Tomato Growing Tips

Dig’em in

When you want to plant a tall tomato plant into your garden, dig it in deeper. Carefully cut the lower branches off and plant it so that only two to four leaf nodes are above the soil. This will give the plant a sturdy, secure start.

Tomatoes have the wonderful ability to grow roots from their stems. If you think about tomatoes in the wild, they grow up, fall over and vine along the ground. Where the stem touches the ground, it will grow roots to support the next vining part of the plant.

Some people dig a trench and lay the plant on its side with the top leaves above the soil. This method works well if you take care not to break the stem.


Watering your tomatoes

Have you ever had tomatoes that were watery, mealy and bland flavored? Watering your tomatoes correctly can make the all the difference in the flavor and texture of your harvest. Additionally, many leaf diseases on tomatoes are spread by water splashing soil onto the leaves.

We find the following method helps get the water deep down in the soil and encourages roots to go down where they are less vulnerable to daily fluctuations in moisture and temperature.

1. When you plant your tomato, ‘plant’ a 1 gallon plastic pot about 1 foot away. Leave it empty and keep the rim about 1” above the soil level. Mulch around the plant.

2. When you water, fill the pot and let the water drain slowly into the soil. Repeat. This allows the soil to be deeply watered without soil splashing onto the leaves.

3. When the fruits start to ripen, back off on the watering some and they won’t split as easily and the flavor will be intensified.


If you plant in a pot

Tomatoes have very large roots and do much better in the ground. That said, if it is the only way for you to get some homegrown tomatoes, then go for it! The bigger the pot the better. We recommend trying determinate (bush) varieties as they tend to be smaller plants.

When you water make sure you give the plant a thorough soaking as opposed to daily sips.

Water until it runs out the drainage holes. Use 1/3 organic compost to 2/3 potting soil. This will help with water retention and will give the plant some of the nutrition it needs.


Tomato food

Whether you grow in a container or in the ground, you’ll have to provide some food for the plant in the form of fertilizer. We recommend ‘Down to Earth Organic Vegetable Food’. The only place we know it’s available is at Berkeley Indoor Garden, 844 University Ave, Berkeley. Their number is (510) 549-2918. Whatever you use, follow instructions for the correct quantity.


Tomato restraints

Although at transplanting your indeterminate tomato plants look very innocent and unassuming, by the time they are producing crops of delicious fruits they may have matured into something much more vigorous and potentially garden gobbling! The key is to prepare to tame them while they’re still small. Buy large tomato cages and anchor them by attaching them to a sturdy stake pounded into the ground.

Another inexpensive idea is to buy a length of concrete reinforcing mesh (this has holes that are about 4” square.) Wire ends together to create a tube. Attach this to a sturdy stake that’s pounded into the ground to ensure the vine won’t pull it over. Place over the young plant. At the end of the season you can clip the wires and store the mesh flat.


About our signs at the market

You will notice that on our signs and tags we have organized our tomato varieties into three main sections: early season, mid season, and late season. We also note the days to maturity.

Days to maturity is the average time it takes from transplanting a seedling to fruit production. Do not take these numbers literally as weather, soil conditions, etc. can affect this. Rather, use these numbers to compare one variety to another in terms of when you can expect to begin harvesting.

Early season — Varieties with short days to maturity and cold tolerance. These are good to plant early in the spring and also late in the season to ensure a crop if the cold fall weather arrives early.

Mid season — These still have pretty short days to maturity so will produce well in almost all of the Bay Area’s micro climates. For really foggy and cooler areas, cherry varieties are a pretty sure bet as they don’t need the heat a full size tomato does to ripen.

Late season — These varieties have long days to maturity and need some heat to ripen. We have had good luck with the ones we offer here in Oakland and Berkeley where we can continue to harvest way into the fall.

We suggest that those who want to have tomatoes all warm season long select a mix of early, mid and late season varieties.

Determinate — Also known as ‘bush’ varieties, these plants are better for container growing or small gardens. They reach a certain predetermined height and then stop growing. Most of the fruit is borne over a 4 to 6 week period. Many paste varieties fall into this category.

Indeterminate — Truly a vine, these plants continue to grow and produce fruit until the cold weather kills them. Generally they need some kind of support. We have grown them in large containers but they really prefer to be in the ground.

Download the PDFs: Tomato Growing tips, More about tomatoes