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Gardening 101: planting and harvesting tomatoes

October 16, 2019 3 min. read
by Anh Doan

A guide to getting fresh tomatoes from your garden to your kitchen table.

Photo by Lovefood Art from Pexels

Home gardens are one of today’s most popular ways to eat healthfully. It’s hard to overestimate the positive impact a single garden can have. Home gardens are a convenient and inexpensive source of produce, and they give us a reason to enjoy the outdoors with our families. Plus, the effort and maintenance a garden requires is a great teaching tool for kids to learn about responsibility, nature, and good old-fashioned hard work.

Want to get started? Try a homegrown fruit we use all the time in simple, delicious dishes. You’ve seen this fruit used in everything from spaghetti to your favorite Tex-Mex salsa. This fruit is likely a regular part of your diet. Can you guess its name?

How about: tomatoes! While many people think of tomatoes as vegetables, they are actually part of the fruit family because they form from a flower and contain seeds. 

What’s more, tomatoes make a great first crop for your backyard. Keep reading to learn how to have tomatoes on hand just a few steps from your kitchen.

The Ultimate Guide to Grow and Harvest Tomatoes

Step 1: Prepare your garden for tomatoes

Tomatoes are relatively easy to grow in soil, a greenhouse, or a growth cabinet.1 Here’s what they’ll need:

  • A minimum of 8 hours of sunlight
  • Plenty of water
  • Soil with an acidic pH of 6.0-8.0
  • A temperature of 64°F - 75°F

If you live in an apartment or a place that doesn’t have much garden space, don’t worry! Follow these tips to plant your tomatoes:2

  • Choose a pot with an 18-inch to 24-inch diameter.
  • Drill some holes in the bottom of the pot if there aren’t any already.
  • Dig a hole in the soil that is deep enough to cover ⅔ of the tomato stem.
  • Add a 1-inch layer of mulch on top of the soil to keep it moist.
  • Plant stakes to add support so your tomatoes can climb tall.

Step 2: Plant the tomatoes

  • To keep the tomatoes off the ground, place a stake or cage in the soil.
  • The stake or cage will act as the tomatoes’ support and give the plant something to climb. 
  • Ensure 2-3 feet of space between each tomato plant to allow plenty of room for growth.
  • When it comes to watering tomatoes, make sure not to use too much water.

Rule of thumb: If the soil is dry, you can water it. If the soil is still wet, hold off on the water. Test your soil by poking your finger 1-2 inches to test whether it’s dry or wet underneath the surface.

Step 3: Harvest time

As they ripen, tomatoes turn from a medium-green color to a light pink or yellow. Every tomato plant is different, and ripeness levels vary, but a perfectly ripe tomato is bright and feels firm. After picking tomatoes, store them at room temperature to preserve flavor (not in the fridge).

Did you know?

When we think of tomatoes, we tend to think of the standard hothouse tomato. However, there are many varieties of tomato plants, and one type may taste completely different from another. Try these:

  • Red beefsteak tomatoes have a traditional tomato flavor and are commonly used in pasta sauce.3
  • Green beefsteak tomatoes have a tart, crunchy flavor and can be used in baked desserts and pies.
  • Cherry tomatoes have a sweet, candy-like taste and can be turned into sun-dried tomatoes with the help of an oven.

Starting a garden doesn’t have to be a far-fetched idea. It’s only a matter of time before homegrown tomatoes can be right on your kitchen table.

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