The following primer is a quick start on planting tomatoes. Much more complete information is available in Gregory’s workshop this Sunday. If you can’t make that then be sure to buy your tomato transplants from Gregory at Tomatopalooza on March 4.

Here’s a quick lesson on planting tomato starts. (For tomatoes from seed, those should be started around Thanksgiving.) First, look for varieties that are short days to fruit, anywhere from 60 to 75 days is ideal. That’s not to say that longer day tomatoes aren’t good, it’s just that you’ll be dealing with heat issues as the season progresses. 

Ideally, garden soil for tomatoes should be prepared about a month in advance of planting and left to sit. If you don’t use hot manure, you can go ahead and add soil amendments into a garden bed when you plant.

1. Water your tomato plants a few hours before planting. You want the root ball to be moist, not dry.

2. With your fingers, gently pinch off the bottom leaves of each plant, leaving two to three sets of leaves.

3. Dig a hole with a hand trowel in your amended soil that is deep enough to allow the bare potion of the plant stem to be buried right up to the leaves left on the plant.

4. Place the plant in the hole and fill the space with soil up to the bottom of the remaining leaves on the plant. Do not bury the leaves that remain on the stem of the plant. Gently firm the soil around the plant with your hands.

Note: Only tomatoes are planted this way. It allows the plant to sprout roots along the buried portion of the stem, making the plant stronger.

5. Water the transplant well and a few hours later water again with a half-strength dose of gentle fertilizer. We like Big Bloom from Foxfarm. It’s organic, it’s not too strong and it works. Do not water again until the soil is between damp and dry. One of the worst things you can do is overwater.

6. Tomato plants are quick growers, so keep stakes or cages handy to support them as they grow.

7. Fertilize once a month for in-ground tomatoes, every three weeks for tomatoes in containers.

8. For now, tomato plants need a minimum of about 6 hours of direct sunlight per day, but you’ll want to plan for shade through the later part of the growing season.

Great_big_tomatoesAnd remember, never apply fertilizer to plants with dry soil or that are water stressed. Always water the plant first or you’ll fry it with the fertilizer. We’re also using Great BIG Tomatoes liquid compost once a week when we water. Great BIG Tomatoes is an organic compost extract that feeds the soil vital ingredients that are missing from traditional fertilizers.

cat face tomatoAnd although they are not pest related, there are also simple steps gardeners can take to avoid catfacing and blossom end rot in growing tomatoes.

Possible Pests

1. Aphids almost always appear. Best to hose them off with a strong spray of water. Or you can use an insecticidal soap. We’ve got a post about aphids for more information.

2. Whiteflies can appear on the underside of leaves. The best way to deal with them is by spraying the undersides of the leaves with an insecticidal soap. You can also try using ladybugs, but remember they can only eat so much and they are often then eaten by birds. (The whole circle of life thing…) The best habitat is one where ladybugs appear at just the right time – before a huge whitefly infestation – and helps to control the area.

3. Tomato Hornworm – Best way to control them is to pick them off and dispose of them. Another way to deal with them is to use B.T. (bacillus thuringiensis).