Tomatoes are one of the most commonly grown garden items because they don’t require much space, can grow in many different climates and they are relatively quick from planting to harvest. They also happen to be an incredible source of nutrition. Like many produce items, homegrown provides health and flavor benefits compared to store-bought.
Tomato Studies Show Surprising Results
It’s a common misconception that nightshades are ‘bad’ for you. While there are people who have sensitivities and allergies to nightshades, a peer reviewed summary in the Mediators of Inflammation Journal reveals that consuming tomatoes on a consistent basis is associated with lower risk of chronic non-communicable diseases (CNCD) and several different cancers. Despite the health benefits, not all tomatoes are created equal. Some are more nutrient dense and there are so many different flavors to choose from. That’s why so many people are growing their own tomatoes.
Three More Reasons to Grow Your Own Tomatoes
There’s nothing like the flavor of sun-kissed, vine ripe tomatoes! When you grow your own tomatoes, you’ll soon realize that what you get from the grocery store may be labeled tomatoes, but tastes like water in comparison. Try it yourself to see just how drastically different your homegrown tomatoes are from the alternatives.
KNOW your tomatoes are packed with nutrients. Growing your own puts the quality back into your hands so you know you and your loved ones are getting the most vitality from your food. Plus, eating fresh picked food drastically reduces the nutrient loss from plant to plate..
There are over 10,000 tomato varieties to choose from. Do you like your tomatoes sweet, mild, acidic, fruity, rich, or even smoky? When you grow your own, you have way more options to delight your taste buds than the store!
8 Steps To Growing Nutrient-Dense Tomatoes
When inviting plants into your life, it’s important to remember that plants want to thrive. They do whatever it takes to grow strong and turn to seed for the next generation of plants. Your role as a steward is to provide the best conditions for your plants to flourish. Here are the eight considerations when growing tomatoes.
1. Choose Your Tomato Plants Based on Your Goal
Often people choose their tomato plants based on which looks the most enticing. Choosing this way can severely backfire and result in a diminished harvest or worse, none at all. Instead, start by choosing what type of tomato you grow. There are two types of tomatoes: determinate and indeterminate.
Determinate tomatoes grow to a fixed mature height and generally produce all their fruit over just a few weeks. This is great if your goal is to preserve tomatoes for off season enjoyment.
Indeterminate tomatoes will continue to grow and produce so long as your climate conditions are right. Most gardeners prefer this type of tomato so they can enjoy tomatoes all season long. The Guinness World Record is a tomato vine that is 65 feet!
If you accidentally choose a determinate variety when you really want tomatoes all season long, you may be disappointed. So before you rush out and buy your tomato plants, remember to choose your type based on your goals.
Climate plays a very important role in tomato production. Most tomatoes fruit between 50-95°F (10-35ºC). If your warm season temperatures are outside this range, you’ll want to look for those few varieties that can produce at higher temperatures.
Consider starting your seeds indoors or purchasing young tomato plants from your local nursery to get a headstart on the growing season for cooler climates. For hot climates, it can cause lower immunity if the plant is not well established by the time temperatures hit their highs.
In addition to choosing the right type, choosing varieties that are well adapted to your climate can vastly increase your tomato harvests. Discover how to find the best varieties for your climate with the 10 Tips for Growing Delicious Tomatoes Download from our friends at Grow Your Own Vegetables.
3. Your Tomato Plants Need 6-8 Hours of Sunlight
Without proper sunlight, your vegetable plants cannot photosynthesize and grow. Your outdoor tomato plants need 6 hours of sunlight minimum and ideally, 8 or more for optimum health. NOTE: Sunlight and grow lamps are not the same thing. If growing indoors, your tomato plants need 16-18 hours under grow lamps.
4. Quality Soil Means Nutrient-Rich Food
Health starts in the soil. If growing in a container, choose a high quality, organic potting mix. If growing in soil, ensure good drainage, structure and fertility. Tomatoes like a lot of nutrition! Add a 2” layer minimum of organic compost on the top of your potting mix or soil each growing season will most likely not be enough. Dr. Earth is one example of an organic soil amendment made specifically for tomatoes.
5. Grow Tomatoes Vertically & Trellis Early
Growing vertically is one of the best choices for your tomato health. Plants drooping on the ground have a greater chance of contracting diseases and more fruit is wasted. Stake or trellis when plants are young. Waiting can result in a tangled mess and damage to your plants where disease can enter.
For determinate tomatoes that typically grow between 3-5 feet tall at full maturity, cages are often enough. But for indeterminate tomato types, you’ll want a taller, stronger trellis. You can find more information on trellises here in the 10 Tips for Growing Delicious Tomatoes download.
6. Prune For Health & Get More Than Tomatoes
Tomatoes are plagued by more diseases than any other garden vegetable. Luckily, many of these diseases can be prevented through increased air circulation. If you’re planting indeterminate tomatoes, you’ll want to begin pruning lower leaves when the plant is 8-12” high keeping a minimum of three leaves at all times.
As your plants grow and are pruned, their roots will grow deeper and the foliage will be higher off the ground. This not only provides your tomato plants with ideal air circulation, but you’ll have extra space left over on the soil surface to plant some lower growing plants. Basil is a favorite choice for gardeners to plant under tomato plants. They compliment each other well in the garden and on your plate, making it easy to harvest for those mouth watering summer Caprese salads.
7. Water Tomatoes Deeply, But Less Often
Tomatoes are drought tolerant so it’s possible to water more thoroughly and less often. For cooler temperatures, watering once a week and letting the soil dry out a bit between waterings is ideal. If you live in a hot, dry desert, add a few inches of mulch to the soil to drop the soil temperature by as much as 10°F. This will help your soil retain enough moisture to prevent wilting from dry soils combined with high temperatures.
8. Three Tips to Harvest and Store Your Tomatoes
Develop a harvest routine: Harvesting at peak ripeness is not only ideal for flavor and nutrition, but allows the plant to produce more fruit for you. When your tomatoes start producing fruit, you’ll want to harvest 2-3 times per week. If you know you won’t be able to get out to your garden for longer than 3 days, harvest fruits that are almost ripe also and let them ripen on your kitchen counter. This also prevents fruit from falling and rotting on the ground, wasting harvests and attracting unwanted insects.
Harvest before watering or heavy rains: Lots of water all at once will split your tomatoes open (and make them taste watery). Harvest as much as you can before waterings and heavy rains.
Eat fresh and store any extras at room temperature: Sun-kissed taste best! And avoid storing your extra tomatoes in the fridge.
Refrigeration temperatures actually destroy flavor and texture and thanks to this 2016 study, we are now discovering why: chilling of tomatoes causes changes in DNA methylation. Chilling also causes a loss of volatile compounds that largely contribute to tomato flavor.
Ideally, store at a temperature between 50-68°F to keep your tomatoes fresh.
For more tomato tips and strategies, download your complimentary 10 Tips for Growing Delicious Tomatoes Guide.