Tomato

Tomato

The possibilities of a fresh, homegrown tomato are nearly endless. The simplest uses, such as sandwich toppings and BLTs, are by far the best. However, when you have a surplus, experiment. Dice them and use them instead of canned tomatoes in your favorite recipes. Cook them to make salsa or tomato sauce. Even green tomatoes have uses. Try slicing and frying them.

Preferred Conditions

  • Full sun.
  • Warm weather.
  • Ample moisture.
  • Moderate soil fertility.
  • Soil pH between 6.0 and 6.8.

Companions

  • Bee balm. May improve health and flavor.
  • Borage. May improve growth and flavor.
  • Chive. May improve health and flavor.
  • Marigold. Believed to enhance growth.
  • Mint. May improve health and flavor.
  • Nasturtium. Believed to enhance growth.
  • Onion. Believed to enhance growth.
  • Parsley. Believed to enhance growth.
  • Tansy. May repel cutworm.

Basil is commonly touted as one of the best companion plants for tomatoes, supposedly enhancing growth and flavor, plus repelling hornworms. However, if you have a problem with blister beetles in your garden, be aware that basil seems to attract them.

Dill is another companion plant with mixed results. Young dill reportedly improves growth and health, besides repelling hornworms. However, mature dill may stunt the growth of the tomato plant.

Potatoes are another enemy of tomatoes, because both plants share the phytophthora blight.

Finally, tomatoes and brassicas seem to both fare poorly when planted near each other.

Planting

Tomato
  1. Start tomatoes indoors about 6 weeks before the last spring frost. March is typically best in Kansas.
  2. Cover the seeds with 1/2 inch of potting mix.
  3. Keep seeds very warm (75°F to 85°F) until germination. Some gardeners use heating mats or strands of Christmas lights to provide a source of bottom heat.
  4. Harden the seedlings off beginning a week or two before the last spring frost (April for Kansas).
  5. Transplant as soon as all threat of frost has passed. In Kansas, this will be sometime in May—earlier farther south, later farther north.
  6. Set bush tomatoes out about 18 to 36 inches apart and vine tomatoes about 12 inches apart.
  7. Shape the soil around each plant into a small bowl to collect moisture, and apply a light mulch.
  8. Provide the seedlings with support for future growth. Use plant cages for bush tomatoes and a trellis for vine tomatoes.
  9. Keep the plants well watered until thoroughly established.

Care

Tomatoes need plenty of water to thrive. Water them deeply and generously in hot weather, and give them a thick mulch.

To ensure the best growth and plant health, prune and train the plants. Pinch off suckers, and use pruning shears to remove any foliage that looks dead or unhealthy. Keep the branches up off the ground and properly supported.

Pests and Diseases

Harvesting

Tomato

Check your tomatoes every day—they will ripen quickly! Pick them when they are red, but err on the side of bringing them in a little early if splitting or pests are a problem. They will be ready to eat in just a day or two if set on a sunny windowsill.

If a frost threatens, you can still save many of your tomatoes. Pick all of the green ones that are a useable size and are in good condition. Individually wrap them in newspaper and pack them into a cardboard box to protect them from damage. Check them frequently and use them as they ripen.

To harvest tomatoes, give them a gentle twist and a pull. They should come right off of the plant. Just be careful not to break the delicate skin.

Storage

Tomatoes are by far the best when eaten fresh off the plant, but they will also keep for a week or so in the refrigerator. For long-term storage, dice them, seal them in airtight plastic bags, and put them in the freezer. Tomatoes can also be canned or dried.

Saving Seeds

Tomato
  1. Isolate tomato varieties by 500 feet or cover plants in a screened cage.
  2. While the flowers are blooming, gently shake them each morning to help distribute pollen.
  3. As tomatoes mature, harvest them normally.
  4. Cut the tomato in half across the “equator,” not the “axis.”
  5. Squeeze the gel and seeds into a clean bowl or jar. The rest of the tomato can be eaten or cooked.
  6. Add water until you have a mixture of about one part seeds/gel to two parts water.
  7. Allow the mixture to sit and ferment in a safe, warm place for one to three days, stirring twice a day. (This won’t smell very good.)
  8. When a layer of mold has completely covered the top of the mixture, add as much water to the bowl as possible.
  9. Carefully pour off the water and all the debris floating on top.
  10. Repeat steps eight and nine until the seeds are clean.
  11. Pour the seeds into a strainer and press dry with a towel.
  12. Spread out on a cookie sheet or other nonstick surface to finish drying, stirring at least twice a day.
  13. When the seeds are completely dry, store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. They should last for about four years.

Helpful Resource

Tomato Diseases
A long list of fact sheets on the diseases of tomatoes.

Complete Series

Vegetables

Vegetables

The Family Garden Journal

By hsotr

Pulling from nearly 20 years of experience, Michelle Lindsey started Homestead on the Range to help Kansans and others around flyover country achieve an abundant country lifestyle. Michelle is the author of four country living books. She is also a serious student of history, specializing in Kansas, agriculture, and the American West. When not gardening or pursuing hobbies ranging from music to cooking to birdwatching, she can usually be found researching or writing about her many interests.