Growing And Harvesting Organic Tomatoes

Tomatoes are native to South America. Although considered a fruit, tomatoes are often eaten and prepared as a vegetable. The composition of tomatoes includes the antioxidant lycopene, which has many health benefits such as reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer. This article will help you learn how to grow tomatoes at home.

About Growing Tomatoes

Tomatoes are best enjoyed right off the vine for their taste and flavours

Tomato plants are tender warm-season crops that love the sun and cannot bear frost. It’s important not to put plants in the ground too early. Tomatoes take 60 days to more than 100 days to harvest, depending on the variety.

PLANTING

Tomatoes are long-season, heat-loving plants that won’t tolerate frost, so wait until the weather has warmed up in the spring.
Sow indoors 6 weeks before the last expected spring. Sow seeds 1/2-inch deep in small trays. Plant seedlings outdoors about 2 weeks after that date or when temperatures stay in the mid-50 degree range both day and night.
If you have a long enough growing season, it is also possible to direct-seed tomatoes in the garden soil (1/2-inch deep).

A tomato expert recommends planting seedlings in rich soil with lots of organic matter and a steady slow-release fertilizer.

GROWING

1. Watering

Water in the early morning so that plants have sufficient moisture to make it through a hot day.
Water generously the first few days that the tomato seedlings or transplants are in the ground.
Then water with about 2 inches (about 1.2 gallons) per square foot per week during the growing season. Deep watering encourages a strong root system.
Avoid overhead watering and afternoon watering. Water at the base/soil level of a plant to avoid splashing water on the leaves (which invites disease).
Mulch 5 weeks after transplanting to retain moisture, keep soil from splashing the lower leaves, and control weeds. Apply 2 to 4 inches of organic mulch such as straw, hay, or bark chips.
To help tomatoes through periods of drought, find some flat rocks and place one next to each plant. The rocks prevent water from evaporating from the soil.

Set stakes at the time of transplanting. Tie stems to stakes with elastic horticulture tape or garden twine.

2. Fertilizing

You should have already worked compost into the soil before planting, and added some bonemeal to the planting hole when transplanting.
Side-dress plants, applying liquid seaweed or fish emulsion or an organic fertilizer every 2 weeks, starting when tomatoes are about 1 inch in diameter (some folks say golf ball-size). If you are using an organic granular formula such as Espoma Tomato-Tone (4-7-10 or 3-4-6), pull mulch back a few inches and scratch 2 to 3 tablespoons fertilizer around the drip line of the plant. Water in, and replace mulch.
Continue fertilizing tomatoes about every 3 to 4 weeks until frost.
Note: Avoid fast-release fertilizers and avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers. As stated, too much nitrogen will result in lush foliage but few flowers and little or no fruit.

Ripe tomatoes

3. Pruning, pinching, staking

If growing vining tomatoes, pinch off suckers (new, tiny stems and leaves between branches and the main stem). This aids air circulation and allows more sunlight into the middle of the plant. Gently tie the stems to stakes with rags, nylon stockings, twine, or soft string. As a plant grows, trim the lower leaves from the bottom 12 inches of the stem.

Ripe tomatoes

HARVESTING

Harvest tomatoes when they are firm and very red, regardless of size, with perhaps some yellow remaining around the stem. Harvest tomatoes of other colors (orange, yellow, purple, or another rainbow shade) when they turn the correct color.
If temperatures start to drop and your tomatoes aren’t ripening, use one of these methods:
Pull up the entire plant, brush off dirt, remove foliage, and hang the plant upside down in a basement or garage.
Place mature, pale green tomatoes stem up, in a paper bag and loosely seal it. Or wrap them in newspaper and place in a cardboard box. Store in a cool (55°F to 70°F), dark place. Cooler temperatures slow ripening; warmth speeds it. Check weekly and remove soft, spotted, diseased, or ripe fruit.
Never place tomatoes on a sunny windowsill to ripen. They may rot before they are ripe!

A woman harvests home-grown tomatoes from her garden. (Getty Images)

How to Store Tomatoes

Never refrigerate fresh garden tomatoes. Doing so spoils the flavor and texture that give them that garden tomato taste.
To freeze, core fresh and unblemished tomatoes and place them whole in freezer bags or containers. Seal, label, and freeze. The skins will slip off when they thaw.

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