The sight of red, ripe and succulent tomatoes growing in your home garden is probably one of the best sights ever. You feel like the Almighty to have created life with your own hands. As beautiful as the output looks, the process of growing them can become tedious and you can fail altogether, if a proper routine is not followed. Tomatoes are indispensable. You will need them in curries, salads, soups, dips and almost all your favourite dishes have a good glug of tomato puree or sauce. Using the home-grown ones is a pleasure that only home gardeners would understand and if you cannot do with these ripe red gems of Nature, it’s time you did some planting.
Tomato varieties for your information
Before beginning to plant fruits or vegetables at home, it is important to carry out a thorough research with regard to their varieties and the care needed for each type. Tomatoes thrive better in warmer climes and they can be easily grown at home following a stepwise method. They are available in a wide range of shapes, sizes, colours and varieties and can be broadly classified as either determinate or indeterminate. The determinate varieties produce fruits all at once and stop growing while the indeterminate ones produce fruit as long as temperatures are favourable and continue to grow.
When should you plant tomatoes?
As mentioned earlier, tomatoes are warm-season crops and the best season to plant them are after the frost has passed away and spring arrives with the promise of some warmth. If the frost is expected again after you have planted them, they will need to be protected using a “planket”.
There are two ways of growing tomatoes; you can grow them at home from scratch, using seeds and the other way would be to purchase transplants from the local nursery. Transplants are generally easier to grow. To start off the process, you will need to pick plants that are a good 6-8 inches tall and don’t have too many roots poking out from under the plants.
For the seed-based plating, it is a wiser idea to begin indoors. The seeds should be planted in a light soil mixture a good 4-7 weeks before planting them in your garden outdoors. The newly formed plants need to be gradually introduced to sunlight in order to get them accustomed to it before planting them permanently out in the sun.
How to Plant a Tomato: A Step-by-Step Approach With Seeds
Given below is a stepwise method of planting tomatoes if you are starting out with seeds:
Planting seeds indoors should ideally be done 6-8 weeks before the frost season is expected to be over. By the time the frost is gone, the seedlings will be ready to be transported outside under the sun.
For a decent produce, it is important to pick a site that receives enough sunlight and has a well-drained soil system. Northern regions will need the site of plantation to receive at least 6 hours of sun while the Southern regions can do with the mellowed, light afternoon rays for the fruits to thrive.
You will need to till the soil up to 1 foot with manure, compost or fertilizer two weeks before transporting the seedlings to the garden outdoors.
Gradually introduce the seedlings to sunlight by exposing them a little more every day.
The seedlings should be transplanted in the outdoors after the frost is completely over and the soil bed is warm.
Tomato plants are vines and need support so if you have enough space and the weather is supportive, you can allow them to sprawl out on the bed. Otherwise, it is a better idea to use cages and stakes to keep the plant upright and the fruits off the ground.
The seedlings must be planted two feet apart from each other.
The roots will take time to adapt to new soil and surroundings. Water frequently and well enough so that they branch out soon.
While the plants grow, it is a good idea to trim the first yellow flowers. This early pruning will help the plant to grow taller and wider and thus lead to a better produce.
How to take care of a tomato plant?
Aftercare is a must if you are looking forward to a fresh and pest-free produce. Follow the steps listed below to care for your tomato plants:
- Water is like elixir to newly transplanted seedlings. Remember to water them everyday, generously.
- Watering should be consistent throughout the growing season. In summer, the water level should be around 2 inches per week.
- Periods of draught can be tough for tomato plants. To retain the moisture, flat rocks can be kept next to each plant so that they can draw in moisture from the ground level and keep it from evaporating.
- Fertilizers should be added two weeks after and two weeks before the first picking.
To prevent diseases, crop rotation should be practiced from time to time.
Keeping the Pests and Diseases away
Tomatoes are otherwise quite hardy but are susceptible to insects and diseases. The plants can be infected with Late Blight; a fungal disease that can strike in the midst of growing season. If the weather is not supportive and is damp and bleak for long, it encourages this disease. Destroying all the infected plants right away is the best solution.
Uneven water and moisture can lead to cracking in fruits. Keeping moisture levels consistent is the key to keeping the skins intact.
White flies can be found on the back of the leaves. Hosing the leaves and applying an insecticidal soap will get rid of aphids.
To prevent blossom-end rot, you can use neem oil, sulfur and other fungicides.
Once the fruits are on display, it is a wise idea to use bird nets to keep birds away from picking and plucking the fruits.
Crushed egg shells are great fertilizers for the soil and they also keep a lot of bugs away from your growing plants.
Harvesting and Storing
Harvesting the fresh produce from your own garden is as exciting as growing tomatoes but a little care taken in the final step goes a long way.
Try to keep the tomatoes on the vine for as long as possible. The temptation is hard to resist but there is no point in waiting for so long and plucking them before time.
If the unripe ones fall off, they can be ripened indoors in a paper bag. Never refrigerate the unripe ones.
To know whether your fruit is ripe enough to pluck, check the colour and feel the outsides. The perfectly ripe tomato will be red and firm to touch.
Growing tomatoes in your home garden can be an exhilarating experience. To witness the first blossom is like watching your children grow up to be fine young men and women. The key points to remember would be to wait for the right planting season, use water generously, keep pests and diseases away, use organic fertilizers and wait patiently for the first picking. The harvest is then all yours to consume.