The tomato is the edible, often red berry-type fruit of the nightshade Solanum lycopersicum, commonly known as a tomato plant. The tomato is consumed in diverse ways, including raw, as an ingredient in many dishes, sauces, salads, and drinks.
The tomato belongs to the nightshade family, Solanaceae. The species originated in the South American Andes and its use as a food originated in Mexico, and spread throughout the world following the Spanish colonization of the Americas. Its many varieties are now widely grown, sometimes in greenhouses in cooler climates. The plants typically grow to 1-3 meters (3-10 ft) in height and have a weak stem that often sprawls over the ground and vines over other plants. It is a perennial in its native habitat, although often grown outdoors in temperate climates as an annual. An average common tomato weighs approximately 100 grams (4 oz).
While tomatoes are botanically and scientifically the berry-type fruits of the tomato plant,] they can also be considered a culinary vegetable, causing some confusion.
HOW TO GROW
- Buy small tomato plants from a nearby nursery and transplant them to your garden for the first-time grower. More experienced growers will find it easy enough to start their own tomatoes from seed.
Begin to raise your own plants, if you wish, from seed, in a greenhouseor sunny window indoors about a month before you intend to set them out in the garden.
Use fluorescent lights or other lighting hanging a couple inches (5cm) above the planting flat and keep raising it as the plants grow–in a not well lighted room. Raise these plants until they are about 6 to 10 inches tall (15 to 25cm) and then transplant them when spring weather is appropriate for your zone.
- Don’t pay extra to buy the larger plants; there is not much reason, unless you are getting a “latish” start, to catch up.
- Choose a sunny spot to place the plants to transplant them. Place tomato plants in a site receiving full sun (7 hours or more daily). Tomatoes need lots of warm sunshine for optimum taste.
- Caveat: In hot climates when the nights get to a low temperature of about 75°F (24°C), then most tomatoes “quit setting new fruit”. The ones already set will grow great. But none will set when nights are very warm through the wee hours really near sunrise.
- Don’t wait more than a few days late to put them out past the recommended dates for your climate zone, or it may be too late (if there are such early warm/hot weather nights).
- Prepare the garden bed by adding lots of well rotted–not green–compostto the soil.Turn compost into the top 3 inches (6 to 8 cm). Tomatoes demand a growing medium rich in organic matter. If you don’t make your own compost, use store-bought compost or composted manure.
Transplant the tomato deeply. Bury about 50 to 75% of the plant (especially for leggy plants, that became skinny in raising them before transplanting). It’s okay to bury some of its lower leaves. New roots will emerge along the buried stem, giving the plant a developmental boost; a new transplant needs to focus on root production.
Give each plant about 4 litres of warm water (about 80 degrees F/ 27 degrees C) within ten minutes of transplanting to avoid transplant shock.
Space tomato plants 18 to 36 inches (45 to 90 cm) apart; space them half the suggested distance in warmer climates, especially if using tomato cages.The normal distance recommended is for plants allowed to bush out hugely on the ground, while planting closer together in cages allows the plants to shade each others fruit, helping prevent burn and allowing a sweeter flavor.
- Don’t forget to leave yourself enough space to get in between the plants to water, weed, and harvest. Those cute, little seedlings may not remain that way for long.
- Water in the first 7 to 10 days after transplanting at about 500 ml of warm water per plant every day.
Wait a week or two after transplanting, and then place a mulch of straw or dried grass to control weeds and keep the soil moist during dry weather. The mulch should be about an inch (2.5 cm) thick and surround at least a circle 12 inches (about 30 cm) in diameter around the stem.
- Caution: Do ‘notkeep the soil continuously wet or “soggy”. That will kill (smother) the roots and will cause a stem disease (fungus) especially once it is really warm/or hot weather.
- Drip or soaker hose watering is better than overhead, which can encourage diseases that tomatoes are particularly prone to.
Space water out more after 10 days and ensure that plants are receiving 1 to 3 inches (2.5 cm to 7.6 cm) of rain weekly. If not, give each plant about 7.5 litres per plant “per week”, beginning by about the end of the second week after transplanting.
- Water deeply 2 to 3 times weekly (so, water each plant with about .75 to 1 gallon each time (about 3 to 4 litres), increase water as the plants get larger and when weather is hotter.
- It’s okay in hot or dry weather to water even more frequently with larger volumes
- Consider using a tomato cage or a tall stake to support the tomato vine about 14 days after transplanting.
Fertilizing. Do not use lawn fertilizer. The ratio of minerals in lawn fertilizer is for growing stems and leaves. Look for a vegetable fertilizer which is for stimulating fruit. Tomatoes can grow very well organically, provided the soil is well enriched with organic matter.
- Over-fertilization can cause plants to grow too quickly, leaving them more susceptible to disease and insects.
- Remember that your goal in growing tomatoes is fruit, not just leaves. Fertilizers, especially when used in excess, or the wrong kind may cause the plant to produce more leaves and foliage than fruit.
- Shake your plant poles or cages gently once or twice each week for about 5 seconds once flowering begins to promote pollination of the blossoms (from one flower to another).shaking the tomato plant increases fruit production by more evenly distributing pollen.
Watch for fruit to appear 45 to 90 (about 60) days after transplanting. Tomato plants usually have small, green fruit to start. Wait until the fruit is of good size with a bright, deep coloring: This means that the fruit is ripe and ready to pick. The texture of the fruit can also determine when it is ready to pick. Ripeness is usually determined by aslight softness. Be careful to only “palm the tomatoes”; do not squeeze with the finger tips and bruise the fruit.
- Also, be careful of not allowing it to become overly ripe, which results in a very soft tomato.
- Realize that birds, possums, raccoons and some dogs will take ripened tomatoes, corn and sweet green peppers, etc.
- Pick fruit earlier to ripen indoors if you like: Fruit may be picked any time after it starts changing to its ripe color and set on a sunny windowsill. This will reduce the chances of it rotting on the vine or being eaten by a bird or squirrel.
- Tomatoes do, however, taste sweeter when ripened on the vine, so you need to balance risk of threats versus taste.
- Water generously for the first few days.
- Water well throughout growing season, about 2 inches per week during the summer. Keep watering consistent!
- Mulch five weeks after transplanting to retain moisture.
- To help tomatoes through periods of drought, find some flat rocks and place one next to each plant. The rocks pull up water from under the ground and keep it from evaporating into the atmosphere.
- Fertilize two weeks prior to first picking and again two weeks after first picking.
- If using stakes, prune plants by pinching off suckers so that only a couple stems are growing per stake.
- Practice crop rotation from year to year to prevent diseases that may have over wintered.
- Flea Beetles
- Tomato Hornworm
- Blossom-End Rot
- Late Blight is a fungal disease that can strike during any part of the growing season. It will cause grey, moldy spots on leaves and fruit which later turn brown. The disease is spread and supported by persistent damp weather. This disease will overwinter, so all infected plants should be destroyed.
- Tobacco Mosaic Virus creates distorted leaves and causes young growth to be narrow and twisted, and the leaves become mottled with yellow. Unfortunately, infected plants should be destroyed (but don’t put them in your compost pile).
- Cracking: When fruit growth is too rapid, the skin will crack. This usually occurs in uneven water or uneven moisture due to weather conditions (very rainy periods mixed with dry periods). Keep moisture levels constant with consistent watering and mulching.
- Improves vision: Vitamin A, present in tomatoes, helps to improve your eyesight as well as prevent night-blindness and macular degeneration.
- Helps fight cancer: According to studies, tomatoes contain large amounts of the antioxidant lycopene, that is effective in lowering the risk of cancer, especially lung, stomach and prostrate cancers.
- Maintaining blood health: Research suggests that a single tomato can provide about 40% of the daily vitamin C requirement and also contains vitamin A, potassium, and iron that is essential for maintaining normal blood health. Vitamin K, which is controls bleeding and blood clotting, tomatoes help in blood circulation.
- Reduces risk of heart disease: The lycopene in tomatoes can protect you against cardiovascular diseases. Consuming tomatoes regularly helps decrease the levels of cholesterol and triglyceride in the blood, reducing the deposition of fats in the blood vessels.
- Good for digestion: Eating tomatoes daily can keep your digestive system healthy as it prevents both, constipation and diarrhoea. It also prevents jaundice and effectively removes toxins from the body.