Why buy tomatoes from the store when you could grow your own organic tomatoes right at home?
Growing organic tomatoes is a lot easier than you might think. It’s also a great gardening project for beginners, since it requires minimal work on your part to achieve a fruitful harvest, at least in comparison to many other types of homegrown fruits and veggies.
To walk you through the process, we’ve put together this handy tutorial on how to grow tomatoes and care for them based on Tiffany Selvey’s popular class on the topic. Scroll down for a helpful overview of the basics around how to grow tomatoes from seeds or plants, plus quick answers to some of the most common questions about growing organic tomatoes at home.
How to Grow Organic Tomatoes in 4 Steps
If you’re interested in how to grow tomatoes, then you’re in the right place. Here are the four steps that any gardener needs to follow, with tips along the way for going from seeds to sprouts to stunning and scrumptious organic tomato plants.
Step 1: Choose Your Tomato Variety
The process for how to grow cherry tomatoes isn’t all that different from how to grow Roma, grape, or beefsteak tomatoes. That being said, with about 25,000 known tomato varieties, it’s important to choose a type of tomato to plant that is most suitable for your garden and environmental conditions.
How do you narrow it down? Selvey has a couple pieces of advice:
- Figure out what’s most important to you. Are you all about flavor? Want to produce a big yield in a small space? Interested in how to grow tomatoes indoors with lights and thus need a variety that does well in an inside container? All of these factors will help you decide which type of tomatoes are a good fit—as well as which aren’t.
- Consider your climate. Does your climate run cold or hot? Growing tomatoes in colder climates often requires choosing a variety with a shorter growing season, while growing tomatoes in hotter climates necessities going with types that can tolerate both heat and inconsistent rainfall.
Keep in mind that what you intend to use your tomatoes for matters as well. If you’re going to be canning, Selvey recommends looking for thick-skinned varieties with few seeds, while cherry or grape may be the way to go if you want something you can easily grab for salads.
Step 2: Plan Your Planting Approach
Are you looking to grow your tomatoes outdoors, or are you more interested in how to grow tomatoes in a pot inside? Decide on your planting location and approach before doing anything else, since this will determine what comes next.
Tomatoes are a pretty forgiving plant, but they still have their needs in terms of daily sunlight and optimal temperatures.
If you’re figuring out how to grow tomatoes from seeds, figure that you’ll need to start the process indoors about six to eight weeks prior to the last frost so that your plant has plenty of time to germinate and sprout in the right conditions. Growing from existing plants instead of seed will give you more leeway with timing, but you’ll still need to do the work to provide a proper home.
As a good general rule, know what variety of tomato you’re going to plant, where you’re going to grow it, and whether you’re going to start from seed or existing plant prior to moving forward. From there, you’ll be able to decide on your best plan of attack—including making sure that you get your timing right.
Step 3: Get to Growing
Now it’s time to put your green thumb to work!
How you start growing your tomatoes will depend on whether you’re starting from seed or plant. Seeds are cheaper to buy (about $2.75 for 20, notes Selvey), but require an indoor set-up that could get pricey. Plants are a bit more expensive (around $4 each), but you won’t have to worry about germination or building a plant shelf.
If You’re Growing from Seeds…
Start your seeds indoors six to eight weeks before the last frost of the season. You’ll need a seed starting shelf, grow lights, seed starting mix, and seed containers. Fill the containers with your seed starting mix and add two or three seeds to each. Look at the seed packet to see how far down you should plant them, or just plant each seed twice as deep as their diameter. Keep the soil damp (but not soggy), and start weekly fertilization once the seedling pops up.
If You’re Starting with a Plant…
If you’re working out how to grow tomatoes in containers, note that tomato plants grow quickly, so while you can start them indoors (one of the benefits of the container method versus planting your tomatoes right in the ground), you’ll need to transport your plants to larger containers as they grow so they can develop a healthy root system. Each time you transplant to a new container, bury the plant up to the top two leaves to encourage maximum root growth.
Step 4: Transplant and Care
If you have the space, transplant your tomato plants outside once the climate is right to ensure they get enough sunlight every day. You can keep them in containers, or plant them into the earth.
Planting in the ground? Follow the same method as you would when transplanting to new containers, burying your plant entirely in warm soil with just a few leaves sticking out. If you’re keeping them in containers, go with a gradual transplant method, leaving the containers outside for one hour the first day, two hours the next day, and so on.
As for care and maintenance, water regularly to keep the surrounding soil damp and prune off leaves to direct more energy toward fruit production. As your plant grows, add stakes or a tomato cage for added support.
Plan Your Gardening Schedule
The Gardening Calendar—What to Do Each Month in the Garden
FAQs for Growing Tomatoes
Have lingering questions about how to grow tomatoes in a pot or in the ground, or just about growing tomatoes in general? See if you can find your answer here.
How Long Does it Take for Tomatoes to Grow?
With the right conditions, it will take about 20 to 30 days for your tomato plant to flower after planting, and another 30 to 80 days for fruit to grow and ripen. Don’t forget to tack on six to eight weeks in addition to this if you’re going to be starting your tomato plant from seeds.
Is it Better to Grow Tomatoes Inside or Outside?
Outside is the way to go for best results with your tomatoes, since that ensures they get enough sunlight and warmth every single day. And while it is definitely possible to successfully grow tomatoes inside, your plants will likely be smaller and won’t yield quite as much fruit. You’ll also have to pay close attention to make sure they’re getting enough sun, which could require changing their locations throughout the day.
What is the Difference Between Organic Tomatoes and Regular Tomatoes?
Regular tomatoes are produced with chemical-based pesticides and fertilizers while organic tomatoes are not. As a result, organic tomatoes tend to be smaller than regular tomatoes, though according to at least one study, they may be higher in nutrients.
How Do You Feed Tomato Plants Organically?
Use natural fertilizer instead of synthetic to feed your tomato plants if you want to go organic. Organic cottonseed meal, homemade compost, or liquid fish emulsion are all good options to look into.
Do Coffee Grounds Help Tomato Plants Grow?
Yes! Coffee grounds are naturally high in nitrogen, which makes them an excellent addition to your organic fertilizer. But because coffee grounds are acidic, make sure that you combine them with a nutrient-rich fertilizer instead of using them on their own—the rest of the ingredients will balance out the acidity levels for a more effective grow.
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