For the last five years I have operated a small greenhouse in Southwest Virginia in which I grew a variety of plants. The ones that I enjoyed the most by using myself were the tomato plants. These wonders of nature are one of the most sought after staples of my business and a much desired addition to any vegetable garden, whether it is an acre or just a small spot near your home.
I started these wonders from seeds, so I have an appreciation for the entire process. My experience involves the technical process of growing tomatoes to be sturdy wind and storm resistant varieties as well as massive producers of the most sought after prize at the local farmer’s market. Nearly everyone likes a good ripe tomato.
Personally I choose a soilless mixture when I am trying to germinate tomato seeds. It is lighter and allows the roots to freely develop within the rapid growth cycle of sprouting. Normally I will make three rows in an 11 x 20 germination tray in the soilless mixture, and then sprinkle the tomato seeds into the rows. Be careful not to dump too many as they will crowd each other and you will get a ton of small seedlings. Also, the germination percentage is very high, so unless you are able to plant or sell a good quantity, you want to seed accordingly.
I try to keep the mixture from drying out, but a friend that helped me get started described his method as letting the seedlings wilt before he watered them. That way they do not get too tall before they get a good stem. Also, it is best to grow them as cool as possible. Look for a pinkish/purple color in the stem.
I sold tomatoes a couple of different ways during my time as a greenhouse operator. One way was in a pot singly, which allows you to grow a bigger product for those early planters in your clientele. Some people will try to get a jump on everyone, so make sure to include this option in your inventory.
The other method is the classic multi-pack offering, whether it is 4, 6 or 9 cell trays. I sold many of each size, so experiment to see what works best. A critical component of this is to label your varieties if you choose to experiment with multiple varieties, because they look exactly the same in most cases.
Once you are beyond frost or freeze dates, you can venture out to your planting area for the excitement of planting. If you have a good size plant (tall) dig your hole deep and bury at least two-thirds of the stem. The little hairs on each side are roots waiting for the opportunity to grow. Not only will this make your plant more study, it will give more pathways for fertilizer and nutrients to aid your plant.
I have always supported my tomato plants with some type of stake, fencing or cage. The reason for this is that if you have a good growing season, the multitude of fruit will drag your plant to the ground where critters, slugs and blight are sure to ruin part of your crop.
Miracle Grow makes a specific tomato fertilizer, which I have not used too much, so I couldn’t really give an endorsement to it, but I have used regular Miracle Grow with good results. I always try to plant my tomatoes and scoop dirt up around the stem so the fluid stays near the roots until the ground can absorb it.
You must have sustained warmth for the plant to thrive. Also, there must be sufficient moisture to make good fruit. However, we went through one of the driest years I have ever known on my area and everyone said their tomato crops were exceptional. I know mine were. I had gorgeous Parks Whopper vines that produced massive amounts of fruit.
Raising tomatoes is a joy that I hope to always be able to experience.