Grow Guide Conditions:
Tomatoes are frost sensitive, warm season plants that grow best in full sun and like fertile, well drained, loamy soils. Tomatoes are heavy feeders, so prepare planting area with decomposed compost and a general purpose organic fertilizer. Soil that is low in phosphorus and potassium can be amended with rock phosphate and greensand. To prevent blossom end rot, add bone meal, oyster shell flour or crushed eggshells to the planting holes. Deeper, less frequent watering encourages deep rooting for better drought tolerance and tastier fruits.
Grow Guide Seed:
Tomatoes are best started indoors 4-6 weeks before your last frost date. Plant seeds ¼ inch deep and keep evenly moist. Optimum soil temperature is 70-90°F, which can be achieved with a heating mat. After 6-14 days, place new seedlings in a sunny window and fertilize every 2 weeks. Harden off your seedlings before planting by placing them outdoors during the day and bringing inside at night. Transplant 18-24 inches apart in rows that are 36-60 inches apart.
Grow Guide Pests:
Tomatoes are susceptible to many diseases, including Early Blight (Alternaria), Late Blight (Phytophthora), Septoria Leaf Spot, Bacterial Spot, Speck and Canker, and soilborne fungal diseases such as Verticillium and Fusarium Wilt. When possible, choose disease resistant varieties, use a minimum three year rotation cycle, use drip irrigation to minimize wet foliage, mulch to prevent soil from splashing on to leaves during rain storms, stake vines, orient rows to increase air circulation and compost or turn under all crop debris at the end of each season.
Tomato hornworms can be hand-picked or controlled with Bacillus thuringiensis sprays (Dipel). Plant flowers and insectary plants around the borders or within your garden to attract beneficial insects to control harmful pests naturally.
Grow Guide Harvest:
Tomatoes generally ripen 6-8 weeks after fruit set. Tomatoes will continue to mature even after they have been harvested. Harvest fully ripe fruits when they have full color but are still firm. Many varieties pull off easily when ripe, while some heirlooms need to be cut from the vine. To harvest for later use or to sell at market, pick when fruits have 50-75% color and are still firm, they will ripen in a few days. For best flavor, keep tomatoes on the kitchen counter, not in the refrigerator.