Organic Tomato Seed

 
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The most popular garden vegetable crop, tomatoes come in a wide range of sizes, shapes and colors. Choose determinate varieties for early harvest or cool conditions. Compact varieties are also good choices for containers and planting in flower beds.

 
   
 

Seeds or Seedlings

6 to 12 days, 60F to 95F

4 years

Well Drained

Full Sun

1/8" deep in flats

12" to 36 " apart

65 to 80

Growing Guide
GROWING NOTES
Tomatoes need at least 8 hours of direct sun daily.

Prefers well-drained, fertile soil, high in organic matter. Clays and loams produce the highest yields. But lighter soils that drain and warm quickly can produce earlier harvests -- particularly if they are on a slight slope to the south or southeast. Can tolerate slightly acid soils, as low as pH 5.5. But produces best when pH is 6.0 to 6.8. Consistent moisture needed to prevent blossom end rot, but does not tolerate waterlogged soils.

Requires good soil, even moisture. Very labor intensive if you stake, prune or use plastic mulch and row covers. Easier if you purchase plants. Difficult if you start from seed.

Staked and pruned plants can grow to well over 6 feet tall in favorable growing seasons.

Staked and pruned plants can be trained to narrow spreads. Plants left to sprawl can spread 6 feet or more. If space is limiting, use smaller determinate varieties.

Staked and pruned plants can be trained to narrow spreads. Plants left to sprawl can spread 6 feet or more. If space is limiting, use smaller determinate varieties.

MAINTAINING
If you purchase transplants, look for sturdy, short, dark green plants. Avoid plants that are tall, leggy, or yellowish, or have started flowering. Transplants that are too mature often stall after transplanting while younger, smaller plants pass them by, producing earlier and more fruit.

Starting your own plants from seed gives you more choices of which variety to grow. But if you start your own plants, be sure you have a place where they can get enough light. Even a sunny, south-facing window is barely adequate. Consider using a grow light to supplement sunlight.

Don’t start plants too early. Sow seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before transplanting outside. Plant them 1/8 inch deep in sterile seed starting mix in flats or cells. Seeds germinate best at 75 F to 90 F. Then grow transplants at about 70 F.

Don’t rush to transplant, either. Cold soil and air temperatures can stress plants. Wait at least a week or two after the last frost. Nighttime temperatures should be consistently above 45 F. Use black plastic mulch to warm soil and/or row covers, hot caps or other protection to keep plants warm early in the season. Remove covers whenever temperatures exceed 85 F.

Harden off plants before transplanting by reducing water and fertilizer, not by exposing to cold temperatures, which can stress them and stunt growth. Transplants exposed to cold temperatures (60 F to 65 F day and 50 F to 60 F night) are more prone to catfacing.

Space transplants:
12 to 24 inches apart for determinate varieties

14 to 20 inches apart for staked indeterminate varieties

24 to 36 inches apart for unstaked indeterminate varieties

Unlike most plants, tomatoes do better if planted deeper than they were grown in containers. Set them in the ground so that the soil level is just below the lowest leaves. Roots will form along the buried stem, establishing a stronger root system.

To reduce root disease risk, don't plant on soils that have recently grown tomatoes, potatoes, peppers or eggplant for at least two years.

Mulch plants after the soil has warmed up to maintain soil moisture and suppress weeds. Tomatoes need a consistent supply of moisture. If it rains less than 1 inch per week, water to make up the difference.

Many factors (in addition to your choice of variety) affect total yield, first harvest and fruit quality. Raised beds, black plastic mulch and providing consistent moisture by watering or through drip irrigation are good ways to improve all three.

How you provide support to plants can also affect performance. Determinate varieties do not need staking. But staking and pruning indeterminate varieties can hasten first harvest by a week or more, improve fruit quality, keep fruit cleaner, and make harvest easier. Staking and pruning usually reduces total yield, but fruits will tend to be larger. Staked and pruned plants are also more susceptible to blossom end rot and sunscald. Allowing indeterminate varieties to sprawl reduces labor, but takes up more space and plants are more prone to disease.

Wooden tomato stakes are typically about 6 feet long and 1 ½ inch square, but you can use similar materials. Drive stakes at least 8 to 10 inches deep at or soon after transplanting so as not to damage roots.

Prune tomatoes to one or two vigorous stems by snapping off “suckers” (stems growing from where leaf stems meet the main stem) when they are 2 to 4 inches long. Tie stems to stake with soft string, twine or cloth, forming a figure-8 with the stem in one loop and the stake in the other. This gives the stem room to expand without being constricted. Start about 8 to 12 inches above the ground and continue to tie at similar intervals as the plant grows. As an alternative to using individual stakes, grow several plants in a row between heavy-duty stakes or posts spaced about 4 feet apart, and use twine to weave in and out around posts and plants.

Growing tomatoes in cages is a good compromise between labor-intensive staking and just letting them sprawl. You can purchase tomato cages at your local garden center, or simply bend a 6-foot-long piece of 4- to 6-inch wire mesh into a cylinder about 22 inches in diameter. (Cattle fencing or concrete reinforcing wire mesh work well for this.) Place cage around plants soon after transplanting and anchor with stakes.

Avoid excessive N applications, which can cause excessive foliage and poor fruit set. Also avoid using fresh manure or high nitrogen fertilizers (those with three or more times nitrogen than phosphorus or potassium). Poor fruit set can also be caused by heavy rainfall or temperatures that are either too high (above 90 F) or too low (below 55 F).

On most soils, you can sidedress about 1/2 cup of 5-10-5 per plant and work shallowly into the top inch of soil when fruits are about 1 inch in diameter and again when harvest begins.

To avoid other common tomato problems:
Keep soil evenly moist to prevent blossom end rot. This can also help prevent cracking when fruit absorbs water too fast after heavy rain following dry conditions.

Keep soil evenly moist to prevent blossom end rot. This can also help prevent cracking when fruit absorbs water too fast after heavy rain following dry conditions.

Catfacing (misshapen, deformed fruit) is caused by incomplete pollination, usually due to cold weather. Don’t rush to transplant until weather has stabilized and soil is warm.

 

 
   
     
   
 

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