From Garden to Plate: Start Easily With Tomatoes

In the world of homegrown vegetables, the tomato is king. Sweet, pungent, robust and juicy, this garden delight is a far cry from its lackluster supermarket counterpart. To enjoy the very best tomatoes all season long all you will need is a few supplies, some helpful tips and a love for this delicious and versatile fruit. For Seedlings: Soilless potting soil, small pots, tomato seeds, and recycled plastic produce bags For Garden: Black plastic, mulch, and stakes or other supports Germination: When you are planting seeds, don’t overcrowd them; they need room to flourish. As soon as the true leaves emerge (see below), the seedlings need to be transplanted—ideally to containers at least 4 inches deep, giving the roots room to grow. To avoid the potential weed seeds and diseases that soil often contains, use a soilless potting mix, which is primarily sphagnum peat moss. Don’t pack too much potting soil in the containers; fill about two-thirds. Hand-sift the potting mix to remove lumps and add water so that it is moist but not wet. (Note that some seeds such as parsley or lavender might need soaking or chilling, so check the seed packet for special directions.) Plant approximately three seeds in each container, sprinkling the small seeds on the surface but sticking larger seeds under the surface. Cover the small seeds with a little more potting mix and water again. Likewise, give the larger seeds a little more water, too. Make your own mini-greenhouse by putting the seedling containers in a plastic bag or under a sheet of plastic. Make sure that air can get in and circulate to avoid mold issues. A good spot for germinating seedlings is on top of the fridge—seeds like a warm, draftless environment. The first two leaves that emerge are actually cotyledons, part of the seed itself. When the true leaves emerge, remove the seedlings from plastic and put them in direct sunlight or under a fluorescent grow light for 12 to 18 hours a day, keeping them moist and warm. When the true leaves appear, it’s time to give the potting soil some nutrients, so add a little fertilizer to the pots. If more than one seedling has germinated in a pot, either separate the seedlings into different pots or remove all except the strongest seedling. Hard to do, I know! A recipe for turning your homegrown tomatoes into the perfect sauce… Tomato Sauce 3 tablespoons olive oil 1 large onion, diced 3 cloves garlic, minced 2 large carrots, minced 2 stalks celery, minced 15 to 20 ripe plum (Roma) tomatoes, pureed, or 1–2 large (28-ounce) cans of pureed tomatoes salt and pepper fresh or dried herbs Heat oil over medium heat and add onion. Sauté until soft. Add garlic, carrot and celery and sauté until soft. Add pureed tomato and bring to a soft boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 40 minutes without a lid, or until the sauce thickens. Season with salt, pepper, and fresh or dried herbs. Remember: dried herbs will be more powerful than fresh ones! Use sparingly and taste test often. 🙂 If you’re feeling extra crafty, try putting some custom labels on your tomato sauce jars! We love these ones in Rococo. Don’t be surprised if after one summer you become hooked to the superior taste of  homegrown tomatoes and look forward to the process year after year. Far from a chore, growing your own tomatoes is a relatively hands-off but satisfying way to put delicious homemade food on your table and provide a gratifying, stress-relieving outlet. Happy growing!

4 Comments

  • You have made me so hungry! Can’t wait until homegrown tomatoes start showing up at the Farmers Markets. Nothing like a good homegrown tomato (: Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply March 29, 2013

    Amanda Rain

    Can’t wait for tomatoes! we have been starting tomato seeds for weeks and they can’t wait to get outside and grow. Well sid Cathrine theres Nothing like a good homegrown tomato 😉
    Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply April 17, 2013

    Pearlscraftymama

    Love it! I cant wait for tomatoes! I have some ready to go outside, just want to wait til next week to transplant them.

  • Reply December 11, 2013

    Amanda Bielski

    Mmm reminds me of my Mother’s homemade sauce!

    Some other tips. I’ve grown tomatoes for years in both pots and in the ground. Depending on your climate you will have to adjust things accordingly.

    Tomatoes can be canned whole or sliced as well. Have tons of tomatoes and have enough sauce? Just can them up whole. Canned tomatoes have tons of uses!

    Some tips I’ve learned as a Cornell Cooperative Extension Master Gardener:

    1) Tomatoes thrive in slightly acidic soil with tons of organic matter. You can take a soil sample to your local cooperative extension office and they can test your pH for you. If you don’t have an extension office near you, most garden centers sell pH meters. Find one that is easy for you to use, and don’t be afraid to ask one of the friendly salespeople for help finding one that fits your needs – some garden centers will even test soil for you!

    2) Organic matter is basically compost, and it can be in the form of mushroom compost, rotted horse manure, Lobster compost, fish compost, sea soil, composted cow manure, or compost from the bin you’ve been adding kitchen scraps to all year. Either way they need a good amount of organic matter. Work this liberally into the ground where you will be planting tomatoes. If you are using containers to grow your tomatoes, blend the compost with peat moss and a soil lightener such as perlite or vermiculite so avoid soil compaction.

    3) Water from the bottom of the plant not from the top. I cannot stress the importance of this enough! In areas where tomatoes are prone to blight you can wash blight spores out of the air and onto your tomato plants simply by watering over the top of your plants! To keep blight to a minimum I mulch around my plants – even the top of the soil in pots gets mulch and I water at the soil surface. The mulch protects against moisture loss, and helps keep soil borne fungal spores from splashing up onto your tomato plant. Also it doesn’t hurt to find yourself a good organic preventative for the blight. Spraying your tomato plants with copper soap fungicide per the directions on the bottle can help deter blight.

    4) You’re seeing beautiful tomatoes grow on the vines but suddenly the ends of the tomatoes where the blossom used to be are turning brown and black and rotting. This is called blossom end rot from a lack of calcium and it has two causes, both of which are easy to fix. One is using to much nitrogen in the fertilizer as excess nitrogen prevents calcium uptake in the roots. Use a Fertilizer where the NPK ratio has a higher P and K than the N and you’ll be fine. (N = Nitrogen, P = Phosphorus, K= Potassium or Potash). The other cause is your soil is calcium deficient. If this is the case you will want to either apply lime or gypsum, which depends on your soil’s existing pH. If your pH is alkaline, apply the gypsum (or elemental sulfur – solely for acidification) for it will help acidify the soil at the same time it supplies calcium to your tomato. If your soil is moderately acidic it’s OK to apply lime. Always follow the application instructions on the labels of what you are using!

    5) Use varieties best suited to your local growing conditions. There are thousands of tomato varieties out there are some are more adapted to short seasons and others to longer growing seasons. Knowing which varieties grow best in your local area will help you have a better harvest. The friendly folks at your local Cooperative Extension office or at a local garden center should be able to tell you which varieties grow best in your area.

    HAPPY GROWING!

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