The wonderful tomato is most certainly one of America’s favorite produce. A vegetable so wide spread in use and highly valued, should get significant consideration in your garden. There are a few different classes of tomatoes Round, Plum, Cherry, Grape, and Heirloom tomatoes. I have only named below Heirloom varieties.

Many people still think that tomatoes are vegetables but they are indeed a fruit.

Types/Varieties

There are several wonderful types of tomatoes that an avid grower might want to plant. Try growing a small number of plants of different varieties to evaluate which works better. Several popular Heirloom types which you might want to try in your Pennsylvania garden are:

  • Black Cherry – reddish brown, small, disease resistant
  • Brandywine – pinkish, large, slow maturing
  • Chocolate Stripes – reddish brown with olive stripes, large, produces into late fall
  • Blondkopfchen – yellow, small, disease resistant
  • Aussie – red, medium, disease resistant
  • Cherokee Purple – purple/red, medium, prolific
  • Amana Orange – yellow/orange, large, fruit grows up to 2lbs
  • Aunt Ginny’s Purple – purple/black, medium, parts of plant are said to be poisonous
  • Caspian Pink – pink, medium, cooler climate tomato grow in winter for Florida
  • Lillian’s Yellow Heirloom – yellow/orange, medium, 95 day maturity

Soil Quality

Tomatoes need a large quantity of rain water while producing fruit, for that reason, they need to be planted in a highly loamy soil.

Apply approximately half a ton of manure for each 2500 square foot garden. Tilling in cover crops that are high in nitrogen and other nutrients, is among the better practices for maximum yields. Wheat and or rye are usually sufficient. Rotate cover crop and tomato planting to ensure that you will have good organic matter when you are planting. It also allows the soil to rejuvenate nutrients as well.

The Hydronic Option

A hydroponic grow system is a great option for growing tomatoes year round. You can make your own system or use one of the the many affordable indoor hydroponic grow systems on the market. A variant of hydroponic grow systems, called aquaponics, creates an ecosystem between plant and animal life (ususally fish). Not only can you grow awesome food with these systems, it’s also a very good educational tool for children and young people.

Fertilize Adequately

Use 60 lbs per 2500 sq feet—of fertilizer I would suggest an organic fertilizer blend of 4 parts cotton seed meal, 1 part lime, and ½ part kelp meal. Of that quantity, introduce 2/3 on the ground then plow under. If practical, the rest should be used to dress the sides of the plants when they get about 12 inches tall. Putting the fertilizer directly the row where the crops are growing could burn them and adding too early could hurt the roots. Likewise, putting all the fertilizer over the plowed soil followed by tilling or harrowing it in is a poor technique since the fertilizer will never end up getting deep enough for ideal results.

When Should You Plant

Plant vegetables in February or at least you know there is no longer a chance frost. In this way there will be a great deal more moisture for crop growth, and crops they will have a good time period to produce fruit. If planting in the fall, wait till October to get them in, but not too late that they will need to endure too many cold days. Keep in mind it will be around seventy to eighty days from the time you place crops in the field before you are able to harvest tomatoes. It could be even longer for Heirloom varieties.

Choose Good Quality Plants

High-quality strong plants that are approximately six weeks old work well when transplanting. If you end up with some weak plants that you started from seedlings, don’t bother planting them. They could be more trouble than they will be worth. Better to start extra seedlings to account for this.

Setting the Plants

Plant 24 inches apart from one another, and make sure you have 36 inch rows, so that for a 25 foot row you will get 12 plants. Be sure when you transplant them you water them in. This may be a good time to put your trellis in if you plan to use them. If you don’t plan on using a trellis, than you should consider adding and extra foot in between each plant.

Side dressing

Tomatoes need a good part of nitrogen for the duration of the 2nd and 3rd months. As mentioned before this is the time to dress the sides with your organic fertilizer mix. Being careful not to get it on the plant itself.

Weed Management

One easy and cheap way is of course pull by hand and use a hoe. If your garden is not that big and you don’t mind or actually need the exercise, this is not a bad idea. Commercial weed killer is toxic and can be quite expensive. A few natural methods are to add straw/hay to the ground; this will also help retain moisture at the base of the plant. (more on this below) Vinegar is also used in a solution and it works well and is cheap. Boiled water is a natural and cheap weed killer. Of course you can go and buy organic weed killer as well.

Mulch

The application of good mulch should help when growing high-quality tomatoes. Mulch conserves wetness, thereby reducing the possibility of blossom-end rot. Additionally it keeps down weeds, and helps to keep the tomatoes clean. As soon as the mulch breaks down, it increases beneficial organic matter to the soil. Apply just after you transplant them. If applied too early, it may tend to keep the ground too cool.
Probably the greatest mulch material is straw/hay. Either of them ought to be put on around eight inches deep when loose. Sawdust can be used as long as put on approximately three inches deep. Using mulch has become a recognized practice for years, and will reduce the loss of soil moisture, and boost or increase tomato production.

Pest Management

I have found a few that may help with some pests but not others. Of course making sure your plants have the nutrients they need, will help in minimizing some damage. Olive oil, water, and peppermint is said to work. Neem Oil has become popular and is an insecticide, fungicide, and miticide but is fairly expensive. Though given the damage these issue can have on crop yields, it may be well worth it.

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