Of all the vegetables I have grown, my favourite is definitely tomatoes. Tomatoes are a staple food in almost every house in North America and the good news is that they are actually quite easy to grow!
In this post, I will talk about my method for starting tomatoes, how to harden them for transplanting, transplanting, and how to care for them as they grow.
The first step in growing quality tomatoes is to obtain quality seeds. Check out your local seed supplier (in the Halifax area, I suggest checking out Halifax Seed). You will want to choose a tomato variety that fits your growing space. There are two main categories for tomatoes: determinate and indeterminate.
These categories simply describe how the tomato will grow. A determinate tomato variety will grow to a certain size. For example, last year, I grew Scotia tomatoes. They grew to be approximately 18 inches tall.
Indeterminate tomatoes will continue to grow until they run out of space. Back when I had an apartment garden, I had two indeterminate cherry tomato plants that were over 7 feet tall!
Once you have settled on your tomato variety and have purchased your seeds, it is time to start planting. I start my seedlings indoors in March but you could skip this step and plant directly into the garden a few weeks after your last frost. Starting the seedlings indoors give you a longer season of picking fresh tomatoes as the plants have already grown a fair amount before going into the garden.
Whenever you are planting seeds in trays, it is important to have the right soil. If you are buying soil, make sure to get a good potting soil (and that it is weed seed free). Mix the soil with water in a bowl or bucket until you can make a ball by gently squeezing the soil in your hand. You do not want any water to be coming out of the clump of soil. This ensures that the soil has sufficient water to let the plant grow.
Fill your tray or pot with the soil and make a small hole, 1/4 inch deep. I tend to put 2 seeds in every tray cell. This ensures that I do not have empty space in my trays once the seeds have germinated.
Put your trays or pots in a sunny location such as a greenhouse or a window sill. Tomatoes like sun and heat so ideally, the seedlings will stay warm and get 12+ hours of sunlight. This applies to their whole lives.
As the tomatoes continue to grow, make sure they are not fallen over onto the soil. Stake them up – I like to use skewer sticks as stake for seedlings. Tomatoes are easy but fussy plants. They require air flow to stay healthy so ensure that plants are not touching. When watering your seedlings, water the soil but do not pour water over the leaves.
As the weather gets warmer, it is time to think about getting your plants outside. On warmer days, put your seedlings outside during the day and bring them in at night. For the first few days, leave them in a shady location. Then start introducing them to sunnier spots and windier spots. Your goal is to help your seedlings get accustomed to being outside.
Once the night time low temperatures are steadily above 10 degrees Celsius, and your seedlings are about 6 inches tall, it is time to transplant your seedlings into the garden! To ensure the best chance of growing a strong plant, you will be planting the seedling deeper than you would expect.
Notice that the stem of your seedling appears hairy. Each on of those hairs, if underground, will develop into a root. Remove the lowest leaves of your seedling and then dig a hole that allows the seedlings leave to remain about 2 inches above the ground when buried.
Tomato seedlings should be planted a minimum of 12 inches apart to ensure that the plants will have sufficient air flow.
As the tomatoes continue to grow, train indeterminate varieties up a lattice or string and stake determinate varieties to keep them off the ground. When watering, continue to water at the base of the plant instead of over the leaves.
Now you wait for your those delicious tomatoes to grow!
Good luck with growing your own tomatoes this year! Feel free to leave a question or experience in the comments below!