The Q&A Archives: Novice Tomato Wannabe Gardener

Question: This will be my first attempt at a vegetable garden. I have a small, sunny patch where I would like to grow the "heirloom" or "ugly ripes" tomatoes I now buy in the store...Can you help me both: 1.)select a variety? and 2.)give some basic instructions? I would, I think, buy plants, not seeds (assuming they would be easier). Thank you.

Answer: Tomatoes need full sun and a rich soil that is evenly moist yet well drained (meaning not muddy wet). You would need to prepare your soil by digging in organic matter such as compost and any other amendments indicated by soil tests. Your county extension (690-2655) can help you with the tests and interpreting the results.

Next, the plants will do best with a mulch to help keep down weeds and retain moisture. You will need to water them as needed to keep the soil moist but not soggy. It is better to water deeply and less often than to water every day.

In selecting the tomato variety, as a beginner, one of the important things to look for is disease resistance. This will help you avoid problems. Your county extension can help you select varieties that are known to do well in your local area -- taking into account the climate, overall soil conditions, and local incidence of pests and diseases.

You might prefer an indeterminate type for fresh eating since it will produce over a longer period of time, usually up until frost. A determinate type where the fruits ripen closer together is better if you want to process the tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes are probably the esiest type to grow because they seem more tolerant of adverse conditions.

Most gardeners set out transplants because tomatoes take a relatively long time to come into production. You can grow your own transplants from seed or purchase them with good results. Take care to condition the transplants prior to setting them in the garden. This means acclimating them gradually to the sun and outdoor conditions. They would be planted after all danger of frost and when the ground has warmed up a bit in the spring. The plants may be staked or caged to conserve space and facilitate picking or left to sprawl according to your personal preference.

Enjoy those tomatoes!

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