Growing your own tomato plants is easy, even on a balcony or rooftop vegetable garden. For newbie gardeners or seasoned-green thumbs, reap the healthiest harvests with these 5 essential tips to get you from seed-to-caprese.
Tomato plants aren't difficult to grow with fresh soil and full sun. They will even sprout out of compost piles and corners of the garden from previous years! As effortless they make it seem, these plants benefit from some extra attention to ensure longevity and good fruit production.
It's common in the spring to go to a local garden center and purchase tomato "starts" to transplant. While this may seem like you're getting ahead of the game, it can actually be less successful. Tomato plants from the store aren't always guaranteed nonGMO or raised organically, and can suffer some damage from transportation. They can carry diseases, pests, or be too mature to transplant resulting in root-shock when moved. Yikes!
To have the healthiest tomato plants and the quickest harvests, we recommend starting your tomatoes from seed! This allows you to select organic, fast-growing tomato varieties and avoid transplant-shock. When it's harvest time, you'll know exactly how your food was grown, from seed to supper.
5 Tips for Growing Your Best Tomatoes:
1. Select a fast-growing variety and plant with "companion plants".
There are thousands of different types of tomatoes so how do you choose what to grow? If you're into instant-gratification (like us) and want to harvest your very own fruits ASAP, the most important factor to look for is the days-to-maturity. Tomatoes can range from 55 days to over 120 to mature and finally produce fruit.
Choose an organic & nonGMO tomato variety that's quick to mature! The Caprese Seedsheet features the Glacier Tomato (55 days to maturity). On the Custom Seedsheet page, you can design your own Seedsheet with the Golden Nugget Cherry Tomato (60 days, also a fast one!).
Make sure to incorporate "companion plants", or varieties that grow well together. Tomatoes LOVE basil, and the combo not only tastes amazing, but they also grow better together. Let's face it, tomatoes + basil are a match made in heaven (just add mozzarella, obviously). Hence, the Caprese Seedsheet was born.
2. Thin extra tomato seedlings leaving one to take over.
Seeds aren't perfect, so as a rule-of-thumb it's always good to plant multiple seeds in case one is a dud. A few days after you've planted and watered, multiple sprouts will most likely come up (yay!).
Tomatoes do need their space, so after about 2-3 weeks of growth, make sure to pull out the extra sprouts leaving one lone survivor. Be sure the soil is moist before thinning to avoid damaging the young roots.
PRO TIP: Tomato sprouts aren't edible, but you can carefully transplant the extra sprouts into a different growing container or prepared garden bed to grow additional plants.
3. Support your tomato plant to grow straight and bear fruit.
Once your tomato plant is about a foot tall, it's time to give it some support. After all, it's busy training for months of heavy lifting! The best way to grow healthy tomato plants is to support them with a stake or tomato-cage that keeps the plant upright and off of the ground.
Using a wooden stake at least 4' tall, slide it right into the soil next to the base of the tomato plant. This will be the support for the main stem to lean against. The plant can be secured to this stake at 8-10" intervals with clips or twist ties.
4. Prune leaves and "suckers".
As your tomato plant grows larger, make sure to pick off discolored leaves, or any leaves touching the ground. This will help keep the plant healthy, and encourage good air circulation--especially while growing next to the basil.
In between the leaves and the main stem, you will find shoots growing to the side with flower buds at the end. These are called "suckers" and can be picked right off so the plant has more energy to put into the main stem (the "leader") + fruit development!
5. Fertilize and water consistently.
Tomatoes LOVE a good dose of organic fertilizer once per week for a nutrient-boost, especially when growing in container gardens. Try adding some liquid fertilizer concentrate to your watering can and applying regularly. You'll see immediate results!
When the tomato plant starts fruiting, be sure to water every day so the tomatoes form evenly on the plant.