Beefsteak tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) are meaty, juicy fruits perfect for summer sandwiches or as sliced snacks with a sprinkle of sea salt. Large, thickly fleshed beefsteaks are the biggest type of tomatoes, weighing 1 pound or more. Growing quickly to at least 6 feet tall, the late-maturing tomato plant will produce a bountiful harvest in about 85 days. It needs a sturdy cage, trellis, or stake to support its fruit. Learn to grow and care for this abundant plant and welcome a plentiful harvest to your vegetable garden.
|Botanical Name||Solanum lycopersicum|
|Common Name||Beefsteak Tomatoes|
|Plant Type||Annual, vegetable|
|Mature Size||6 feet tall or more|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Fertile, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Slightly acidic|
|Hardiness Zones||2-11, USDA|
|Native Area||Central and South America|
|Toxicity||Foliage (not fruit) is toxic to humans and some pets|
Beefsteak Tomato Care and Trellising
Space tomato plants at least 18 to 36 inches apart. Beefsteak varieties are especially tall and require lots of space and training. For optimal growth and air circulation, space 5 feet or more apart. Tie the plant to a trellis, stake, or cage. They usually grow too tall for a typical tomato cage, so they will need extra support as their baseball-sized fruit can be quite heavy.
Dig a 10- to 12-inch deep hole for each plant and consider using a post-hole digger. Establish a post or stake down the center of the row between the two end posts at each end of the row if end posts are more than 20 feet apart. Posts that are 3 inches in diameter and 6 feet tall are ideal. Replace the dirt and pack it in firmly so that the posts do not fall over.
Wrap a 12-gauge wire around the top of one end post about 6 feet above the soil surface. Nail or staple the end of the wire to the post. Stretch the wire to make it taut, extend it to the next post, and keep the post anchored in place. Tie a second wire between the posts about 12 inches above the ground.
Tie twine to the bottom wire and stretch it to the top wire. Tie the other end to the top. Attach any additional lengths of twine for each plant and space the twine 36 inches apart on the length of the trellis.
Once the trellis system is ready, plant a seedling at the base of each length of twine. Plant each seedling deeper than it was growing in its starter pot. Establish deep enough so that the bottom leaf is just above the soil surface. Do this by planting it straight into the soil or sideways to encourage healthy rooting. Beefsteaks thrive most if planted deeper in the ground rather than being planted in containers.
As the plant grows, you should prune it regularly. As side branches form on the main stem, pinch out "suckers" or new growth when they are young and only 1/2 inch long that form in the crotch of the stronger branches. Do this weekly throughout the growing season to ensure that the plant develops no more than one or two main stems. This will make it easier for the plant to grow on the trellis, and it will slow upward growth and promote better branching. As the stem grows, wrap it around the twine in the same direction each time. Handle the stem carefully so that it doesn't break.
Give beefsteak tomatoes full, direct sunlight 8 hours or more per day. Make sure no shadows are cast by nearby buildings or trees. For best results, grow them on a slight slope with southern or southeastern exposure. A well-drained raised garden bed is especially good in cooler climates because it will warm early in the season.
As for all tomato plants, provide beefsteaks with well-drained fertile soil that is high in organic matter. Fertile clay and loam produce high yields, while lighter soils drain and warm quickly and will produce earlier harvests. Maintain a pH between 6.0 and 6.8. Keep the bed weeded, and mulch between rows of tomatoes to prevent weed overgrowth and to conserve moisture. Black plastic mulch will warm the soil and radiate heat.
After planting, water immediately to moisten and settle the soil. Throughout the growing season, keep tomatoes consistently watered, especially as they begin to fruit. Moisture will prevent fruits from cracking and encourage deep rooting. If it rains less than one inch in a week, be sure to water them well. They will need one to two inches of water weekly. Never let the foliage begin to wilt.
Before planting, work in compost or other organic amendments. Fertilize plants every three weeks with 1 pound per 100 square feet. Ideal NPK ratios are 8-32-16 or 6-24-24. For smaller gardens, use about one to two level tablespoons of fertilizer per plant every three weeks.
Temperature and Humidity
Plant tomatoes when temperatures are above 55 degrees Fahrenheit or ideally above 60 degrees. Since they are warm-weather crops, even a light frost can damage plants. In the event of a potential frost or temperature dip, cover the plants with a frost blanket.
Growing from Seed
Many beefsteak tomato varieties take at least 85 days to harvest. Since this is not possible in much of the United States, it's best to start your own seedlings. Start seedlings indoors six to eight weeks before the first frost of spring when they will be ready to transplant. To extend the fruit-producting season, especially in the southern states, start a second planting of seeds about two or three weeks later. Sow seeds in flats and care for them until they are at least 8 inches tall. Then harden off the seedlings and transplant them after the last spring frost. Your local Cooperative Extension Service can advise you on planting times in your growing zone.
Types of Beefsteak Tomato
- 'Brandywine Pink': sweet and abundant, this heirloom weighs in at nearly 14 ounces
- 'Hungarian Heart': offers growers a beefsteak that is good for cooking, canning, and just enjoying fresh from its sunny vine
- 'Copia': features yellow and orange hues, and is perfect for salads
- 'Striped German': has a marbled appearance and a fruit flavor
- 'Great White': shows off white flesh and has a creamy taste
Common Pests and Diseases
All beefsteak tomato varieties are prone to various diseases and pests. Watch closely for any issues and take care of them as soon as possible. Some common pests are tomato hornworms, aphids, rodents such as squirrels, and flea beetles. Humid weather may cause fungal diseases like early blight and late blight.
To remove any aphids, apply a warm stream of water. You can also handpick and destroy beetles, eggs, and larvae. To protect plants from early flea beetle damage, use row covers. To prevent fungal diseases and blossom end rot, water early in the day at the base of the plant, not overhead, and maintain consistent moisture while avoiding waterlogging the soil. Weeding around beefsteak will also encourage good air circulation. Moving forward, the best way to prevent many of these issues is to practice proper crop rotation.