Sun Exposure & Soil Temperature
Full sun is best; at least 6-8 hours. If your garden area gets less sun, try cherry tomato varieties for your best chance at success. Tomatoes should not be planted out too early; ideal planting time is when soil temperature has reached 60°F for several days and nighttime temps are averaging in the 50s. These conditions usually arrive around mid-May—best planting time is often around Mother’s Day.
Organic Soil Amendments
Always amend your soil for raised garden beds and in-ground plantings. If you don’t have your own compost, use Harvest Supreme Soil Builder (fortified with 15% chicken manure), Malibu Compost, or G&B Soil Building Conditioner. Amendments also become nutrients for microorganisms to feed on after decomposing. It is best to add 30–50% compost and other amendments to native soil when planting into the ground.
Organic Potting Soil
Premium organic potting mixes contain everything you need to successfully start tomatoes in containers. We recommend G&B Organic Potting Soil or Baby Bu’s Potting Soil. Use a 15-gallon nursery container (holds 2 cu. ft. potting soil) or larger for “indeterminate varieties”. “Determinate varieties” (shorter plants) can be grown in a 5-gallon nursery container (holds almost 1 cu. ft. potting soil) or larger. Add worm castings and organic fertilizer; mix together to complete the potting mix.
Granular or pelletized organic fertilizers are slow-release and provide a complete source of nutrition that keeps the plant productive and soil healthy. G&B Tomato, Vegetable & Herb Blend contains 10% calcium, which aids in fruit development. Most fertilizers are applied every 4–6 weeks; make sure to read the application rates on each label. As the season progresses and plants grow, supplemental liquid feeding may be beneficial.
A trellis, cage, or stakes may be necessary to keep vines and tomatoes off the ground. Indeterminate plants can grow 6–20+ feet long; buy the largest wire cage available for these. A medium cage is sufficient for determinate plants, which grow much smaller. Stake the same day you plant! If you return a week or so later, you may damage new roots growing away from the main root mass. Pruning is optional and can be done based on your support system or as time allows; be careful not to remove too much foliage—delicate tomato fruits can sunburn!
Deep watering at regular intervals is the best way to establish a healthy root system. The best time to water is when the foliage is drooping in the cool morning air. Don’t be fooled by drooping foliage during mid-day as an indication of needing water; this is natural in mid-morning or afternoon heat. Deep watering is key; a slow drip from the hose for at least 20 minutes is advised. Apply water again only when the foliage is drooping in the cool early morning. Count the intervals between watering to determine your ideal interval. Watering frequency and duration will vary based on growing conditions: size/type of container, in-ground, sun exposure, soil type, etc.
Most heirloom tomato varieties generally have poor disease resistance. However, disease is not usually a problem until mid-season. Choose disease-resistant varieties for a sustained harvest or if you’ve had previous issues with disease. Blossom-end rot (a hard, dark patch at the blossom end of the fruit) is prevented by ensuring an adequate level of soil calcium and steady, consistent moisture. Temperature is usually a major factor in the cause of blossom-end rot; this is typically solved naturally when soil temps rise and calcium in the soil is released. If you are experiencing problems, send us a photo or bring in a leaf sample for diagnosis.
For the most part, tomatoes are pretty resilient to pests. Even so, aphids, white flies, flea beetles, spider mites, and little green worms (loopers) are common invaders. Spray with a fast jet of water or apply organic products for control. Using organic fertilizers with probiotics helps plants stay healthy and reduces stress from environmental conditions; it also makes them less likely to become infested with pests.
Complete plant nutrition has a great effect on tomato taste. Plant stress like insects/disease or adverse weather can lead to “off flavors”. Avoid placing freshly harvested tomatoes in the refrigerator, which will destroy much of the delicate flavor by turning the sugars to starch. Tomatoes are best stored at temperatures above 50°F. Overwatering is a common mistake that leads to watery-tasting fruit; liquids dilute the sugars in the plant’s vascular system. It is best to harvest your fruit 24–48 hours after watering. This allows a more concentrated stream of sugars to be stored in the fruit and trapped when harvested.
Tomato Planting recipe (also for Peppers, Squash, Eggplant)
Ingredients: ½ cup bone meal, ½ cup dolomite lime, ¼ cup organic veggie fertilizer, 1–2 handfuls worm castings, 1 shovelful Harvest Supreme
Instructions: Mix all ingredients to bottom of planting hole and incorporate with soil. Remove lowest few leaves from stem and plant tomato several inches deeper than current soil level to encourage a larger root system.
Suggested Varieties to Try
Cherry: Sungold, Sunsugar, Chocolate Cherry, Isis Candy, Snow White, Golden Sweet
Beefsteak/Large Slicer: Brandywine, Mortgage Lifter, Pineapple, Amana Orange
Medium Slicer/Salad: Black Krim, Goliath
Paste: San Marzano, Roma
Cold-Tolerant Early: Bloody Butcher, Moskovich, Stupice