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Growing tomatoes is easy, fun and inexpensive - even for a first time grower. Tomatoes are perennials, most often grown as annuals. Your first step is choosing the type of tomato for your garden. (See our section on tomato plants and heirloom tomatoes for suggestions.) Some like to grow several varieties rather than just one type to ensure a steady harvest. Tomatoes love lots of sunshine (seven or more hours per day,) so choose a sunny spot in your garden to place the plants. The more sunshine your tomato plants receive, the tastier they will be. Tomatoes aren’t picky about soil, but it is advisable to prepare your garden bed by adding lots of compost (5 to 8 pounds per square foot/25 to 40 kilograms per square meter.) Turn compost into the top 3 inches (6 to 8 cm). Tomatoes will thrive in soil rich in organic matter. Plant the tomato in a deep hole and give each new plant plenty of warm water within ten minutes of transplanting to avoid transplant shock. Space tomato plants about 18 to 36 inches apart. In hot climates, space them half the suggested distance, especially if using tomato cages. This allows the plants to shade each other's fruit, helping prevent burn and allowing a sweeter flavor.

What tomatoes do need is lots of water. Give them about 16 ounces of warm water per plant every day for the first 7 to 10 days after transplanting. You can also place a mulch of straw, dried grass, or pine needles to help control weeds and keep the soil moist during dry weather. The mulch should be about one inch (2.5 cm) thick and surround at least a circle 12 inches (about 30 cm) in diameter around the stem. Tomato plants need lots of water, so make sure plants are receiving 1 to 3 inches (2.5 cm to 7.6 cm) of rain weekly. If not, give each plant about 2 gallons (about 7.5 liters) per plant per week, beginning 14 days after transplanting. About 14 days after transplanting, you may want to consider using a tomato cage or stake to support the tomato vine. Secure the plant to the stake using a loose knot that won’t strangle the plant. A tomato cage should be at least 48 inches (1.2 m) tall, or even taller (some tomato plants grow more than six feet tall.) Carefully pull leaves and secondary stems inside the cage as the plant grows. If you choose to use chemical fertilizer, follow package directions. Many gardeners use only half the recommended concentration per gallon, but fertilize twice as often. You should begin to see fruit about 45 to 90 days after transplanting.

Tomatoes can also be grown in containers on a sunny patio or balcony. Fill a pot that is about 18-24 inches high and about 15-20 inches wide with soil and fertilizer. Plant the tomato and cover the soil with plastic black cloth that will allow water through miniature holes. This will help keep out bugs and weeds. Be sure to water tomatoes in pots frequently as containers tend to dry out very quickly. You will also probably want to stake your container tomatoes. One option are long, plastic, “bamboo” sticks. Place 3 or 4 around the plant and use plant tape to hold in place.



 


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