How long should I start my tomato seeds indoors before transplanting outdoors?
Six to eight weeks. Most gardeners sow their seeds too early and have thin, leggy plants that take longer to get established in the garden.
What’s the best way to germinate tomato seeds?
When the seedling produces its second set of leaves (the “true” leaves), transplant into a larger pot and bury the plant up to the leaves. The plant will form roots along the stem. At night, if possible, take the tomato plants to a cool part of the house where the temperature dips to 50° F. This temperature shock will condition them to the outdoors. Water with half-strength 20-20-20 fertilizer. Grow in the brightest light possible–close to lights on a light stand or in the sunniest window.
What tomato varieties would you recommend?
This is a matter of personal preference. There are hundreds of different varieties, reflecting the fact that gardeners have very different tastes. Our favorites include our exclusive Blue Ribbon, Big Beef, Better Boy, Early Girl or our own Early Blue Ribbon. You’ll need a sweet cherry tomato such as Sweet Million, Supersweet 100 or Sungold, the sweetest of all. Brandywine and Giant Belgium are excellent heirloom varieties. Better Boy was named America’s most popular tomato in a poll a number of years ago. Our absolute favorite is Blue Ribbon or the determinate form, Bush Blue Ribbon. They both have luscious, full-bodied taste and a perfect balance of sweet over tart.
What about an unusually early tomato with good flavor?
Glacier or Siberian. They have many advantages: both cold and heat tolerant, which means they will set fruit when most other tomatoes just sit and pout. Tomatoes prefer temperatures between 50 and 85 degrees F. to set fruit. These varieties tolerate extremes on both ends and will even set fruit at close to freezing! They also set fruit quickly on trusses close to the ground. Fruits are plum size and have a full-bodied tomato taste, unlike most other early types.
When should I plant my tomatoes in the garden?
Unless you use some kind of protective covering, you shouldn’t plant tomatoes outside until the danger of frost has passed. Keep this in mind when you are starting your seeds. Always start seeds six to eight weeks before planting outside — no earlier!
What kinds of protective coverings can I use?
Some gardeners make tunnels out of plastic or put plastic “hats” over their tomatoes. They will add extra warmth during the day and keep some frost away from the tomatoes. But the best covering is what we call a “Season Starter,” which has plastic tubes you fill with water. Unlike mere plastic coverings, the water absorbs heat and slowly transfers it to the plant even when outside temperatures plummet well below freezing. It also allows for much earlier planting, because the “Season Starter” will heat up cold soil so you can plant your seedlings 4 to 6 weeks earlier! It is the fail-safe method to produce your earliest tomatoes and something every serious tomato grower should consider. “Season Starter” plus Glacier or Siberian tomato seedlings add about six weeks to your tomato-picking season.
What kind of soil best suits tomatoes?
Deeply-prepared well-drained soil filled with organic matter. The better-drained your soil is, the quicker the soil will warm up for planting in the spring.
What about sunlight?
Minimum six hours; preferably more. Sun helps bring out the full flavors in your tomatoes.
What about fertilizing?
One of the best things you can do for your tomato plants is to spray them every two weeks with a good liquid fertilizer that has many trace elements and helps immunize plants against disease. Be sure to mix compost and manures into the soil. Also, you can water in other soluble fertilizers if you wish. Remember that the third number in a fertilizer formula is the number that’s most important for good tomato growth. Look for fertilizers with a high third number (potassium).
Do I need lots of bees around to pollinate the flowers?
No. Wind will spread pollen around, too. If you’re growing your tomatoes inside a “Season Starter,” blow on the flowers to pollinate them so they will produce fruit.
What’s the most common tomato problem and what’s the solution?
Blossom end rot. You may notice a blackening on the bottom of ripening tomatoes. It’s caused by irregular watering. As tomatoes ripen, they need a continuous supply of calcium from the soil. If the supply is interrupted even briefly because of insufficient water to carry the calcium up the stem, then blossom end rot could result. Tomatoes should receive moderateamounts of water twice a week. Don’t flood. Also, crush egg shells and mix into the soil to supply calcium as the shells disintegrate. Also, you may add powdered milk–which contains calcium–to your watering can and water around the tomatoes.
What are other diseases to which my tomato plants might be susceptible?
Many variety names on this website are followed with letters like “VFFNT.” These letters provide the diseases and pests to which this particular variety is naturally resistant. Check with your local extension service to determine which diseases might affect your crop. Then choose appropriate varieties from this list which indicates the resistance you need:
V: Verticillium Wilt
F: Fusarium Wilt, Race 1
T: Tobacco Mosaic Virus
FF: Fusarium Wilt, Races 1 & 2
A: Alternaria Stem Canker
FFF: Fusarium Wilt, Races 1, 2 & 3
St: Stemphylium Gray Leaf Spot
What’s the difference between tomato plants that are “determinate” or “indeterminate”?
Determinate varieties grow to a certain plant height and then stop, yielding their harvest over a short 4 to 6-week period. Indeterminate varieties grow and flower throughout the season, producing a smaller harvest at any one time, but bearing over a much longer season.
What about insect damage?
Aphids may occasionally be a problem. Spray with organic Safer’s Soap. Tomato hornworms are sometimes a problem in warm climates. Pick them off. Slugs may leave unsightly holes in ripe tomatoes. Spread wood ashes around the plants or spread slug bait around the plants or sink a small margarine tub into the ground and fill with beer. (Slugs will seek it out and drown.)
Are there really low-acid tomatoes?
No. Some tomatoes may be slightly lower than others, but tests have shown there really is very little difference in acidity. The only difference is in the taste of acidity. Just like sweet and sour sauce, which is a combination of acidic vinegar and sugar, tomatoes may have more sugars that simply cover up the acidity.
Is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable?
Both. Botanically, it’s a fruit but legally, it’s a vegetable.
Are all tomatoes equally nutritious?
No! If you grow your tomato plants in nutrient-depleted soil, your tomatoes will also be nutrient-depleted–even if they look the same as tomatoes grown in rich soil! In fact, you may be missing important nutrients in your diet if your soil doesn’t have a complete balance of nutrients. That’s why it’s important to add compost and manure to your soil and to treat regularly with a good liquid fertilizer.