growth along the bottom of the main stem. Remove alternate branches along the main stem. This helps the plant put be more productive and balances the weight more evenly. Throughout the growing season, remove any leaves or branches that turn yellow.
Tomatoes require quite a bit of water; however, one of the most common beginner problem is over watering. To avoid this only water when the top layer of soil appears dry. To check the water level, push your finger into the soil to about the first knuckle. If the soil is dry then you need to water.
Tomato plants are also a drain on the nitrogen in the soil. To help them stay healthy and well fed throughout the growing season, I mix compost, Epsom salt, coffee grounds and potash. The ratio I use is 1 : ½ : 1 : ¼ of each of the ingredients. You can also purchase natural fertilizers at your local garden center. This is necessary once per month to keep them well fed and healthy.
Most varieties of tomatoes planted will have fruit ready for harvest in 60 to 70 days.