Love at First Bite
No vegetable garden is complete without a good crop of tomatoes. You know the type – round, red and perfectly ripe. Once you’ve tasted a fresh picked tomato from your own backyard, you’ll never want to buy a tasteless, waxy one from the grocery store ever again. Dramatic? Maybe. But when it comes to homegrown tomatoes, we’re firm believers in love at first bite.
Perhaps more than any other plant, tomatoes depend on proper care to provide you with loads of fruit throughout the summer. If you don’t exactly have a green thumb, this may seem like an impossible task. Lucky for you, we’ve got a foolproof method for growing juicy, plump tomatoes like you’ve never seen (or tasted) before. Just follow our simple step-by-step guide below and you’ll be on your way to making summer salads and fresh sauces in no time.
Choose a location
Location is everything when it comes to growing the perfect crop of tomatoes. Tomato plants love basking in the sun, so choose a bright and airy spot where yours will get at least 10 hours of light. Be sure to leave room between the plants to allow for airflow.
Rotate your crops
Practice proper crop rotation by avoiding soil in which tomatoes or any other plants belonging to the Nightshade family (potatoes, peppers, and eggplant) were grown in the past two years. This reduces the risk of soil-borne diseases that could compromise the quality of your tomato plants.
Pick your transplants
When buying tomato seedlings, your first instinct may be to go for the ultra-lush, green guys. Not so fast! Pass up overgrown transplants in favor of healthy looking ones that are six to eight inches tall. Also, make sure your transplants aren’t root bound. Meaning, there aren’t a bunch of roots poking out the bottom of the pots.
Bury the stems
Dig holes deep enough so that two-thirds of each tomato plant is buried, or up to the first true leaves. Roots will quickly sprout on the buried stems, making the plants stronger and more fruitful. When you’re done, only the tops of the tomato plants should remain above ground.
Give your plants a drink
Tomato plants do best with a good, thorough soaking once a week, or every five days at the peak of summer. Be sure to water directly on the soil – not on the leaves. Wet foliage encourages diseases, which are the biggest challenge to growing juicy, plump tomatoes. Aim for one to two inches of water per week.
Pinch off the runts
Try as you might to grow a perfect plant, not all tomatoes are going to make it to your kitchen. If you see non-fruiting branches, it’s best to prune them off. This allows your tomato plants to direct all of their energy into producing bigger, better fruit. And remember – that’s the goal here!
Use stakes or cages for support
If left to their own devices, tomato plants will only grow so tall before getting too heavy and falling over. Use stakes or cages to support your tomatoes and keep them growing upright. Place them in the ground shortly after planting to avoid possible root damage.
Add compost and trim
Adding compost is the singular most important step you can take to encourage new growth and continued fruit on your tomato plants. When the first fruits start to ripen, place compost around the stems and trim some of the upper leaves to keep your tomato plants healthy and happy.
Plant more tomatoes
Just when you thought you were done digging in the dirt, it’s time to put in another set of tomato plants so your entire harvest doesn’t come all at once. A good time to do this is about three weeks after you put your first transplants in the ground.
Harvest your crop
It’s best to harvest tomatoes when they are fully ripe. However, you can pick them while they’re still green and allow them to ripen over time in the house. If you do this, make sure you store them in a well-ventilated area at room temperature until they get a gorgeous rosy glow.