Plump, juicy, and versatile in the kitchen, tomatoes are one of the most popular foods grown in gardens around the world. This is in part because they can grow almost anywhere, as long as it is warm, sunny, and slightly damp.
There are hundreds of different types of tomatoes, varying widely in size, colour, and taste. First, you have to sift through all of these options and decide which variety best meets your needs. When choosing which variety is right for you, take into account factors like your climate, when and how often you want to harvest, how much space you have in which to grow the plants, how much care you want to put in, and what you'll be using the tomatoes for. In general, almost all grape and cherry tomato varieties are great for beginners. Many gardeners choose to plant a few different varieties so that they don't all come to harvest at once.
Once you've decided, head to a nearby nursery or garden to pick up some seeds. Nowadays, you can also order them online. You don't need a lot of seeds unless you plan to preserve, sell, or give away part of your crop. If you end up with extra seeds, don't worry, as these are still good for up to 3 years! Depending on the variety you choose, you may even be able to buy a plant to transplant at a local nursery. This is considered the best option for those new to gardening.
If you do decide to start from scratch with seeds, it's a good idea to raise your plants indoors, by a sunny window, for about a month before transplanting them outside where they'll face the elements. When they begin to sprout, point a small fan at them 5-10 minutes a day, twice a day. This will simulate swaying in the breeze, and will help your plants develop strong, healthy stems.
Tomatoes grow best in slightly acidic soil, with a pH of 6.8 to 6.2. Even if you don't know the pH of the soil around you, there are still plenty of tricks you can do to keep your tomatoes healthy! Once it's time for the plants to move outside, make sure you don't put them too close to one another, and find a spot where they'll get at least 8-10 hours of sunlight a day. When moving or transplanting, make sure that you bury 50 to 75% of the plant, including some of its lower leaves. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it will help the plants grow stronger roots. When you plant them, put a spoonful of Epsom Salt in each hole, to provide magnesium.
Once the plants grow large enough, you'll need to build trellises, cages, or stakes, to keep the plants standing tall and off the ground. Make sure to water your plants regularly. They should receive about an inch of water per week, and perhaps even more if you are in the midst of a dry spell. For best results, water directly into the soil as opposed to watering the leaves of the plants. However, as the tomatoes begin to ripen, don't give them quite as much water. This will make the plant concentrate its sugars, resulting in more flavourful tomatoes!
Any frost will do a lot of damage to your plants, so if you suspect a frost coming, protect your plants with cloches or something similar. (If a heavy frost comes, the damage may be irreversible, and it might be best to just harvest whatever you have, ripe or not.) When it's time to harvest, make sure to check your plants every day, so that you can pluck the tomatoes when they're at their ripest. As your first tomatoes begin to ripen, trimming upper leaves and adding compost around the stem will encourage the plant to keep producing new fruits. Happy growing!
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