If I could only grow one vegetable, it would be a difficult choice between tomatoes and lettuce. Lettuce is easy to grow, takes little space and is so prolific. But tomatoes are not difficult to grow either and the taste difference between a homegrown vine-ripened tomato and a grocery store tomato is astounding.
Thankfully, I don't have to choose only one vegetable. If you have even a tiny amount of soil, try growing a tomato plant. Even a sunny pot on a deck will be sufficient to add the taste of sunshine to your plate this summer.
While I have had numerous garden failures, tomatoes are something that grows VERY well for me. In past years, our tomato plants have grown to nearly six feet tall. Often they grow out the tops of their large cages and down the other side until I go after them with the hedge clippers just to keep them a manageable size.
I'm not sure what to give the credit of our tomato success. (And since I've bragged them up, this year our tomatoes are sure to be a dismal failure.) But I thought I'd share how I plant my tomatoes.
Tomatoes like warm soil. We can not wait for that first red tomato but don't be in a hurry. Planting tomatoes in cold soil will only shock the plants. Wait until the days and nights are consistently warm.
It is tempting to choose nice tall plants at the garden center. My plants this year (courtesy of my mother-in-law who graciously starts tomatoes for me every year) were at least a foot tall when I planted them.
The goal is to build a strong root system. I dig a shallow trench, remove all the lower leaves, and plant the tomato plants sideways in the ground. My goal is to only have three or four sets of leaves out of the ground. Roots will develop all along the stem allowing the tomato to survive dry conditions better.
I give each plant a shovel full of compost and water well.
This spring, I planted my tomatoes too early. The day I planted the tomatoes was sunny and windy and there was a chance of frost that evening - less then ideal conditions. An overcast, warm day with a warm nights in the future would have been far better. I was willing to risk it since I wanted to get the plants in. Rain was in the forecast and we were leaving for vacation. The plants had been hardened off (spending a few days outside in the shelter of the house) but still needed some protection from the wind and frost.
Old milk jugs with their bottoms removed made perfect hot caps. After a few days the weather warmed and I removed the jugs. The plants already showed signs of growth and were lush and green. Hopefully they are off to a good start.
Do you have any tomato growing tips to share?