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GETTING STARTED

 

Tomatoes are a warm season plant so when the danger of frosts are over and you have chosen the location, readied the soil and your seedlings have been acclimated it's time to put them in the ground.

LOCATION
Choose your garden site carefully. Avoid places that may be too cold at night or too hot during the day. Tomatoes need full sun for most of the day but they also need protection from the wind.

Raised beds are a good place to grow tomatoes because they requires less fertilizer and compost and the soil doesn't become compacted from being frequently stepped on.

Tomatoes also do well in pots but will require more frequent watering.

SOIL:
Tomatoes need rich, well-drained soil and can be grown on many different soil types, but a deep, loamy soil, well-drained and supplied with organic matter and nutrients is most suitable. As with most garden vegetables, tomatoes grow best in a slightly acid soil with a pH of 6.2 to 6.8.

STARTING FROM SEED:
Use a sterile, soil-free potting mixture, start tomatoes indoors six to eight weeks before the frost-free date. Germination will take 7 to 14 days at 75° to 80°F. Give the plants as much light as possible, either in a south window, or for more uniform results, under artificial grow-lights for at least 10 hours a day.

As the seedlings grow, transplant them into larger and larger containers, each time burying the whole stem below the first set of leaves. The tomatoes will send out roots from the buried stem and will have developed a strong root system by the time they are ready to be planted outdoors. Move your seedlings outdoors for a few hours each afternoon to get them acclimated, or hardened-off, before actually planting them in the garden.

TRANSPLANTING:
Transplanting is an important step and if you do it carefully, you can look forward to an abundant crop of healthy mouth watering tomatoes.

Harden your plants off by bringing them outdoors gradually. 1st time (NOT in direct sunlight) for about an hour. Next time expose to a little Sun for about another hour. Keep the soil moist to help them acclimate. Then start adding an our per day until they are up to a full day in the Sun.

Once your tomato plants have been hardened, or acclimated to outdoor conditions, and night-time temperatures continually exceed 50 degrees, it's time to set your plants out into your garden or patio containers.

Space bush varieties 18 - 24" apart, and vine varieties 20 - 30" apart. Tomato plants perform better in soil that is rich in organic matter; this will also help them overcome the shock of transplanting more quickly. Mix two parts water with one part sifted compost. Allow the mixture to settle and add to the hole along with two tablespoons each of fish meal and cottonseed meal. Work into the soil in the bottom of each planting hole, making sure you bury the stems up to the first true leaf to insure a stronger root system.

After planting tomatoes they should be mulched, if possible, once the soil has warmed. Mulch helps keep the soil most and helps keep fruit off the ground, preventing rotting. The advantages to Mulching is that the soil retains moisture requiring less waterings. Also, the Mulch acts as a slow release fertilizer and it keep the weeds down.

FREE sources of Mulch are Lawn clippings, Fall leaves shredded down with a lawn mower or shredder, Sawdust (But add some nitrogen, like coffee grounds to prevent it from being too acidic), and Wood chips from a Tree cutting Company.

FERTILIZING:
I prefer organic gardening, it's a little more labor intensive but I love knowing that I'm not eating all those cancer causing chemicals AND I'm helping the environment in my own little way. Here are some tips that I follow when fertilizing my tomatoes:

I regularly add organic matter to the soil, using locally available resources whenever possible. Everyone has access to the raw ingredients of organic matter, because your lawn, garden and kitchen produce them everyday. Decaying plant wastes, such as grass clippings, fall leaves, vegetable scraps and egg shells from your kitchen, are the building blocks of compost, the ideal organic matter for your garden soil. If you add compost to your soil, you're already well on your way to raising a beautiful, healthy garden organically. For Free fertilizer I get coffee grounds by the bucket and a ton of eggshells from local Breakfast restaurants.

After transplanting I spray my plants every other week with diluted seaweed and fish emulsion spray. Follow the label for mixing instructions. These nutrient applications will help keep your plants healthy and productive.

On the alternative weeks when I don't fertilize my Tomatoes I spray them with a mixture of 2 tbs. of Epsom Salt mixed with water vigorously in a spray bottle with water. So one week it's Fertilizer, next week Epsom Salt Spray, then Fertilizer...etc...This insures a weekly shot in the arm of vital nutrients.

The nutrients in the soil from your added compost, bone meal, blood meal, cottonseed meal, and other fertilizers yu add to the soil are slow release. The liquid fertilizers give them that weekly boost you can see.

If you don't have the time to garden organically there are many fertilizers available at your local lawn and garden store such as Miracle Grow that work very well.

PESTICIDES:
Like I said I like to garden organically which means I try to avoid all of those cancer causing commercial pesticides. But it also means that I have to stay on top of my garden a little more. It makes me feel better knowing when I accidentally eat a bug off my tomatoes it wasn't pumped up with chemicals. :)

One way I reduce the pests in my garden is by mixing dish washing liquid and water into a squirt bottle and spraying my plants regularly. This quick and easy solution will smother hard shelled bugs because they breathe through their skin and will give soft shelled bugs a deadly case of dysentery.

Another good fix to keep the red spider mite way is to plant garlic around your tomatoes.

If you have limited time in your garden and need a quick fix your local lawn and garden store has many different options depending on the problem. Bayer Advanced has a whole line of different products that are designed to kill many different kinds of garden pests.

The important thing to remember when you are trying to get rid of the "bad" pests is that there are many good insects, such as lady bugs, bees and butterflies, which may be killed by commercial poisons - even if it was not your intention. The same applies to organic pesticides they can still harm beneficial insects if not used properly.

A happy balance is attained when you use natural pest control that harms only the pests and lets the beneficial insects live. It is best to spray directly on any pests you see.

HARVESTING:
All that hard work is getting ready to pay off and depending on what type of tomato plants you chose more than likely you will have an over abundance of ripe tomatoes.

When the fruits have ripened, pick them by bending back the fruit at the notch on the stem. They can be eaten straight from the plant, or can be stored for up to a week in the fridge.

Tomatoes store well in a cool, dry location. Do not put them in the refrigerator. While they last longer in the refrigerator, they will lose their flavor and texture. To slow down ripening keep them out of direct sunlight.

Just before frost, pick tomatoes while they are still green or orange. Wash them thoroughly. Allow them to dry, them put them in a cool, dry, dark place until you are ready for them. To ripen tomatoes place in a warm, sunny window

NOW WHAT DO I DO WITH ALL THESE TOMATOES?
Have an over abundance of tomatoes and not sure what to do with them all? We have some great ideas for you. We have recipes for everything from sauces to salsa. Want to know how to can your crop? We have some great tips for that too. Grab your tomatoes and click here.

Have some tomato recipes you would like to share? Click Here

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TOMATO EQUIVALENTS

2 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes equals 3 cups chopped and drained fresh tomatoes.

1 (16-oz) can equals 2 cups drained tomatoes or 1 cup undrained tomatoes.

1 (28-oz) can equals 3 cups undrained or 2 to 2 1/2 cups drained tomatoes.

1 (35-oz) can equals 3 cups undrained or 2 to 2 1/2 cups drained tomatoes.

25 to 30 cherry tomatoes equals 2 cups chopped tomatoes.

1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste equals 3/4 cup.

An average bushel of tomatoes weighs about 53 lb (25 kg). When quartered and canned, this quantity of tomatoes will yield 15 to 20 – 1 large jar. You’ll need 2 � to 3 lb (1.2 to 1.4 kg) fresh tomatoes per 1 large mason jar.

 

 


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