I get a lot of questions about tomatoes so here are a few things you need to know to get started. Before buying your plants think about what you will be doing with your tomatoes. Will you be eating them fresh, canning or cooking with them? Do you like a sweet or slightly acidic tomato? Are you growing in containers or in the ground? Answering these questions narrows down your choices. In my opinion all tomatoes can be eaten fresh. Some are juicier than others. Paste or Roma tomatoes are meaty and often don’t contain the juices most tomatoes have. Of course, there are a few Roma tomatoes that are both juicy and good for sauce. It’s important to try new ones each year to see what they are like.
If growing in containers it will be easier to use dwarf tomato plants. Growing in the ground or in raised beds allows you to grow any size tomato plant. There are two types of tomatoes, determinate and indeterminate. Determinate tomato plants grow to a predetermined height and will produce all their fruit over a short period of time. Indeterminate plants will continue to grow and produce fruit all season long. Some indeterminate plants can grow very tall and all require staking for support. Never judge a tomato by its size. Some seedlings will look small and it may be that they are dwarf or shorter plants at maturity. Seedlings of beefsteak tomatoes are often larger plants. Look for healthy plants with green leaves, no yellow ones. Read the plant label before you buy so you aren’t disappointed.
Hardening off your tomato plants is so important! I usually start the hardening off process towards the end of April. Day 1- I take my plants outside and leave them in a shaded area for one hour. Day 2-I bring the plants outside for two hours in the shade and back inside. Day 3-I bring the plants outside for three hours and they may get a bit of sun. Day 4-I bring the plants back outside and give them two hours of shade and two hours of sun. Day 5-I bring the plants outside for almost five hours of sun. Day 6- I bring the plants outside and they spend the day outside. Day 7-The plants come outside for good but will be covered at night with plastic over the shelf. If everything goes okay I will start leaving the plastic off the plants unless it rains. Before I let these plants get adopted I want them to be in the best shape possible.
Taking care of your plants is easy once they are planted. The biggest mistake gardeners make is planting too early. Tomato plants do best when the night time temperatures are consistently 9-10C. When planting your tomato plants plant them a bit deeper so that part of the stem is under the ground. The plant will form roots along the stem and the plant becomes stronger.
Water your new plants in well and check the soil every couple of days by doing the finger test. Insert your finger up to your knuckle into the soil. Is it cool and damp? Then no watering is needed. Is it dry? It’s time to water. Water deeply so your plants have to dig down deep for water. Never water your tomato plants with overhead sprinklers. Drip irrigation or hand watering is best as you can aim the hose wand at soil level where it’s needed.
Here in Vancouver it’s best to grow your tomatoes under plastic or a roof like structure. This helps to prevent diseases like late blight from infecting your plants. Once tomato plants have blight they need to be removed.
Feeding of your tomato plants starts from the beginning. Add some organic fertilizer to your soil before planting and supplement with fish fertilizer during the growing season. There are lots of fertilizer choices on the market but honestly if you use a slow release organic fertilizer at planting you probably don’t need anything else.
If you are looking for tomato plants I have my plant sale on May 4 from 9:00am-12:00pm. I like to grow heirloom tomatoes that have flavour. Many tomatoes come with interesting stories which makes growing them more fun. I tend to grow open pollinated tomatoes as I want to save seeds that are hard to find at retail stores. You will see a few hybrid tomatoes that I am trying out this year for the first time.