One of the best things about growing your own tomatoes, especially if you grow from seed, is that you have a much wider selection of varieties available to you, including some very tasty heirloom varieties. The keys to success include managing your plants' environment and treating pests and diseases quickly.
Tomatoes are a pretty easy crop overall, but there are some things you can do to ensure good crop health and strong production.
- Choose Appropriate Companion Plants for Tomatoes. Most gardeners grow a variety of vegetables, and some make better "companion" crops because they help tomatoes to thrive or improve their flavor. For example, basil, dill, mint, and parsley all repel insects and disease while also improving growth and flavor.
- Select the Right Containers and Soil. If you want to grow tomatoes in a container, be careful to avoid clay or porcelain which can dry out quickly. Instead, select plastic or fiberglass. Choose a larger pot that provides good drainage, and plant your tomatoes in peat or compost-based soil (do not simply dig up soil from your garden, as lighter soil is better for your tomato seedlings).
- Prune Tomato Plants Properly. Not all tomato plants need pruning, so it's important to determine whether your particular variety could benefit from being cut back. Read up on the right way to prune, so you can improve your tomato output.
Tomatoes don't have many pests, but the ones it does have can be a real problem if they aren't dealt with swiftly. The tomato hornworm is one of the few pests you may need to manage. These larval pests are so large they can often be picked off your plants; there are also several organic options for treating tomatoes with hornworm infestations.
Common Tomato Diseases
There are few things more heartbreaking for the tomato lover than having your plants hit with disease. Sometimes, the problem is easily remedied. Other times, we're not so lucky. Two of the most common tomato diseases are Blossom End Rot and Verticillium Wilt, both of which can ruin your crop if you don't act on them quickly.
Saving Tomato Seeds
If you are growing open-pollinated tomatoes (which include all heirloom varieties) you can save seeds to plant in the future. Here's what you need to know to save your own tomato seeds to plant next year.
- Start by selecting the best tomatoes in your garden. By choosing seeds from the best tomatoes, you'll increase your odds of improving your crop next year.
- Slice tomatoes in half, exposing the seeds.
- Scoop out the seeds (and, if possible, some of the flesh) of the tomato. Place the seeds in a clean jar.
- Set the seeds and flesh or pulp aside in a sealed jar so it can ferment. You'll know the process is taking place when you see mold on the top of the seeds.
- Clean the fermented seeds and set them out to dry. Once they're completely dry, they can be stored in a clean jar.