Gardening

How to plant tomatoes

Solanum lycopersicum , formerly called Lycopersicum esculentum

Tomato is one of the most cultivated fruits in the world, with thousands of cultivars that vary in shape, size, color and flavor.

Grown in the Andes, Central America and Mexico long before European sea voyages, the tomato was introduced to Europe in the 16th century, being first cultivated as an ornamental plant in gardens, as it was initially considered unsuitable for consumption, since it is a plant of the family of the deadly belladonna ( Atropa belladonna), the Solanaceae family, which also includes other toxic plants. In fact, the leaves and stems of the tomato contain the alkaloid tomatina, and even the immature fruits contain this substance, but in small amounts, so the consumption of green tomatoes does not usually cause poisoning, although this can theoretically occur if they are consumed in large quantities. In addition, there are some studies that suggest that moderate consumption of tomatina has health benefits. When the tomato ripens, the concentration of this alkaloid in the fruit decreases a lot.

Tomatoes currently grown vary widely in size, ranging from small tomberries, about 5 mm in diameter, to large tomatoes over 10 cm in diameter. They also vary widely in shape, ranging from round, flat tomatoes to oval, oblong, angular tomatoes, pear-shaped tomatoes and hollow tomatoes that resemble a sweet pepper. As for color, tomatoes are usually red when ripe, but there are cultivars with yellow, orange, pink, white, cream, purple fruits and tomatoes that remain green when ripe, in addition to bicolored, striped tomatoes.

The main characteristic that varies in tomatoes is the growth habit, with part of the cultivars having a determined habit, forming thickets and producing all the fruits in a short period of time, and another part of the cultivars having an indeterminate habit, with branches that they continue to grow for several meters, which need staking and which continue to produce fruit while the plant grows (the largest tomato that has been recorded has reached almost 20 m in length). In addition to these two main habits, there are also cultivars with an intermediate habit, growing more than tomato plants of a specific habit, and thus needing staking, but with limited growth. Another type are dwarf cultivars, which can be considered to be of the determined type,

Climate

Tomatoes are grown all over the world, but cannot withstand extremes of temperature, that is, they do not grow well or at low temperatures (daytime temperatures below 15 ° C), which hinder plant growth and decrease the germination rate of seeds, nor at high temperatures (above 27 ° C), which can impair the formation of fruits. Tomatoes generally grow best with daytime temperatures between 20 ° C and 26 ° C, with a temperature variation between day and night. In regions subject to frost and low temperatures, tomatoes are usually grown in greenhouses.

As for air humidity, tomatoes are less prone to disease when grown under a low air humidity condition. High air humidity favors the appearance of diseases and pests in tomato plantations.

Brightness

Tomatoes generally grow and produce best in high light conditions, with direct sunlight for at least a few hours a day.

Ground

The tomato is tolerant as to the type of soil, and only clay soils with a tendency to drench should be avoided.

The best results are obtained in a well-drained, fertile soil rich in organic matter, with a pH between 5.5 and 7.

Currently, tomatoes are also widely grown in greenhouses without the use of natural soil. For example, it is grown using artificial soils, hydroponic systems and aeroponic systems.

Irrigation

Irrigate to keep the soil moist, but not soaked.

Planting

Tomato seeds can be sown directly in the final location or in seedlings, cups or plastic or paper bags, about 10 cm high and 7 cm in diameter. Place two to five seeds in each container, at a maximum depth of 1 cm, leaving only one or two plants per container afterwards, keeping the seedlings that are more vigorous. The transplant of tomato seedlings is carried out when the seedlings reach 15 cm to 25 cm in height, and in the transplant part of the stem can be buried to provide more roots.

The recommended spacing varies widely and depends on the cultivated variety and growing conditions. In general, cultivars of indeterminate habit can be cultivated with a spacing of 50 cm to 1.6 m between plants, and cultivars of determined habit can be cultivated with a spacing of 50 cm to 1 m between plants. Dwarf cultivars can be planted with a spacing of 30 cm between the plants.

Tomatoes can be planted in pots, planters, hanging baskets, plastic bags with soil and other types of containers, but the cultivar to be planted must be chosen in order to match the size of the plant with the size of the container. In large pots it is possible to plant most, if not all, cultivars, but the plants may have limited size and productivity. There are dwarf-sized cultivars that can be grown even in relatively small pots, and which in addition to producing fruit, are also quite ornamental.

Cultivation

Many tomato cultivars show undetermined growth and need to be grown with staking. This can be done by tying the plant to a fence, to rods arranged in an X or to a bower, every 10 or 15 days. The minimum height of the support must be 1.5 m (usually more than 2 m). In these cultivars the flowers and fruits appear continuously along the branch, so the lateral shoots can be removed from the plants weekly, to maintain a linear growth until the plant reaches the maximum height of the support.

For cultivars that have determined growth there is no need for staking, and the side shoots of the plant should not be removed, as it is mainly the new branches that will produce flowers and fruits. These tomatoes are more compact and are highly branched.

For cultivars that have intermediate characteristics between types of determined growth and types of indeterminate growth, supports are also used.

Remove invasive plants that are competing for resources and nutrients.

Harvest

The start of the harvest depends on the tomato cultivar planted and the growing conditions. Tomato harvesting usually starts 7 or 8 weeks after planting for cultivars of determined growth, and from 10 to 16 weeks for large cultivars.

For the vast majority of cultivars, the fruits will be more tasty if harvested when they are completely ripe, since the concentration of sugars will be higher if the fruit remains on the plant until its complete ripeness. In commercial plantations, tomatoes are harvested when well developed but still immature or almost ripe, depending on the distance to the markets to which they are destined.

Tomatoes are short-lived perennials and in suitable conditions they can produce fruit for a few years, although this is not the practice in commercial plantations, where tomatoes are only grown for a few months.

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