Growing Tomatoes Step by Step: How to Plant Tomatoes in the Garden

We have already seen in several articles in the category  “How to make a garden”  some of the most important aspects of garden planning and cultivation tasks. Now we are going to focus on some of the most cultivated plants in the garden for consumption in our home. We will start, with this post, giving more details on how to grow tomatoes in the garden. Tomatoes are the most cultivated vegetable in Spain and one of the most used in the kitchen!

But before learning how to grow tomatoes, we will see what are the most important characteristics and requirements of this plant.

Characteristics and requirements

The tomato is a fruit nightshade (and therefore quite demanding in nutrients),  with a short main root and a large “network” of secondary roots .

This should be taken into account when planning possible associations and crop rotations  in your organic garden. For example, the tomato is compatible  with undemanding plants and with a small root system , such as:  chard, basil, garlic, onion, cabbage, endive, lettuce or leek . On the contrary, you should avoid growing tomatoes together with other nightshades such as eggplant or pepper, cucurbits such as squash or cucumber, or potatoes, since they have similar requirements and will compete for nutrients in the soil and for water.

In addition, aromatic plants such as mint or basil go very well with nightshade plants such as tomatoes or peppers because, with their smell, they help repel the pests of these vegetables.

There are many varieties of tomatoes, you can see some and also tricks to grow tomatoes in the post Organic tomatoes: varieties and tricks to grow them .  

Climate to grow tomatoes

Although the tomato is a perennial plant, in our latitudes it is cultivated as an annual (sowing, cultivating for 4-6 months and eliminating the crop every year), and this is because the cold of winter does not allow the plant to survive (the minimum temperature for its development is 15ºC). So, as you can imagine, this vegetable needs a lot of sun and heat: it is grown in spring and summer  and you should place it in a sheltered and warm place that receives at least six hours of sun a day.

Best soil for growing tomatoes

The tomato is very demanding, it requires a  soil rich in humus or organic matter, so in winter it is interesting to dig the ground and bury compost, green manures (remains of the tomato plants from the previous year, for example), pine bark or manure , to enrich the soil . If you use containers and buy the substrate, you should look for one with high water retention capacity and with a large amount of organic materials, such as peat or pine bark.

When you transplant it, you should dig a hole in the substrate and spread compost or manure around the roots .

During cultivation you can add some compost to the soil or slurry mixed with the irrigation water.

To favor the fruit setting (transition from flower to tomato) and its fattening, there are organic commercial products such as CUAJASÁN, and when the fruits begin to fatten, you can fertilize with an organic fertilizer rich in potassium.

(We have already seen many of these tasks in the article  Ecological management of crops in Sponsor a tomato ).

When to plant tomatoes? Best sowing season

Although it is much more advisable to sow tomato in a seedbed or plant and then transplant it, you can also do direct sowing. 

The best time to plant tomatoes depends on the temperatures in the area and whether we have chosen to sow in seedbeds or do direct sowing. 

  • Seedbeds: sow from February to April and place the seedbeds in a place protected from the cold (15-20ºC) and with sun. Transplant in the final field two or three months later, in early or mid-spring, when there is no longer any risk of frost. If the seedbeds are very small you can do intermediate transplants.
  • Direct sowing or transplantation : so that each plant has enough space to grow, they should be placed at about 45-60 cm (depending on the size of the plant, if the variety gives rise to large plants with a shrubby 60-70 cm). Leave about 75-100 cm between the rows.

How to grow tomatoes step by step

Next we will see what the care of tomatoes is, from their sowing in seedbeds to harvest at the end of the season.

Sowing tomatoes

The first step in growing tomatoes is planting them in seedbeds. You can buy a nursery or seedbed or use yogurt cups from other recycled containers. 

In this link you can see all the details on how to plant tomatoes step by step in seedbeds.

If you are going to grow tomatoes in pots  or other cultivation containers (ceramic pots, planters, cultivation tables …) these must have a minimum depth of 30 cm , and the separation between plants will be the same (about 30-40 cm).

Watering the tomatoes

Although it does not have too high water needs (see post Plan irrigation ), watering tomatoes must be uniform and frequent, so drip irrigation is recommended  so that excess moisture does not cause the appearance of fungi.

Tomato care

  • Hilling:  consists of piling up soil from the substrate at the base of the plant stem (making a small mound or a ridge, if there is a row of plants). Thus a better development of the roots is achieved.
  • Supported with rods and ropes or with spiral metal supports like the ones in the photo (more comfortable). You can also let it grow creeping or hang down if you have your tomatoes on a raised grow table.
  • De-sprouting : cut with the hand, once or twice a week, the lateral shoots that appear in the axils of the leaves (so that all the energy of the plant is concentrated in the growth of the branches with flowers and fruits).
  • Pruning / Topping : as the tomato grows, the main stems will be cut so that the plant emits more branches and, therefore, more flowers and more tomatoes. In addition, this way a less leafy plant is achieved, so that aeration will prevent the appearance of fungi.

How long does it take to produce a tomato plant ?

About two months after transplanting, the first tomatoes will begin to be ready, and they will not stop being produced until the end of the summer. Collect them as they turn red.

If at the end of the season there are green tomatoes in the bushes, cut the plants at their base and hang them upside down in a sheltered place until they mature.

To enjoy their full flavor, eat ripe tomatoes as soon as they are harvested. If you have many, you can always make preserves such as jams or fried tomato. You can also freeze them, although in this case it will be better to use them for elaborate dishes or sauces, because, once defrosted, they will have lost their firmness.

Another problem when growing tomatoes can be the pollination difficulties of the flowers (especially in urban gardens, with little presence of bees, bumblebees and other insects that usually carry out this pollination work). If this happens, many flowers will dry out and fail to produce tomatoes . You can help pollination by passing a brush with pollen from one flower to another, releasing bumblebees or installing a pollinator station.

Tomato pests, diseases and other problems

  • Most common tomato pests : whitefly, aphids , spider mites , thrips, caterpillars (such as Heliotis ) and potato cyst-forming nematodes.
  • Tomato diseases : typical garden fungi ( mildew, powdery mildew and botrytis ), potato mosaic virus and leaf mold.

(Find out how to combat them by reading the articles in the category “Pests and diseases”, we have files on all the pests in the garden)

In the post on Common Tomato Pests and Diseases you have more details about the problems you may encounter when growing tomatoes .

Other problems in tomato cultivation

It is important to maintain the soil with constant humidity, without major differences (NO alternation of dry periods and wet periods). An uneven watering can affect the fruit, causing it to  crack  and favoring the appearance of a problem called rot or blossom end rot  (which is also related to the use of a substrate that is too acidic and poor in Calcium).

If you see “rotten ass tomatoes” this could be due to a calcium deficiency. To avoid blossom end rot due to lack of calcium there are some natural remedies.

I leave you this video in which Álvaro explains to us in a fun and entertaining way how to avoid rotten asses or blossom end rot in tomatoes.

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