Grocery store tomatoes these days look like tomatoes, but don’t necessarily have that same tangy, earthy taste they did years ago. If you miss that homegrown flavor, the good news is the fruit is a hearty plant that is fairly easy to grow in many climates. Here’s a basic step-by-step guide on how to plant tomatoes so you once again can experience that tangy, earthy, “tomato” taste.
Step 1: Determine growing space
The best type of garden is the one for which you have the most room. If you live in an apartment, then pots on the balcony or a raised bed on the rooftop will work just fine, whereas if you have a large yard, you could probably dedicate a corner for a larger garden. Whatever format you go with, make sure it has good drainage.
Tip: Allow plenty of growing space; tomato plants need room to branch upward and outward.
Step 2: Feed your soil
If you’re using an existing patch of dirt, give it a boost with some compost. If you’re setting up a pot or raised bed, fill it with nutrient-rich soil.
Step 3: Choose your plants
There are a plethora of tomato species for sale—cherry, hybrid, heirloom, orange, yellow, striped, and so on. Seedlings should have markers with photos displaying ripe fruit and descriptions of preferred growing conditions. Read these carefully—paying close attention to amount of sunlight required—and choose the varieties that will thrive in your area.
Step 4: Transplant
Within a day or two of bringing the plants home, get them into the dirt. First, gently pinch off the bottom layer of leaves; this encourages strong stem growth. Dig a hole deep enough so the roots and stem up to the new bottom layer of leaves are underground. Then tightly pat the dirt around the stem and water thoroughly.
Tip: If you plan on using a tomato cage to help contain the plant, now is a good time to insert it. There’s less chance of disturbing the roots.
Step 5: Water frequently at first
For the first week or two, water the tomatoes every other day or at least enough to keep the soil moist.
Step 6: Cut back on watering
As the plant gets established, it needs less frequent watering. A general guideline is to give it a drink every three or four days. Of course, if it’s super hot and dry outside, water more often.
Step 7: Harvest
Eventually, you’ll notice little yellow blossoms that will turn into little green tomatoes that continue to grow and change color. When the fruit reaches its ripe color (again, it could be yellow or orange or traditional red), gently pick it. Some will keep the little top hat stem, others do not; it depends on the species.
Tip: Regular harvesting not only keeps you supplied with delicious tomatoes, but it allows the plant to divert energy to blossoms and unripe fruit.
If you find yourself overwhelmed with a bounty of tomatoes, there are several ways to preserve them for future use, including oven drying, freezing and turning them into sauces that can be frozen.
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