As your seeds grow into plants run your hands lightly over them to simulate wind so they will grow strong roots. Little Man loves to do this job and it also makes me feel like spring is right around the corner.
- Harden off 7 - 10 days before transplanting by placing on the back porch or outside somewhere during the day and bring back in at night.
- Do not transplant outdoors until the night temps remain above 50 degrees. I usually wait until two weeks after our last frost date to plant tomatoes because of our fickle Utah weather.
- Tomatoes like the heat so plant in full sun. Square foot gardening is one plant per square for vine and one per 9 square feet for bush, otherwise plant 2 -3 feet apart.
- Tomatoes like to be planted deep, usually covering your first couple leaves. After digging the hole I put in about a 1/2 cup of crushed egg shells because tomatoes like lots of calcium. Cover the plant with either the potting soil mixture or compost.
- Water deeply and regularly, keeping the water off the leaves if possible. Once the plant is established you want about 1" of water once or twice a week. Stop watering all together once you have fruit on the plant.
- Mulch, but wait until after the ground has warmed, you want to have about a 3" space from the stem so the stem doesn't rot, I have also noticed more pest problems when the mulch is right against the stem
- Support the plants right after planting with either tomato cages or stakes. I have had horrible results each year with my tomato cages so this year I will be making some of these Stake a Cages from Old World Garden Farms.
- Remove bottom leaves up to 1 foot once the plant reaches about 3 feet.
- Pinch off and remove suckers that form between the joint of two branches and prune any yellowed or dead leaves.
- Tomatoes need lots of feeding so plant them in rich compost and give them a little compost tea every two weeks or so until July, at which time you no longer need to feed them.
- Make sure to rotate your tomatoes every year and according to Heirloom Life Gardener, they shouldn't be in the same spot within a four year period.
- I love to compost just about everything but tomatoes are a no no in the compost pile unless you are looking to spread disease, so make sure to throw the tomato plants out after harvesting.
- Do not plant next to apricot trees, any member of the cabbage family, potatoes, corn or fennel.
- Companion plant with parsley, basil, garlic, chives, onions, marigold, carrot and borage.
Harvesting and Preserving
- Tomatoes are ready for harvesting when they have reached their final color and become soft.
- Gently twist and pull so the stems do not break or you can cut them off.
- Tomatoes can be bottled whole or crushed, dried, powdered or bottled into a variety of items such as pasta sauce, salsa, soups, chili, tomato juice. The sky is the limit when it comes to preserving tomatoes, here are some of my favorites in addition to just bottling whole:
- Allow the fruit to fully ripen.
- Cut in half and squish the seeds and pulp into a jar, cover with cheesecloth.
- Wait a couple days for the mixture to ferment, it will form a white film on top.
- Once the white film appears, rinse the entire mixture over and over until the seeds are clean and separated from the pulp.
- Strain the seeds out and spread onto a flat surface, pat dry with a clean cloth and set aside to dry in a place where there is plenty of air circulation and no humidity.
- Once completely dry, store in an airtight container for use next year.
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