How to Grow better Tomatoes
DETERMINATE: (bush) varieties do not need pruning and may be grown with or without support; fruit ripens within a concentrated time period.
INDETERMINATE: (climbing) varieties should be staked, trellised, or caged, and pruned for best results; fruit ripens over an extended period. Call for additional cultural tips.
CULTURE: GROWING SEEDLINGS: Don’t start too early! Root-bound, leggy plants that have open flowers or fruit when planted out may remain stunted and produce poorly. Sow in flats, using a soilless peat-based mix (NOT potting soil), 5-6 weeks before plants can be transplanted out after frost danger. Keep temperature of the starting mix at 75-90°F (24-32°C); tomato seeds germinate very slowly in cooler soil. When first true leaves develop, transplant into plug trays or 3-4″ pots for large, stocky 7-8 week transplants for earliest crops. Grow seedlings at 60-70°F (16-21°C). Water only enough to keep the mix from drying. Fertilize with fish emulsion or a soluble, complete fertilizer.
TRANSPLANTING OUTDOORS: Transplant into medium-rich garden or field soil 12-24″ apart for determinate varieties, 24-36″ apart for indeterminate, un-staked varieties, and 14-20″ for staking. Water seedlings with a high-phosphate fertilizer solution For earliest crops, set plants out around the last frost date under floating row covers which will protect from frost to about 28°F (-2°C). If possible, avoid setting out unprotected plants until night temperatures are over 45°F (7°C). Frost will cause severe damage!
FERTILIZER: Abundant soil phosphorus is important for early high yields. Too much nitrogen causes rampant growth and soft fruits susceptible to rot.
DISEASES: Learn the common tomato diseases in your area. Select resistant varieties. For prevention, use young, healthy transplants, avoid overhead irrigation, plow in tomato plant refuse in the fall, rotate crops, and do not handle tobacco or smoke before handling plants. Fungicides can reduce certain diseases when properly selected and applied.
BLOSSOM END ROT: Prevent it by providing abundant soil calcium and an even supply of soil moisture.
INSECT PESTS: Use rotenone to discourage flea beetles on seedlings. Tomato hornworms can be controlled with Dipel. Use BT for potato beetle larvae, and rotenone or pyrethrin for adults.
HARVEST: Fully vine-ripen fruit only for local retailing or use. To deliver sound fruit, pick fruit less ripe the further the distance and the longer the time between the field and the customer.
STORAGE: Store firm, ripe fruit 45-60°F (7-16°C) for 4-7 days.
AVG. PLANTING RATE: Avg. 785 seeds to produce 667 plants. 18″ between plants in rows 4′ apart
Tomato companion plants include basil, nasturtiums, marigolds, onions, chives, and parsley. –
You’ll often see carrots on the list of companion plants for tomatoes, but I wouldn’t include carrots because they’re light feeders, and the high-nitrogen organic fertilizers that make tomatoes thrive results in excessive top-growth in carrots, at the expense of roots.
Basil is great with tomatoes in both the kitchen and the garden. Plant it around the edges of the raised bed or row, and in between plants. Its aromatic foliage helps repel aphids, tomato hornworms, and other tomato pests. Root exudates from basil are said to improve the flavor of tomatoes. The tomato will pick up some of the flavor of the basil so you’ll want to stick to sweet and Italian varieties. (i.e. licorice basil infused the fruit with a weird flavor—was ok but not a great combination)
Basil flowers also bring pollinators like honey bees into your tomato patch.
Another great pollinator attractant, insect repellent for the whole garden, is Borage.
Nasturtiums, marigolds, onion, parsley, and chives are also valuable companion plants. The aromatic oils repel pests, and root exudes enhance the flavor of tomatoes. Nasturtiums also act as a trap crop for aphids, and can be removed after aphids infest them.
In areas where root-knot nematodes are a problem, inter-planting marigolds with your tomatoes can help repel them.