Tomatoes belong to the nightshade family. Peppers, potatoes, eggplant, tobacco, among others also belong to the nightshade family.
Tomatoes are one of the most commonly grown fruits in a traditional vegetable garden.
They are very versatile, and can be used raw, or cooked into sauces. They also can very well, which can make them a pantry staple through the winter months.
Tomatoes have a relative long growing season from germination to harvest. Typically ranging anywhere from 60 to 80 days. For this reason, it is often much easier to grow tomatoes by starting with a pre-started plant from a nursery or garden centre. You can also start seeds yourself, starting in February or March in preparation for planting outside after your last frost.
Types of plants
There are so many different varieties of tomatoes plants. They range from giant beefsteak size, or small cherry tomatoes. However, there are two main types of tomato plants that you need to know about when choosing what type of variety to select for your garden.
Determinate tomato plants are plants that have a finite growth size. They will only get as big as they are labelled. Their size will vary depending on what variety they are, but they do not generally continue growing in height or width beyond their maximum.
They also usually have most of their fruit ready to harvest all at once. This makes them a great option for canning, or sauce making. But this is also something to consider when selecting your plants.
Indeterminate plants do not have a finite growth size. These plants will keep growing in height and width as long as soil and weather conditions allow.
If you have a small balcony or patio space, you may want to look into determinate varieties. Unless you are hoping to have them climb a trellis, keeping indeterminate plants groomed can be time consuming if you do not have the right amount of space.
Indeterminate plants do tend to produce fruit in a more staggered manner. Which does make them a great choice for eating fresh tomatoes for a longer stretch of time.
Different varieties of tomatoes
Field tomatoes are your classic palm sized fruit. The range in size from beefsteak to Roma. But ultimately these tomatoes are excellent growers in both fields, and in your garden beds. There is a variety of both indeterminate and determinate field tomatoes.
If you decide to plant indeterminate varieties, just be mindful to steak them up for support as they grow. This will prevent them from falling on top of surrounding vegetables in your garden bed.
There are so many different tomatoes varieties. Some varieties, like Romas are great for ketchup or sauce making. While Beefsteaks are great for making a fresh tomato sandwich.
One of the best parts of growing your own produce, is being able to pick a fresh tomato and make a sandwich with it while its still warm from the sun. There is something magical about the smell of a freshly picked tomato.
Because Roma tomatoes have more flesh/pulp than seed, they are not necessarily a great eating tomato. But they have more substance when boiling them down for sauce making them less watery.
If you are looking for a snack tomato, cherry tomatoes provide clusters of small thumb sized tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes can come in oval, or perfectly sphere shaped. Cherry varieties also tend to have a slightly shorter growing season. Harvest usually ranges around 60-70 days, opposed to 70-80 days for other varieties.
If you are growing on a balcony, or small patio, there are some cherry varieties that are small determinate sizes that have been bred to produce great volume of cascading small tomatoes. These plants are small enough to be in a pot on a table top, or several plants placed in a raised bed.
If you are interested in larger round varieties for containers look for determinate sizes. Especially if you have a small growing space like a balcony, you will want something that can support itself, and will not outgrow its container.
This likely won’t apply for your needs especially if you are newer to gardening. But there are a lot of indeterminate varieties that are great for greenhouse growing. They can grow very tall, and take advantage of vertical space, while keeping room to plant many side by side.
There are many different varieties that have been genetically engineered through breeding to make ideal greenhouse growers.
You might remember that greenhouse grown tomatoes back in the early 2000’s used to have the texture and taste of wood. Today, you wouldn’t necessarily know the difference between some tomatoes grown in fields vs. greenhouses.
Tomatoes are fairly acidic fruits. There is a large range of different acid levels dependant on the variety you are growing. However there are some tomatoes that are lighter in colour. Usually an orange or yellow. The yellow tomatoes have the least amount of acid levels, and are often a sweet flavour. The traditional red tomatoes are among the higher acid levels.
If you are looking for low acid alternatives for your diet, consider growing yellow varieties.
Transplanting your starters
When you are ready to place your starter plants in the ground, or container you want to give them a good root anchor. To do this, place the plant in a hole made to the size of the root plug. Make the hole deeper than the container it came in, and place it in the hole. Fill the hole with soil until just under the first set of leaves. If your plant has several sets of leaves already, you can bury it above the first set.
The reason for doing this is to give your tomato plant a better chance of setting stable roots. Roots will grow out horizontally from the stem of the tomato plant. So the higher up the stem the soil goes, the sturdier of a plant it will be once firmly rooted.
This root system will also give the plant a better chance at absorbing moisture from surrounding soil.
Common Diseases and Concerns
Tomatoes are prone to getting what is known as Blight. Blight is caused by a family of fungus organisms. There are a few different strains of blight. Some are more prone to set in early in the season, and others later, toward harvest time. Blight is recognizable by its browning circular spots on the leaves. The leaves might look burnt, brown, and dead.
The best way to combat blight is to stay ahead of it. Buy plant varieties that are bred to be blight resistant. Check the tags at the garden centre to confirm if they are blight resistant or not. If they are not, there are some things you can do to help stay ahead of it.
Plant tomatoes plants far enough apart that there is room for good airflow. Blight loves damp, wet and hot conditions. As the summer weather heats up, the air between tomato plants can get quite humid, and attractive to the organisms that cause blight.
Make sure to water at the base of the plants instead of watering the whole plant. This will help keep leaves dry, and reduce moisture for the organisms to breed.
Prune away any infected leaves, to try and contain any potentially infected plants.
If you are also growing potatoes, or other nightshades, plant them far apart in your garden. Keeping distance between familial plants will reduce the likelihood of blight and other diseases spreading from one plant variety to another.
Rotating crops from year to year will also help. If this is your first year growing tomatoes, keep note of where you plant them. Next season, plant your tomatoes in a different location in your garden bed. Anything hanging out in the soil will not have less of a chance of finding your tomatoes if they are growing several feet away from where they were last season. This will help reduce insect patterns too.
If you do have an infected plant, remove it from the garden, and throw it away. Do not add it to your compost pile if you keep one. This will only spread it through your compost, and potentially infect other plants when you apply the compost.
Companion planting is a great idea for all sorts of reasons. Different plants have a different nutrient need. Tomatoes are a high feeding plant. Which means they need lots of full direct sunlight, and they consume a lot of nitrogen from the soil.
Planting bush beans next to a tomato plant will help add nitrogen back into the soil. Nasturtiums, as noted below will help repel pests. Lettuces are also a great green to have growing near the root bed of the tomato plant.
If you are growing in a small space, such as a raised bed, companion planting will maximize space. Leafy greens will help keep weeds down, and use space that would otherwise go unused. It can also help protect against blight by keeping the bottom of the tomato plant’s branches and leaves dry. Rather than collecting humidity between plants, the lettuce greens will absorb the moisture.
Tomatoes attract a variety of bugs and insects.
Aphids, flea beetles, whiteflies, and tomato hornworms among the most common.
Tomato Hornworms can be quite destructive if they go undetected. They are large caterpillars that are a deep green similar to the colour of the stem and leaves of your plant. They blend in very well, so they can go undetected until you see bite marks on your leaves. Keep a close watch for these hornworms. when you find one, pull it off your plant and either squish it, feed it to some chickens, or drop in a pail of soapy water.
If it feels inhumane to squash these caterpillars, remember that they are going to ravage your entire plant, and food source if you don’t. They can go through multiple lifecycles on your plant if you don’t remove them for good.
You will find white flies on the underside of tomato leaves. They are very tiny. Sometimes as small as 1-2mm in size. Whiteflies are a threat to more than just tomato plants. Even though they tend to camp out on the leaves, and suck nutrients from the leaves. Their major damage is actually in carrying other diseases to the plant.
Remove affected leaves if you see tiny white flies living on the undersides. Dispose of them, and do not add to compost where they will spread viruses to your compost pile.
Companion planting will also help combat white flies. White flies are repelled by nasturtium. Planting this nearby will help deter white flies. Or you could plant Zinnias nearby which will attract larger predatory insects that eat whiteflies.
Aphids are a common garden pest to more than just tomato plants. Like whiteflies, their major threat is more in the diseases that they bring to the plant. They do feed on the plants themselves, but are more dangerous in what viruses and diseases they might spread.
Flea beetles are a small beetle black, brown or tan in colouring. They are very small – about 1/16″. The reason they are called flea beetles is because they will jump like fleas if provoked.
These beetles will eat holes through your plant leaves. They typically spring into action as soon as temperatures warm up consistently above freezing.
You can combat flea beetles by dusting your plant leaves with talcum powder, or a 1 to 5 diluted mix of rubbing alcohol and water sprayed on your plants. This is only necessary if you have spotted the beetles chewing up your plants.
Flea beetles are also attracted to nasturtiums. So while Nasturtiums repel white flies, they will attract flea beetles away from your tomatoes creating a great companion planting pal.
Now that you are equipped with so much information about tomatoes, get out there and start planting!
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