I was tossed into the world of growing tomatoes without much preparation. One day I met a really cute guy. The next day I started growing tomatoes on a large scale with only a very little experience.
I really knew nothing about tomatoes, but hubz is an admitted tomato geek. So I had to learn all about tomatoes quickly.
Growing tomatoes is not difficult, but they do have some unique qualities that are helpful to understand.
1. Tomato plants come in all shapes and sizes.
Before I started growing tomatoes, I had no idea how a tomato plant grew. I was surprised at how large and unwieldy some of them are.
The growth habit of tomatoes varies from a tiny little plant less than a foot tall (micro-dwarf) to long lanky vines that will keep growing until they die (indeterminate).
The way tomatoes grow can also be largely influenced by environmental factors like heat, water, pest, or disease stress. And, obviously, pruning and tying up also affect how they grow.
2. Tomato leaves can be potato or regular shaped.
The regular leaf has the rippled, serrated, edge whereas the potato leaf is very smooth, curiously resembling the leaves of a potato plant.
The potato type leaf is caused by a naturally occurring genetic mutation and has occurred many times with many different tomato varieties.
The heirloom Brandywine is an example of a popular potato leaf variety. Renowned for its large flavorful tomatoes, this heirloom variety is very popular with tomato growers.
Some will say the potato leaf is more disease resistant, but this is an anecdotal observation and not a scientific certainty.
Otherwise, the leaf shape is not relevant to growing or eating tomatoes. The leaf type really has no effect on how the tomato grows, produces, or tastes.
3. Burying the stem at planting helps create a stronger root system.
Because tomatoes will grow roots from their stem, burying the stem creates a stronger root system.
Remember I mentioned they can be large unwieldy plants? They need a strong root system to hold them up and supply adequate water and nutrients to make plenty of tomatoes.
Make sure to remove leaves from the buried portion of the stem before planting and leave at least 2 or 3 sets of leaves above ground. You can either dig a deep hole to set them in or lay them sideways…don’t worry, they’ll adjust themselves naturally to grow upright.
4. Tomatoes often suffer from blossom end rot.
Blossom end rot is an environmental condition where calcium is restricted within the fruit and a black mushy spot on the bottom appears. The mushy spot is due to lack of calcium within the cell walls on the blossom end of the fruit.
Once this starts happening, it’s too late for affected tomatoes. They won’t be edible. Which is very, very sad. They are not diseased, however, and can be added to compost or fed to your farm animals.
At the point you see the blossom end rot, it is difficult to treat and should get better on its own as the season progresses. Read our article all about blossom end rot and why you shouldn’t worry about it.
5. Tomatoes are considered heavy feeders in the garden.
Tomato plants need fertile nutrient rich soil to make tomatoes. Most gardens will need fertilization to maintain adequate nutrition for a season of tomatoes.
It is very important to amend the soil early in the season and apply organic fertilizer as often as twice monthly. Employ a crop rotation plan alternation locations of your tomato garden from year to year. This will greatly help minimize pest and disease issues.
Read all about fertilizer in our handy article for home gardeners.
6. Tomatoes don’t grow well with potatoes.
Tomatoes and potatoes are closely related, and they are both heavy feeders. Planted together the two are difficult to manage because they can spread disease from one to the other, attract the same pests, and compete for nutrients in the soil.
Give them more than 6 feet apart if possible for the best results.
7. Tomatoes love to be planted with basil.
Tomatoes are pretty friendly in the garden but love growing with basil as well as other herbs. Growing basil with tomatoes is said to make them sweeter. I don’t know about that, I think that watering and nutrients are more important there, but the two do grow well together. Tomatoes also like to grow near onions or chives.
I don’t know about that, I think that watering and nutrients are more important there, but the two do grow well together. Tomatoes also like to grow near carrots, onions or chives.
8. Green tomatoes take 42 to 110 days to ripen on the vine.
Holy moly, that one still blows my mind sometimes! Every year I see that first baby tomato and I get so excited! Then it seems like I’m just staring at a green tomato for an entire summer. 42 and 110 days are on extreme ends of the spectrum. Most varieties fall more in the 60-90 day range.
Then it seems like I’m just staring at a green tomato for an entire summer. Keep in mind that 42 and 110 days are on extreme ends of the spectrum. Most varieties will fall more in the 60-90 day range.
Allowing your tomatoes to ripen on the vine will result in better tasting fruit. That’s one of the reasons store bought tomatoes are not as yummy as your homegrown produce.
As mentioned in the comments: you can use careful water restriction to hasten ripening at the end of the season. But please do so judiciously. If you restrict water too much and too often, you’ll cause undue stress on your plants and actually get fewer tomatoes. You can also pick your tomatoes at the first sign of blushing and let them ripen on your kitchen counter.
9. There are multiple types of tomatoes that have different uses in the kitchen.
Maybe I was the only one, but I never knew that tomato sauce is made from a specific type of tomato. Tomato sauce is actually made from paste tomatoes.
What’s the difference? Paste tomatoes are meatier and have less juice, gel, and seeds. Slicing tomatoes have a juicier seed cavity and are better suited to fresh eating.
Of course, you can slice and eat a fresh paste tomato. The texture may or may not be pleasing to you, but they do taste good.
Slicing and paste tomatoes are generally large tomatoes. The can weigh 6 ounces to over a pound! There are also cherry tomatoes which are the little ones you can pop in your mouth and eat whole and salad tomatoes which are about 2 oz size and would be eaten in 2 or 3 bites.
10. There are literally thousands of varieties of tomatoes to grow.
But you won’t find much variety in your local gardening center. The only way to experience this is to become a seed catalog hoarder.
There are some really exciting seed catalogs out there. What?! You don’t get excited about seed catalogs?
Johnnys, Seeds of Change, Seed Savers Exchange, and Baker Creek are some of the most fun to go through.
We have grown hundreds of varieties of tomatoes, and we have created a few of our own. Did you know you can breed tomatoes? Yeah. Tomatoes are kind of our thing.
What about you? Do you love growing tomatoes, too?