Why cultivating vegetables in one’s own garden has always been a popular pastime is not difficult to understand. It’s both a satisfying, relaxing hobby and has obvious practical value. By the same token, when it comes to choosing a particular type of vegetable to start with, it’s not hard to understand why tomatoes are probably the most popular choice.
Growing tomatoes plants is easy (once you learn to do it right) and is a lot of fun. The finished product is extremely versatile in the kitchen. Furthermore, as a rich source of antioxidants, the value of the tomato for good health is undeniable. This applies even more when it is grown in the home garden, where this nutritious vegetable can easily be cultivated under authentic “organic” conditions.
Choosing the right variety
Your first step, even before you pick up a spade, is to decide which varieties of tomatoes will be best for your specific needs. More than 7,000 varieties have been identified to date. While same ways in which they differ are of interest only to botanists or agriculturists, others are of practical significance –size, taste, speed at which they ripen, adaptability to unfavorable weather conditions, suitability as an ingredient in various, dishes, and of course, availability in your particular locality. When buying your seeds or seedlings, it may be a good idea to experiment with a few varieties to start with.
Spacing your plants
Never plant tomato plants to close together. Above ground, there might appear to be plenty of room, but below ground level the roots spread out very quickly. Not only does each root need space of its own to flourish, but if an individual plant is diseased or infected by pests, you don’t want it to infect others in the vicinity. Also, if plants are too close together, the leaves might eventually overlap, thus blocking out the sun for all of them!
So how far apart should individual plants be? This depends, of course, on the variety, but most require a space of 12 to 36 inches between each plant. Obviously, large tomatoes will require more “breathing space” than smaller ones.
Some of the larger varieties are often grown with the aid of trellises, which offer support for the vines so that the fruit is kept off the ground, where they would be liable to rot. These clearly require more space between individual plants than do their smaller counterparts.
Although some tomatoes, like the popular American variety Oregon Spring (which also ripens relatively quickly), thrive in cold weather, most varieties require a lot of sunlight to flourish. In most cases, ideal temperatures for healthy growth will be between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit by day, and not lower than 60 at night. At any rate, frost should be avoided at all costs.
Of course, one cannot just plant tomato seeds or seedlings, however carefully, then sit back and do nothing and expect healthy tomatoes to be ready for the picking at some point in the near future. That they require regular water goes without saying. Also, the soil should be kept well aerated. Regular but judicious pruning will also result in a healthier plant. Knowing how much to trim and when is a skill all of its own. Removing some of the leaves is often also a good idea so that the sunlight is not blocked from the fruit, but removing too will deprive them of the sugars that are produced in the leaves and give the fruit its special flavor.