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5 Steps to Tomato Gardening Success

5 Steps to Tomato Gardening Success

Tomatoes are a popular choice for many gardeners. With so many varieties available and that fresh "off-the-vine" flavor you get when you grow them yourself, they're hard to resist. I've grown many different varieties from hybrids to heirlooms. In fact, I try to plant different varieties every year just to mix it up a little out in the garden. (I know...I'm really livin' life on the edge over here....)

If you're planning on making tomatoes part of your garden follow these 5 steps to get your tomato garden off to a great start. Yup! Just 5 steps.

1. Plant from Seed Indoors

Tomatoes are one of those plants that do best when planted in the ground (or outdoor containers) as seedlings rather than directly sowing seeds outdoors in the garden. Tomatoes don't tolerate frost so starting them from seed outdoors in spring is a risky endeavor if you live in an area that experiences freezing temperatures. Instead, start seed indoors or purchase already grown seedlings for transplanting to the garden. Here are a few posts with tips on seed starting and transplanting:

5 Steps for Starting Seeds Indoors 

Common Seed Starting Problems.

Transplanting Seedlings

2. Harden Off the Seedlings

Whether you purchase seedlings or grow them yourself, be sure to get them used to life outdoors by hardening them off. "Hardening Off" is the process of gradually exposing seedlings to outdoor conditions, starting with one hour and increasing the duration each day by about an hour until they are exposed enough to stay out all day/night. Be sure temperatures are averaging about 50 degrees Fahrenheit or more before transplanting them to the garden for the season. If you could experience frost, hold off so you can bring them indoors if needed. 

3. Add Calcium to the Soil

Calcium is a key nutrient for tomatoes and can help you avoid the dreaded blossom end rot, which is a common condition for tomatoes that I unfortunately have experienced and wrote about last yearIf you eat eggs, save the shells! Eggshells are a great source of calcium and make a great additive to the soil when planting your tomato plants in the garden.

How do you use eggshells for tomato plants? It's as easy as 1-2-3! 

  1. After you use an egg, rinse it and let it dry.
  2. Collect the dried shells (about 12 eggshells per plant) and grind them up in a blender or even by hand. 
  3. When you plant a tomato plant, add the eggshells on top of the root ball and cover with soil and compost.

If you don't eat eggs, no worries - it's not the only source of calcium. You can get some calcium carbonate tablets and dissolve them in water. Or, you can use pelletized calcium (I've used the brand Mag-i-Cal but there are others.). Just add a little to the soil when planting.

4. Rotate the Crops

Tomatoes are susceptible to forms of fungal wilt If you keep planting tomatoes in the same spot for more than about 3 years in a row. (This is true of all nightshade vegetable plants.) If you grow them in wine boxes like I do, you probably won't have this problem because the boxes won't last more than 3 years. However, I do plant tomatoes in other containers that do last, so I have to be careful not to keep planting them in the same location year after year.


5. Plant Deep & Support Early

Although you'll usually hear just the opposite advice for most plants, for tomatoes, you'll want to cover most of the plant (about 2/3 of the plant) in the soil. Remove all the leaves that will be in the ground first and then plant them in a deeply dug hole and cover with soil and compost. Those fuzzy hairs on the tomato stem actually will turn into roots when buried in the soil. So....you end up with a strong plant with the enhanced root system.

Hope you get some great tomatoes this season!

Digging in the Dirt at The Farm Cooking School

Digging in the Dirt at The Farm Cooking School

Transplanting Seedlings

Transplanting Seedlings