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.

tomato-seedlings

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!

I'm Catherine, a small-space urban gardener in New Jersey (Zone 7a) who started gardening out of upcycled wooden wine boxes. For years, I wanted to try gardening, but didn't know where to start. I got up the nerve to give it a try - starting small with a single wooden wine box that turned an idea into reality. That reality quickly turned into my filling every sunny inch of space of my postage-stamp size lawn and turning it into a garden oasis. I grow mostly vegetables and herbs with some exception for fruits (when the squirrels and rabbits don't get to them first). I love learning from gardening communities (and lots of trial and error).

I hope one day to take all that I'm learning and apply it to a larger plot of land. To help me get there, I'm extending my learning through the University of Massachusetts, Stockbridge School of Agriculture's, Sustainable Food & Farming program. (I'm addicted to learning as much as I am to gardening.)

This blog isn't just for gardeners (although I hope it inspires some of you to try growing a plant or two). The recipes (food & cocktails) in theRecipes section of this blog contain ingredients that don't have to come from your own backyard. If you like visiting your local farmer's market(or even your grocery store) and would like to get some new recipes you can use with the fresh produce and herbs you get from your local growers, this blog will have plenty for you too.

In addition to gardening and cooking, I also love to visit and photograph my surroundings. I feel fortunate to have so many amazing places here in New York/New Jersey, where I live and work. Visits to local farms, farmer's markets, and cycling through rural farming areas help me feel connected and refreshed. share these experiences in theExploring section of the blog so that you might visit through proxy or be inspired enough to visit yourself. 

With very few exceptions, all of the photographs on this site are ones I have taken myself. (For the photographers out there, I shoot with a Canon 7D and sometimes with my Lumix  DMC-ZS15 compact camera.) 

I hope this blog inspires you to grow, create, explore, and try something new. The best way to stay up-to-date is to follow me using the social buttons above, or click Subscribe and sign up for my email newsletters.    

Happy Gardening and Healthful Living!

- Catherine