Though it has been several years since I have planted a full-size vegetable garden, I cannot resist growing a few tomato plants among my cut flower beds. There’s something about a fresh, vine-ripened tomato that seems to capture the true essence of the summer growing season. As a beginner gardener, I quickly realized the importance of each growth stage in production of the best fruit possible.
Tomatoes From Start To Finish
One of my favorite parts of growing tomatoes actually starts well before planting time ever arrives. Like most gardeners, I thoroughly enjoy browsing through seed catalogs and carefully reading the descriptions of the plants on offer. Nearly always, I settle on a new-to-me heirloom variety. This allows me to save the seeds from my favorites and continue to grow my small collection of plants.
Though most growers suggest starting tomato seeds indoors, under grow lights, about 6-8 weeks before the last frost date, I prefer to wait much later in the winter before starting the seeds. About four weeks before my last frost, I’ll pre-sprout the seeds by using the paper towel method. Once the seeds have germinated, I arrange them into a winter sowing container or place a tray into my small unheated low tunnel.
Over the next few weeks, the seedlings grow quickly. Though the plants will need to be protected by a frost blanket on cool nights, I have found that this outdoor method works wonderfully for me. This technique allows me to make the most of the very limited space in my garden. It also eliminates the need for grow lights, hardening off, and the potential for losses caused by dampening off.
Once my last frost date has passed, the plants are carefully moved into their permanent location. At this time, I make certain that the planting holes are well-amended with a balanced fertilizer and that a sturdy stake has been put into place. As the plants grow taller and taller, they will be attached to their support, allowing for a strong framework from which fruit will hang.
Monitoring for pests on tomato plants is essential to growing beautiful fruit. Since I prefer a “no-spray” approach in my garden, this means removing pests by hand, when necessary. Though growing your own tomatoes may require patience, I can’t help but feel that the result is well worth the effort.