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Vegetables. Growing Tomatoes in the Home Garden

Vegetables. Growing Tomatoes in the Home Garden

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Published by: Sharad Bhutoria on Aug 04, 2010
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Growing Tomatoesin the Home Garden
David A. Hillock
Extension Consumer Horticulturist
Brenda Sanders
Extension Consumer Horticulturist
Susan E. Gray
Extension Horticulturist - Tulsa County
Tomato is one o the most popular home garden crops inOklahoma. Tomatoes can grow in a small area, bear throughmost o the season, are easy to grow, and have many culinaryuses in the home. They are low in calories and a good sourceo Vitamin C. 
Selecting Growing Area
Tomatoes should be grown in ull sunlight and plantedaway rom trees and shrubs to obtain highest yield. Tomatoplants require abundant moisture or best growth, so arrangeor easy watering. The area selected should be well drainedsince poor drainage promotes root loss. Tomatoes grown onheavy or poorly drained soils should be planted in raised bedsor mounds our to six inches high.
Soil Preparation
Tomatoes grow well in many types o soil but preer deep,ertile, well-drained soil that is amply supplied with organicmatter and is slightly acidic (pH o about 6.5). The soil shouldbe worked only when it is dry enough that it will not stick totools. Garden soil may be improved by adding rotted manure,lea mold, peat moss, or other organic materials.Fertilizers should be added when the soil is prepared orplanting. A soil sample should be taken or testing i ertilizerneeds are not known. Collect and submit the sample or test-ing at least six weeks prior to planting time. Your OSU CountyExtension oce has inormation on how to collect, prepare,and send a soil sample.
When needed, a complete garden ertilizer should beadded to the soil when it is prepared or planting. Tomatoespreer a ertilizer low in nitrogen, high in phosphorus, andmedium to high in potassium. Prior to transplanting, use oneto two pounds o 10-20-10 or similar ertilizer or each 100square eet i you do not have soil test inormation.All ertilizers should be worked into the top six inches osoil. For additional details on ertilization and soil preparation,obtain OSU Fact Sheet F-6007.
Tomato Varieties
Productivity, ruit characteristics, and resistance to dis-eases should be considered in selecting tomato varieties orthe home garden. One may want to consider selecting variet-ies resistant to Fusarium wilt and nematodes since these areproblems in all areas o Oklahoma.The ollowing list provides some varieties that have provensatisactory or Oklahoma. However, it is not a complete list.The variety determination will also depend on the personaltaste preerences o the home gardener. 
Small Fruit Large Fruit Paste 
Juliet Better Boy VFN Milano VFMountain Bell VF Big Bee VNF
AST Roma VFN (canning)Small Fry VFN Bigset VF
NAS San Remo VFSweet 100 BrandywinePixie Carmello VNFTSungold FT Carnival VNF
 Sweet Million FNT Celebrity VNF
TYellow Pear Flora-dade VF
Heatwave VF
 Jet Star VFMountain Pride VFPik-Red VNF
 Summer Flavor 5000 VNF
Sunny VF
ASSunray F (yellow)Disease resistance or tolerance codes: Verticillium wilt (V), Fusariumwilt, Race 1 (F), Fusarium wilt, Races 1 & 2, (F
), Root-Knot nema-tode (N), Tobacco mosaic virus (T), Alternaria stem canker (A), andStemphylium (gray lea spot) (S).
Producing Tomato Plants
Earliness o production and quantity o ruit producedare infuenced by the quality o the plant and the time it istransplanted in the garden.The ideal tomato plant should be six to eight inches talland dark green, with a stocky stem and well-developed rootsystem. Normally, six to eight weeks are required to producethis type o plant rom seed.A amily interested in having only resh ruit should plantthree to ve plants per person. I ruit is wanted or home pro-cessing, then ve to ten plants per person should be grown.
Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service 
Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Fact Sheetsare also available on our website at:
Division o Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources Oklahoma State University
To get best results with only a ew plants, and to minimizetrouble, buy plants rom your local plant grower at the properplanting time. Ask or improved varieties by name. Plant grow-ers need assurance o the sales o new varieties beore theyare willing to risk growing a new variety.Plants may be started rom seeds in a pasteurized seedlingmix, such as vermiculite. Ater the seedlings have emergedand developed the rst set o true leaves, transplant them atleast two inches apart and give them plenty o light or stockystem development. The seedlings should be transplanted intoa pasteurized potting mix. Use either a commercial pottingmix or a mixture o one part sand, one part peat moss, andone part good garden soil.I started in the house, expose seedlings to a south windowand rotate the containers regularly to give them uniorm light.The temperature should be kept below 80°F but above 45°F.
Tomatoes should be set in the garden when the weatherhas warmed and the soil temperature is above 60°F. Theseconditions usually occur about April 5 in southern Oklahomaand about April 25 in northwestern Oklahoma. Temperaturesbelow 50°F impair tomato growth.Beore planting, remove pots or bands rom the transplantroot ball. Peat pots can remain. Set the plants slightly deeperthan they originally grew so lower leaves are close to theground. I only leggy plants are available, lay them down ina trench long enough to leave only the top six inches o theplant exposed ater covering the stem. This will allow rootsto develop along the buried portion o the stem. I the plant isgrowing in a peat pot, be sure the pot is covered with soil, asexposed portions o the pot act as a wick, allowing the rootball to dry rapidly (Figure 1).Make the transplant holes three to our inches deep andtwo to our eet apart in the row. Space rows at least threeeet apart or staked or caged plants. For unsupported plants,leave three to ve eet between rows.Set out tomato plants in the evening or on a cloudy dayto keep the plants rom wilting and getting too dry. Beoreplanting, ll the transplant holes with water and let it soak in.Pack the soil loosely around the plant.Leave a slightly sunken area around each plant to holdwater. Ater transplanting, water each plant with a starter so-lution. I soil is heavy or slow to drain, set out tomato plantson raised beds o soil about six inches high (Figure 2).
Care During the Season
Mulch the tomatoes or highest yields. Place a two tothree inch layer o organic material such as compost, leaves,or hay around the growing plants. Mulching helps stop weedgrowth and water loss rom the soil.Tomatoes can be grown on the ground or supported bystaking or caging. When staking tomatoes, put the stake inshortly ater transplanting to lessen root damage. A six-ootstake set ten inches deep in the soil will work well. As theplant grows taller, tie it loosely to the stake every 12 incheswith pieces o rag or twine (Figure 3).Prune the staked tomatoes to produce a more orderlyvine. Remove the small shoots that grow out o the pointwhere each lea joins the main stem. Remove the shoots bybending them sideways until they snap (see Figure 4). Fortwo main vines, remove all but the shoot immediately belowthe rst fower cluster. It will develop into a second branch.Caging is another way to train tomato plants. A goodcage can be made with a piece o concrete reinorcementwire. Indeterminate (vining) varieties such as Jet Star andBetter Boy need a cage ve eet tall. Determinate (bush)varieties such as Sunny and Bigset can be grown in cagestwo and a hal eet tall. The cage should be 15 to 18 inches indiameter. Pieces o wire 48 inches long can be used to orm acage about 15 inches in diameter. Put cages over the youngplants. Push the cages down into the soil to keep them romblowing over. This way, the vine has support without beingtied. (Figure 5). Tomatoes growing in cages do not need tobe pruned.
Side Dressing
Fertilizer applied at planting time will not supply adequatenutrients or the entire season. Excess nitrogen in the begin-ning will create heavy vegetative growth and poor ruit set.Sidedress the rst time when the rst ruits are one-thirdgrown. One pound o ammonium nitrate (33-0-0) or equiva-lent ertilizer per 100-oot row or one level tablespoon perplant can be used. 10-20-10 ertilizer can also be used orsidedressing. Apply three pounds per 100-oot row or abouttwo tablespoons per plant. Mix the ertilizer into the soil thenwater, being careul not to get the ertilizer on the oliage.
Figure 1. Plant tomatoes slightly deeper than they were frstgrowing (A). I plants are leggy set them as shown (B).Figure 2. Tomatoes grow best on beds raised to about sixinches. Leave enough spacing between rows and plants.For bush varieties that will not be staked or caged, leavetwo to our eet between plants, and leave three to fveeet between rows.6012-2
A second application should be made two weeks ater therst ripe ruit and a third application one month later. Waterthe plants thoroughly ater ertilizing.
Cultivating and Controlling Weeds
Weeds compete or soil moisture and nutrients and mayserve as places or harmul insects to reside.Use mulches to reduce hand weeding and hoeing.Mulches also reduce moisture loss rom the soil. Hay, straw,grass clippings, black polyethylene sheeting, or newspapersmay be used. Apply organic materials (hay, straw, grassclippings) three to our inches thick to prevent weeds romdeveloping.Weeds may also be controlled with herbicides. However,chemical weed control in the home garden is dicult becauseo the diversity o the crops grown in the garden. It is hard tond a herbicide that is selective enough to remove a specicweed without the potential or probability that it will also kill ordamage some o the crops being grown in the garden. Withseveral types o plants located close together in a small area,some may be seriously damaged by any herbicide that youmight select. The best weed control in the home garden is asharp hoe and good mulch.I you cultivate or hoe around the plants, work the soilonly deep enough to kill the weeds. Do not damage the plantroots.
Tomatoes require at least one inch o water per weekduring May and June and at least two inches per week duringJuly, August, and September.The soil should be watered thoroughly once or twice perweek. Apply enough water to penetrate to a depth o 12 to 18inches.Simple, inexpensive equipment or drip irrigation ogardens is available. By this technique plants receive watermore eciently. None o the water comes in contact with theoliage, thereby reducing lea and ruit disease problems.The total amount o water applied by the drip irrigationmethod might be less than hal the amount applied in themore conventional way.Your OSU County Extension educators as well as manygarden equipment suppliers have inormation concerningmethods and equipment needs or applying water by dripirrigation methods. See OSU Fact Sheet F-1511 or moreinormation.
During warm weather tomato ruit should be harvestedtwice a week. The red color in tomato ruit does not orm whentemperatures are above 86°F. Fruits allowed to ripen on thevine may be yellowish orange in extreme summer heat. For thisreason, it is advisable to pick tomatoes in the pink stage andallow them to ripen indoors or optimum color development.About 70°F is ideal to ripen tomatoes. Light is not necessaryto complete this ripening process. Ater tomatoes are ripened,they may be stored in the rerigerator or about one week at45 to 50°F.I ruit is let on the vine to ripen it should be removedrom the plant while it is still rm. Allowing the ruit to remain
Figure 4. Prune tomatoes by removing small side shootsor suckers as they grow.Figure 5. Cages made rom reinorcing wire give goodsupport to tomato plants.Figure 3. Tomato plants should be tied loosely to sup-port stakes.6012-3

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