Growing Tomatoes

Springtime is a few months off, but it’s a good idea to start your plants a bit early if you are growing your own. A tomato garden is popular and useful, both for established gardeners and for those just starting a first serious garden. It’s best to start your plants by about February. Plant them in starter pots with some good potting soil, and keep them indoors near a window that gets good light. If you start them in small pots, it’s fine to transplant the best ones to larger pots if they start to get big. Once you are past the last frost date in your area, plant them in your garden, well-spaced. A lot of resources say 2-3 feet is a good distance, but I have learned that increasing that to more than three feet is generally a good idea.

Choosing the variety of tomatoes for your garden is a decision you should consider carefully. Big tomatoes and cherry tomatoes are both useful for salads, sandwiches, and many recipes. Heirloom varieties, rather than hybrids, are best. These are great because you can save the seeds from what you harvest, and be confident that any seedlings started from the seeds will be true to type. Most heirlooms are “indeterminate.” This means that there are lots of vines, and it’s best to keep these well-staked or otherwise supported. “Determinate” tomatoes are smaller bush-type tomato plants. This kind is fine, but you will have to purchase seeds or starter plants to have them year after year for any non-heirloom hybrid varieties, though there are several determinates that are heirlooms. These smaller plants are great for growing in containers!

One of the larger “beefsteak” tomatoes is the Cherokee Purple. Cherokee Purples are among the most delicious tomatoes, growing tall, and with large luscious fruit. Spacing is important for these, and it’s a good idea to keep at least three feet between plants.

Another great type is the Yellow Pear tomato. These adorable, perfectly pear-shaped, small yellow “cherry” tomatoes are sweet and delicious and are a perfect salad tomato. You can pickle them, use them in a number of easy-to-find recipes, or as a pizza topping. Spacing and support of the plants are both also important, these plants can get pretty tall and have lots of vines.

A few Cherokee Purples from my garden, a few years ago.

So just to be annoyingly repetitive: Space these plants out! A funny story goes along with this:

I set up a tomato bed in one corner of my yard. I planted heirloom seedlings with mixed Cherokee Purple, Yellow Pear, and Green Zebra tomatoes. There were only about two feet between each, mostly along my fence. I figured tying them to the fence would be enough support. This turned into a giant mess! the cherries were twined around both the large Cherokees and the mid-sized Green Zebras. There were so many leaves and vines that they didn’t get enough sun, so they matured slowly and stayed small and greenish. It was even hard to tell the gorgeous striped Green Zebras apart from the Cherokee Purples!

Good luck with your spring garden, it’s never too early to start planning!