How to Grow Tomatoes

  Big Beef Tomato
Pick a warm, sunny area with a southern exposure to plant your tomato seedlings. They like warm weather and should be planted when the night temperatures are above 55°F. If you are anxious to get your seedlings in the ground, you can use a wall-o-water or a floating row cover for cold protection.

Tomatoes will benefit from a well-amended soil with plenty of added compost. Allow 2-3' between plants.

When you are ready to plant your seedling, pinch off the bottom set of leaves and sink the plant in the soil a couple of inches so the soil level comes "up to its chin." This means to bury the seedling a couple of inches up its stem, just under the first set of existing leaves. By planting it deeper you will be giving the roots a head start. It will begin to root off of the buried part of the stem.

Once your seedling is planted, water it in with a liquid fertilizer, such as fish emulsion, to ease its transplant shock.

It is important to be consistent with your watering schedule. Keep the soil evenly moist and you will avoid any problems with blossom-end rot, which is common when watering is done unevenly. Remember, tomato roots can go down 4', so water deeply.

A word or two about pruning tomato plants: there are two schools of thought, though neither proves to be more beneficial to higher yields. It is completely up to the gardener as to which approach to take.

The first technique is to prune the plant by pinching away the "suckers" which grow between the stem and the leaf stalks. Pruned tomato plants need less space, and produce less fruit, though it is larger in size. They will require more water, because there is less foliage to act as a canopy, shielding the soil from drying out. Pruning must be done once a week to keep the plant "sucker-free."

The second technique is to let the plant grow wild. Unpruned plants require less attention and water, produce more fruit that is smaller, and will need a larger area to grow.

As the plant begins to set fruit you may wish to give it a "booster" of fertilizer. Pick one that is higher in phosphorus rather than nitrogen. Too much nitrogen will allow the plant to put on beautiful green growth, but only at the cost of fruit production.

Tomatoes will be ready to harvest about six weeks after they start to blossom.

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