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A Complete Guide to Digging & Planting Your First Vegetable Garden: Tomatoes, Peppers & Herbs

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Please enter a valid ZIP Code. Install support or trellises when germinating seeds or while seedlings are small.


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This will help prevent later damage to plants that may be caused by driving stakes through their root systems and when untangling or forcing stems to retrain to support. Support can be provided with manufactured or handmade wire cages, wire tomato baskets, garden fencing, stakes with string line spaced at intervals of about 6 to 12 inches, or trellises. Tomato stems may grow vigorously in the direction of sunlight. GardenZeus recommends open, airy support that will not block sunlight to any plants or their lower leaves, and that allows fruiting stems to be supported without being shaded.

If you are growing tomatoes in rows, try using stakes connected or interwoven with strong jute twine. Many indeterminate varieties, particularly indeterminate hybrids, will quickly grow too large for wire cages and are most effectively supported both vertically, using stakes, and horizontally, using jute interwoven or at multiple levels between stakes.

Tomato plants often need be tied loosely to each level of their support as they grow.

Early Cascade Tomato Plant

Wider tie tape or strips of cloth may be less likely to girdle or cause damage to stems than string and twist ties. Keeping up your trellising and training is important to help encourage healthy plants, and to avoid the tomato-wow moment of coming back to the garden after being away to find that your small, well-behaved tomato seedlings have turning into a sprawling, tangled mess. Tomato seeds are easy to germinate.

GardenZeus recommends germinating tomato seeds directly in small pots for later transplanting; or on a paper towel kept moist in a covered glass dish, with sprouted seeds then moved into small pots or transplanted directly outdoors as soon as a root emerges. If starting seeds directly outdoors, space seeds a few inches to several inches apart for later thinning to the strongest plants. Pay special attention to maintaining soil moisture as seedlings may die quickly after germinating if upper soil dries out completely.

It may be necessary to mist or water seeds and young sprouts 2 or more times per day to prevent them from drying out and dying. Germinate tomato seeds a light soil mix; preferably in healthy, biologically active soil; and in an area with ample light. You may wish to start 3 or more seeds per small pot and thin out all seedlings but the single strongest for later transplanting. Seeds generally germinate more quickly with bottom heat, such as from an appliance or germination heating mat or pad do not germinate seeds with heating pads meant for human use, which are not designed to accommodate moisture or use for long periods and may be hazardous for fire or electrical shock.

If more than a week has passed under these conditions, investigate your seeds. Something may have gone wrong or you may need to replant. After germination, seedlings require ample light; generally the more light the better for tomato seedlings. If growing tomato seedlings indoors, GardenZeus recommends grow lights or as much sunlight and artificial light as possible help encourage strong growth and healthy seedlings.

Under conditions of insufficient light, seedlings become leggy, weak, spindly, and more prone to disease. Leggy seedlings may still fruit productively if planted deeply and provided good care. Put the lid onto the bowl or dish to create a humid environment. Add water as needed to keep the paper towel moist but not wet. Be careful not to damage tiny roots; tear the paper towel if necessary.

Cover sprouts in soil up to the base of their first tiny leaves, or cover the entire sprout with soil if no leaves are visible. GardenZeus has customized growing information for tomato by zip code.

Growing Tomatoes Part 1: Seeding & Transplanting Seedlings

To get started, enter your zip code here. Seven Steps to Selecting Tomato Varieties. Saving seeds from a delicious heirloom or favorite open-pollinated tomato is simple, and can provide you with more than enough seeds to plant next year, as well as plenty to share with your friends. Although tomatoes are generally self-pollinating, they do occasionally cross-pollinate, and genetic traits may vary from seed to seed and fruit to fruit. It may be important to save seeds from the earliest, largest, and best tomato fruits harvested from the healthiest and most-vigorous tomato plants.

Allow the fruit to ripen fully on the plant before harvesting.

The Tomato: A Guide to the Pleasures of Choosing, Growing, and Cooking | eBay

GardenZeus expert Darren Butler recommends tasting any tomato from which you plan to save seeds, and do so with pride, as you are furthering a long and honorable agricultural and gardening tradition by personally vetting fruit from which seeds are saved. If a tomato lacks flavor or does not seem an exceptional example of the variety, let its genetic line end by enjoying it in salad or on a sandwich.

Yes, this does mean that you will sacrifice the pleasure of eating some of your largest, best, and most delicious tomatoes, but it is for a noble cause, and may result in the chance to enjoy dozens of equally desirable and delicious tomatoes next season in your garden. It may even result in thousands of tomato plants being grown by yourself and others over years and decades with the same traits as the plant that produced your sacrificed fruit.

Scoop or squeeze seeds into a jar from the locules or seed cavities in the tomato fruit. Keep the jar at room temperature and out of the sun. Over the next few days, the tomato-seed mixture will ferment, and develop mold on top. This process of fermentation breaks down the anti-sprouting inhibitor enzyme on the seeds that prevents germination inside the wet tomato fruit. Viable seeds should sink to the bottom of the jar. After a few days, pour off the mold and muck floating at the top of the jar and rinse with fresh water or clean the seeds in a strainer.

Allow seeds to fully dry, which may take several weeks, before storing.

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If you wait too long or the jar is exposed to heat, seeds may begin to sprout. Once sprouted, seeds cannot be saved; if sprouts can be removed intact and without damage from the jar, they can be planted immediately. Blossom Drop: Blossoms falling without setting fruit is one of the most common and frustrating problems with tomato plants. It may be caused by temperatures that are too warm or too cold, high or low humidity, lack of pollination, too much or too little water, or too much or too little nitrogen in soil, among other causes.

Blossom drop can be minimized by growing tomato varieties that are appropriate for your climate, season, and growing conditions. In inland and hot-summer areas, grow heat-tolerant tomato varieties such as Black Krim and Yellow Pear that perform well in low humidity from spring to fall, and cold-tolerant or parthenocarpic varieties such as Oregon Spring from fall to spring. In coastal areas grow varieties year round that that tolerate cool weather and humidity, such as Siberian and Oregon Spring.

Shake stems gently at least once per day to encourage pollination, during warmer times of day or when humidity is lowest; pollen will be less sticky under these conditions and your efforts more likely to be rewarded with fruit set. If blossom drop persists, try different tomato varieties or wait for warmer or cooler weather. Blossom End Rot: A common condition in which the ends of immature tomato fruits develop brown spots or turn tough or leathery. Hard, inedible areas may form inside the fruits. Plants that have been pruned hard are more likely to have blossom end rot.

Add crushed eggshells and compost under mulch near the affected plants, and be diligent in maintaining even soil moisture. Add or refresh mulch up to 3 or 4 inches in depth to help retain moisture and buffer radical swings in soil moisture levels. Cracked or Split Fruits: The delicate skin of some tomato varieties, especially heirlooms, may tend to crack just before fruits reach maturity.

Cracks and splits in tomato fruits are most commonly caused by abundant watering after a period of dryness, and can also result from sun damage. Sunburned Fruits: Tomato fruits exposed to sun, especially during hot periods, may develop yellow or yellowish-white scalded spots. Pinch or prune plants to encourage compact growth to shade fruits; protect individual tomatoes with stockings, socks, burlap, or shade cloth; or provide shade to entire plants during hot periods. Tomatoes may also be prone to chlorosis, nitrogen deficiency, shallow rooting and other common abiotic vegetable issues.

Have you never grown tomatoes over winter? It is possible to enjoy tomato harvests from fall through spring many mild-winter California areas. Even the most cold-tolerant tomatoes may grow slowly and yield intermittently during cold weather. Oregon Spring is a parthenocarpic variety that does not require pollination to set fruit, so is suited to growing during both hot summers and cool winters in California. Be sure to plant winter tomatoes where they will receive ample sunlight during shorter days, or grow them in containers so plants can be moved from week to week to follow shifts in sunlight.

If winter temperatures drop below freezing in your area, monitor weather reports regularly. When cold or freezing temperatures are forecast, water tomatoes thoroughly and protect plants with fabric, cardboard, paper, or plastic sheets; or bring container plants indoors during periods of overnight frost.