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Growing Great Tomatoes

by Karen Gross

For many people, growing big juicy tomatoes is part of what makes vegetable gardening so enjoyable. Whether purchasing plants from your local nursery or starting tomatoes from seed, there are a few basic steps to follow to ensure that you harvest an abundant crop at the end of the growing season. There are many different varieties of tomatoes to choose from, depending on whether you will be cooking, canning, slicing, or eating miniature or grape-like varieties right off the vine. Sweet 100’s are very abundant, and are good for salads as well as eating fresh from the garden. Roma tomatoes are good for making
salsa, because the peels are not as tough as others so you don’t need to peel the skins off. Romas are also known as the classic paste and sauce tomato. There are Early Girls, Early Boys, Big Boys, Big Mamas, Sweet Baby Girls, Beefsteaks, French Rose hybrids, Big Rainbow, specialty tomatoes and many more. So start by choosing the kind of tomato you would like to grow. 

Planting Tomatoes from Seeds

Tomatoes grown from seed will require six to eight weeks before they can be planted in the garden. Purchase individual containers or flats, starter soil or mixture, and the seeds of your choice. Fill each container with soil, pressing it tightly to remove air and to avoid settling problems after watering. Typically, seed companies print instructions for planting right on the tomato seed package. Each variety is a little different so follow instructions carefully. Prepare a label identifying
the type of tomato and the date started. You can make your own from Popsicle sticks or purchase them at the store or garden center. 

Insert your label in the pot and mist with water. Place containers in a sunny window and keep seeds moist by placing a plastic bag over them. Small greenhouse containers are also available at your local nursery. Watch for seeds to germinate and remove plastic when plants emerge. Wean out weaker looking seedlings to give strong ones more room to grow. Keep moist by misting or watering tomatoes when needed. When plants have a second pair of leaves it is time to transplant these seedlings to your garden or a large pot in which they are to grow.

It is a good idea to harden off or acclimatize a plant to outdoor conditions before planting by setting it out in direct sun during the day and bringing it in at night. After a few days, the tomato plant will have adapted to the new surroundings and can be transplanted in the desired location. Place plants directly outdoors after the threat of frost in a shady location, out of the wind and protected from heavy rains.

Purchasing Started Plants

If you prefer to purchase plants from your garden center or greenhouse, select dark green plants that are stocky in size and that do not have any fruit. The fruit will stunt the plant growth and the total yield will be reduced. Tomatoes are one of the few plants that will tolerate being planted deeper than they sit in the pot. So a taller plant can be placed a little deeper if preferred. As mentioned, harden off the plant before moving it to a final location. 

Preparing Garden Soil For Tomato Plants The soil should be deep, loamy, and well-drained for the best harvest. Tomatoes prefer a slightly acidic soil with a pH of 6.2 to 6.8. The term pH balance refers to acidity or the alkalinity of your soil from a numerical scale of 1.0 to 14.0. The neutral point on the pH scale is 7.0. Higher than 6.5 indicates alkaline soil, lower than that indicates acidic soil. 

Test kits are available at garden centers or through local horticultural organizations. To raise the soil’s pH, work agriculture lime into the soil. Use sulfur to lower the pH of alkaline soil. Using fertilizers and compost amendments will also change the soil’s pH over time. Adding decomposed organic compost will improve any soil structure. You can purchase or make your own compost. Once you have cultivated your garden area and prepared the soil, it is ready for the plantings.

Planting The Tomatoes

Inspect all of the transplants, looking for insects, wilting or blight. Plant only healthy plants. Tomatoes prefer full sun, so choose an area with at least six to eight hours of sun per day. Practice crop rotation in your vegetable gardening by planting tomatoes and other vegetables in a different spot every year. Tomatoes prefer to be planted by chives, parsley, marigolds, nasturtiums, garlic bulbs, and carrots. Avoid planting tomatoes by potatoes or members of the cabbage family.

For large healthy tomatoes, give them plenty of room to grow. Space plants twenty-four inches between rows and leave twenty-four inches between plants. With your shovel or spade, make holes slightly larger than the plants. Tap gently on the bottom of the individual container, loosening the soil and gently removing from the pot. Tomatoes are susceptible to cutworms, but placing a 3-4 inch nail next to each stem before planting or wrapping strips of newspaper around the bottom of
the stems will help prevent these pests. A paper cup surrounding the stem also works well.

Place tomato plant in hole and back fill with soil until it is well compacted. Place a rack or cage around each individual plant to help support future growth. Water around the base of the plant, avoiding the foliage. Do not over water or soak the seedlings as this can promote disease and rot. Water early in the day to discourage blight.

Using a rake, spread organic mulch, such as weed-free straw, over plants at least two inches deep. These is an effective way to prevent weeds, preserve water and keep the soil warm, thus reducing the maintenance required for vegetable gardening. Fertilize the plants throughout the growing season with compost
or organic matter. Water when needed and inspect leaves periodically for the signs of tomato blight and insects. If blight is discovered, remove any infected leaves and destroy them. Treat plant with a fungicide. Be sure to remove all debris from your garden in the fall, as blight can survive on the dried tomatoes over the winter.

Most tomatoes take 100-days to bear fruit, so follow these easy directions and get ready to harvest the fruits of your labors and enjoy that first BLT of the season.

Items Needed For Growing Tomatoes:
  • Tomato seeds or plants,
  • Containers or flats,
  • A small,
    greenhouse kit or plastic bags,
  • Starter soil or mixture,
  • Marking pen,
  • Popsicle sticks or labels,
  • Rake,
  • Spade and shovel,
  • Water,
  • Sun,
  • Adequate soil and 
  • Patience. 

About the author:
Karen Gross is a professional gardener and design consultant. She writes for www.vegetable-gardening-4u.com, providing valuable tips and advice about seed companies, greenhouse kits and other vegetable gardening topics.

Organic Tomato Seeds:


Ace Tomato

Price: 1.59

The Tomato Ace, 'Lycopersicon lycopersicum', is an old favorite with excellent tomato flavor and it is great for canning. The 5 to 6 inch in diameter Ace tomato weighs about 7 to 8 ounces which is a decent sized tomato. Yields are exceptional for such a large tomato. Ace is a low acid tomato for those who prefer such. Ace is an intermediate tomato which means they continue to grow indefinitely until frost. They need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight a day. Prune the intermediate tomatoes in or...Read More

Organic Seeds
Lycopersicon lycopersicum

Aunt Rubys German Green Tomato

Price: 1.89

The Tomato Pole Aunt Ruby's German Green, 'Lycopersicon lycopersicum', is an old Heirloom variety. It is not the prettiest tomato, but it is spicy and sweet and very delicious. We think Aunt Ruby's German Green is the best flavored green tomato. The tomatoes are a large, beefsteak type with 12 to 16 ounce fruits. Tomatoes need at least 1 inch of water a week. Soak to depth of 6 to 10 inches when watering. They need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight a day. Prune the intermediate tomatoes in or...Read More

Organic Seeds
Lycopersicon lycopersicum

Beefstake Tomato

Price: 1.79

The Tomato Pole Beefsteak, 'Lycopersicon lycopersicum', is an old favorite. The huge tomatoes can reach up to 2 pounds. This old favorite is for those who love meaty, thick, tasty, large tomatoes for sandwiches. They are also useful for almost any dish that would benefit from rich tomato flavor. The vines are so vigorous that we recommend wire cages to hold up the plants and tomatoes. Tomatoes need at least 1 inch of water a week. Soak to depth of 6 to 10 inches when watering. They need at least...Read More

Organic Seeds
Lycopersicon lycopersicum

Cherokee Purple Tomato

Price: 2.39

The Tomato Pole Cherokee Purple, 'Lycopersicon lycopersicum', is an old Heirloom variety from Tennessee that is extremely productive and also has a very rich tomato flavor. The Cherokee Purple produces large numbers of 10 to 12 ounce tomatoes with a strong tomato flavor with just the right amount of sweetness. The flesh is a unique red brick color with a rose/purple skin color. Tomatoes need at least 1 inch of water a week. Soak to depth of 6 to 10 inches when watering. They need at least 6 hour...Read More

Organic Seeds
Lycopersicon lycopersicum

Cherry Sweetie Tomato

Price: 1.79

The Tomato Cherry Sugar Sweetie, 'Lycopersicon lycopersicum', is a highly regarded, perfect cherry tomato for classic tomato flavor in salads or right out of the garden. This delicious organic tomato is well known for it's strong tomato flavor. The Sugar Sweetie has large numbers of 3/4 to 1 inch cherry tomatoes that are produced in grape-like clusters on 2 foot tall plants. Tomatoes need at least 1 inch of water a week. Soak to depth of 6 to 10 inches when watering. They need at least 6 hours ...Read More

Organic Seeds
Lycopersicon lycopersicum

Roma Tomato

Price: 1.79

The Tomato Bush Italian Roma, 'Lycopersicon lycopersicum', is a determinate type Heirloom paste tomato from Italy. The Italian Roma is an absolutely excellent, old heirloom tomato used for sauce or canning. The very firm, meaty 3 inch pear-shaped fruits have very few seeds. They are very productive and can produce up to 200 fruits on compact vines. Tomatoes need at least 1 inch of water a week. Soak to depth of 6 to 10 inches when watering. They need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight a day....Read More

Organic Seeds
Lycopersicon lycopersicum



Vegetable Seeds A - Z:

For complete descriptions & pictures, click each link.

Amaranth Edible Red Leaf

Arugula Rocket Salad Roquette

Bean Broad Fava Windsor

Bean Southern Cowpea California Blackeye # 5

Bean Bush Snap Blue Lake 274

Bean Bush Montpellier French

Bean Bush, Snap Pencil Pod

Bean Bush Purple Queen

Bean Pole Runner Scarlet Emperor

Bean Pole Snap Kentucky Blue

Bean Pole Snap Romano

Bean Pole Liana Yard Long

Beet Detroit Dark Red

Beet Gourmet Blend

Bitter Melon Short

Bok Choy Tatsoi

Bok Choy White Stem

Broccoli Super Blend

Burnet Salad

Cabbage Chinese

Cabbage Discovery

Carrot Asian

Carrot Baby

Carrot Healthmaster

Carrot Little Finger

Carrot Royal Chantenay

Carrot Thumbelina


Celery Chinese Kin-Tsai

Celery Tall Utah 52/70 Improved

Collards Georgia Southern

Corn Sweet Argent (White)

Corn Sweet Bodacious

Cucumber Lemon

Cucumber Homemade Pickles

Cucumber Armenian Burpless

Cucumber Fanfare

Edamame Green Soybean

Eggplant Baby Bambino

Eggplant Long Purple-Japanese/Chinese



Gourd Hard-shelled Birdhouse

Gourd Hard-shelled Corsican

Gourd Hard-shelled Long Handled Dipper

Gourd Luffa Chinese Okra

Gourd Ornamental

Gourd Ornamental Nest Egg

Gourd Ornamental Pear Bicolor

Kale Dwarf Blue Curled

Kale Italian Lacinato Nero Toscana

Kohlrabi Purple & White Vienna Blend

Lettuce Mesclun Bon Vivant

Lettuce Mesclun Bon Vivant Spicy

Lettuce Butterhead Tom 

Thumb Lettuce Crisphead Summertime

Lettuce Oak Leaf

Lettuce Red Sails

Lettuce Romaine Cimmaron

Mache Corn Salad


Melon Honey Dew

Micro Greens Mild Mix

Micro Greens Spicy Mix

Mustard Mizuna

Muskmelon Fastbreak (Cantaloupe)

Melon Ha Ogen

Muskmelon Israeli

Mustard Gai Choy Red Giant

Mustard Greens Southern Giant Curled

Okra Clemson Spineless 80

Onion Bunching White Sweet Spanish

Onion Rossa Lunga di Firenze

Onion Red Burgermaster

Onion Walla Walla

Orach Red Burgandy

Pea Snow Oregon Sugar Pod 

Pea Shelling Green Arrow

Pea Snap Cascadia

Pepper Bell Emerald Giant

Pepper Bell Mandarin

Pepper Bell Ori

Pepper Bell Purple Beauty

Pepper Chile Ancho/Poblano

Pepper Hot Cayenne Blend

Pepper Chili Cayenne Red Long Thin

Pepper Chile Early Jalapeno

Pepper Hot Mulato Isleno

Pepper Chile NuMex Joe E Parker

Pepper Chile Pasilla Bajio

Pepper Hot Asian Santaka

Pepper Hot Scotch Bonnet

Pepper Hot Serrano Tampiqueno

Pepper Chile Thai Hot

Pepper Chili Tabasco Greenleaf

Pepper Sweet Italian Marconi Golden

Pepper Sweet Pimiento

Pepper Sweet Romaine

Pumpkin French Cinderella

Pumpkin Jack Be Little

Pumpkin Jack O'Lantern

Pumpkin Little October

Pumpkin Lumina

Pumpkin Sugar Pie

Radicchio Milan

Radish Cherry Belle

Radish Crimson Giant

Radish Round Black Spanish

Radish White Icicle

Sorrel or Common Sorrel,

Spinach Correnta,

Spinach New Zealand

Squash Summer Early Yellow Crookneck

Squash Summer Scallop Blend

Squash Summer Baby Round Zucchini,

Squash Summer Black Beauty Zucchini

Squash Summer Clarinette Lebanese,

Squash Winter Table King Bush Acorn

Squash Winter Burgess Buttercup

Squash Winter Waltham Butternut

Squash Winter Pink Banana

Squash Spaghetti Winter Vegetable Spaghetti

Swiss Chard Bright Lights

Swiss Chard Fordhook Giant

Swiss Chard Ruby Red/Rhubarb

Tomatillo Toma Verde

Tomato Pole Amish Paste

Tomato Pole Black Krim

Tomato Pole Brandywine

Tomato Bush Celebrity

Tomato Cherry Gardeners Delight

Tomato Cherry Rainbow Mix

Tomato Cherry Currant Red and Yellow Blend

Tomato Pole First lady II

Tomato Grape Juliet

Tomato Bush Green Zebra

Tomato Patio Husky gold

Tomato Pole Yellow Pear

Turnip Purple Top White Globe


Watermelon Crimson Sweet

Watermelon Ice Box


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