Everything You Need to Know About Growing Tomatoes

Ripe tomatoes are a nostalgic summer treat. This fresh-from-the-farm fruit can be eaten straight off the vine like an apple or enjoyed in salads, sauces, and sandwiches. For gardeners, growing an aromatic, unblemished, and sun-ripened tomato is the ultimate trophy. In the right climate, tomatoes are generally easy to grow, but choosing the right varieties and keeping your plants healthy and productive requires both art and science. Then, once you reap your bounty, the question becomes what to do with the excess. From harvesting to preserving and buying to storing, best tomato practices will assure you a fruitful summer and put you a leg up on next year's crop.

  • 01 of 07

    Selecting and Growing Tomatoes

    Hands holding fresh tomatoes on the vine.
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    Growing a badge-of-honor tomato starts with choosing the perfect variety, sowing it properly, and providing a little TLC until it sets root. Determinate varieties will produce one large crop, and then die off towards the end of the season. Indeterminate varieties will continue to produce fruit throughout the growing season, sometimes even up until the first frost. And heirloom varieties consist of generations-old seed grown for specific characteristics, like taste and appearance.

    Select a sunny space with well-drained soil. Adding compost to the mix before planting will assure your baby plants get enough nutrients to thrive. Then, start your plants as seed indoors or buy seedlings from a nursery, sowing them directly into the ground once the last frost has passed and the night starts to warm.

  • 02 of 07

    Troubleshooting Tomatoes

    Blight in Tomato
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    Gardeners aren't the only ones who love tomatoes. Pests and disease can set in if you're not careful. Moldy residue found in last year's soil can produce early blight in tomato plants that are constantly wet. To prevent this, make sure to clean fall debris from your garden and allow the soil to dry between waterings. Similarly, late blight can devastate whole crops, as it spreads fast. Pull affected plants before the fungus sets in. Blossom end rot produces the tell-tale hard, brown patches on tomatoes and can be due to too much nitrogen in the soil or uneven watering.

    Pests like aphids, cutworms, flea beetles, and hornworms can affect tomato crops. There are many natural ways to eradicate these critters, including essential oil preparations and diatomaceous earth. Worms are especially destructive, as they can eat an entire plant in a matter of hours.

  • 03 of 07

    Preparing for Next Year's Tomato Crop

    A woman harvesting tomatoes from the vine
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    You did it! You grew your best tomatoes ever! And now you need to save your seeds to start all over again next year. Tomato seeds need to be fermented before drying in order to improve next year's germination. But. it's not as hard as it sounds. All you need to do is store them in their pulp until it forms a mold film, and then rinse, dry, and package them away for next year's sowing.

  • 04 of 07

    Buying and Storing Tomatoes

    A hand choosing from a variety of tomatoes
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    You don't have to grow your own tomatoes to experience the crop at its best. In fact, going to your weekly farmer's market and selecting prime produce gives some people the same gratifying experience. Choose tomatoes that are free of bruises and yield only slightly with the pressure of your fingers. If you're buying tomatoes to use later on, select harder fruit and allow them to ripen on your kitchen counter. Never refrigerate tomatoes! Doing so makes them mushy and tasteless. If you need to save a sliced tomato, simply place it in a dish and cover it with plastic for best results.

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  • 05 of 07

    Cooking With Tomatoes

    Hands cutting a tomato into slices
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    Fresh tomatoes can be used in almost any seasonal dish. In fact, vine-ripened tomatoes, combined with olive oil, garlic, and fresh basil, make the most delectable pasta sauce. Heirloom tomatoes pair well with fresh mozzarella and basil for a caprese salad. And sun-dried tomatoes enhance any pasta dish or salad dressing. From homemade ketchup to cassoulet, fresh tomatoes will never go to waste.

  • 06 of 07

    Preserving Tomatoes

    Jar of tomato sauce
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    When your tomatoes are piling up on every windowsill and countertop, it may be time to break out some preservation techniques. You can make and freeze or can a tomato sauce. Or, whip up some fresh salsa by adding jalapenos, onions, garlic, and lime, and then can it for use all winter. Sun-drying tomatoes can be replicated in your oven or in a dehydrator. No matter what preservation method you use, remember, a big batch is just as easy to make as a small one.​

  • 07 of 07

    Ripening Green Tomatoes

    A bowl of green tomatoes
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    What if summer is almost over and your tomatoes still haven't ripened? It happens. Luckily, there are ways to coax your green tomatoes to blush. You can pick them and ripen them in a sunny windowsill or place individual tomatoes in a brown paper bag with an apple. You can also wrap them individually in newspaper and store them in a dark spot. And when all else fails, you can whip up a yummy dish of fried green tomatoes.