Tips For Growing Sweet Tomatoes
Are you like me and you can’t wait until you can pick your first sweet tomatoes each growing season? There is something spectacular when you put your hands on the earth and it’s so quiet outside, right? The wind is blowing a little and it’s not too hot or too cold. The sun is shining and you can hear the birds chirping nearby. With spring just around the corner, I wanted to update this post that outlines tips for growing sweet tomatoes so we can all be ready to get started growing one of my favorite items.
If you haven’t started a garden, maybe today this will encourage you to start one. There are many different ways you can plant sweet tomatoes. You don’t need 10 acres, or 5 acres, or even 1/4 acre. You can plant them in pots, straw bales, and garden bags, to name a few. If you want a raised garden bed so you don’t have to bend over as far, that’s awesome too.
I’d have to say, from my experience, the desired sweetness is a matter of personal preference. From my research, it appears that the tomatoes considered to be the “sweetest” are those that have a high level of both acidity and sugar. Again, our taste buds don’t all register the same, so what you consider sweet might not measure up to what I might expect when I bite into a tomato from my garden.
One reason so many of us like the small cherry or grape tomatoes on salads, is that they tend to have a higher level of sugar, and thus taste sweeter. As a general rule, the smaller varieties will garner more support as being sweeter varieties. Although I love them on my hamburger, beefsteak tomatoes are considered less sweet, and much of that is due to their size.
With that being said, tomato types and their sweetness is based so much on their genetics. We are going to discuss some ways to influence the growth and success of tomatoes in your garden, but those genetics will be a prime determinant of sweetness.
That’s one of the reasons that seasoned gardeners have cross-bred varieties over the years, in hopes of gaining stronger plants, but also to try and influence the flavor through a new variety.
How To Grow Sweet Tomatoes
Start With The Soil
I remember living up north and I rarely had to add soil amendments. The soil in Riverton, Utah was dark, rich, and loamy. The entire neighborhood had gardens and we frequently shared our bounty with each other. Here in Southern
The type of soil you have will influence how you approach soil preparation steps. What I outline here may not be what you need, so talk with your local nursery/garden store and see what they suggest is needed for growth and sweetness. Keep in mind that the tomato variety you choose will respond to soils differently too, so that is another great question to discuss with the local “experts.”
We have beautiful red clay that is hard as cement, literally. Do you remember me telling you I decided to put together raised garden beds and I filled them with Miracle-Gro Garden Soil that I picked up from a local big box store? I also had to add other nutrients to help with growing seeds and plants. Below I’ve listed the amendments I use. I spread them evenly in seven grow boxes.
Azomite Micronized Bag, 44 pounds
Unco Industries Wiggle Worm Soil Builder Earthworm Castings Organic Fertilizer, 15-Pound
Miracle-Gro Nature’s Care Organic Bone Meal, 3 lb.
Espoma VM8 8-Quart Organic Vermiculite
Epsom Salts to discourage blossom end rot
If you are lucky enough to have dark rich soil you can grow almost anything. You will still have to start with a root starter when you plant your seedlings or small plants to give your plants a boost to start growing healthy strong roots that develop into larger plants. I use Miracle-Gro Root Starter like this one. Miracle-Gro Root Starter
I mix the solution according to the instructions on the container I purchase and pour the required amount into each hole with the tomato seedlings or plants.
Another thing to consider when evaluating the soil is the location in your yard or garden. Tomatoes love sunlight and the related heat. They also need consistent watering with good runoff. The temperature and humidity will also influence how your plants interact with the soil.
Should I Add Any Organic Matter to the Soil?
It’s not only important to prepare the soil so it’s ready to accommodate the plants and foster growth, but also, during the growing season, it is a good idea to fertilize and add organic material that will provide the nutrients the plants need to continue their growth and fruit development. It also helps protect the roots from pests, helps hold moisture where needed, and prompts root strength, all necessary steps to effective results and tomato sweetness.
Choose The Right Tomatoes For You
Let’s talk about tomato choices and how you plan to use the ones you grow. You have to decide if you are just going to eat BLT’s, that’s awesome! If you want to make salsa, tomato juice, or spaghetti sauce you need to think about which tomatoes are best for those uses. Of course, those chosen have to be good for your area. I only know Utah, so I will share what I have done for years. These are 100% Heirloom/Non-Hybrid/Non-GMO tomatoes. I buy all my seeds from SeedsNow
The varieties listed here show the name, the typical size, growing period, and some great options for how to best put them to use:
- Abraham Lincoln: 1 lb. heirloom, great for ketchup and tomato juice. Easy to grow and matures in 85 days.
- Beefsteak: large tomatoes over 2 lbs. easy to grow, great for slicers and matures in 85 days.
- Bonnie’s Best: 6-8 ounce fruit, great for slicers or canning. Matures in 85 days.
- Marion: chefs prefer these crack resistant tomatoes. Great for salads or sandwiches. Matures in 75 days.
- Pear: pear-shaped fruits that grow in clusters. Great for salads. Matures in 75 days.
- Homestead: a popular heirloom variety. Good one for canning and they are great in a hot climate. They mature in 80 days.
- Mortgage Lifter: they produce large tomatoes, up to 2 lbs. Easy to grow and matures in 70 days.
- Money Maker: it’s one of the most reliable tomatoes you can grow. They grow up to 8-ounce size tomatoes. They are easy to grow and mature in 85 days.
How Sould I Space the Plants to Get the Best Results?
Having your tomato plants too close will tend to stunt growth. Based on what the plant’s size will be at maturity will influence how close you place them. The bigger the plant, the more space they need. My planter boxes are 4′ x 4′ and I seldom put more than four in a box, and even then I have to spread the branches apart to see the tomatoes that “hide” in the middle of the box.
Spacing also allows the sun to penetrate the plants so they not only get sunlight but also so they can keep moisture from causing mold or root rot. Spacing also promotes the effective use of the soil so the plants can absorb the water and fertilizers as they grow.
When Can I Start Planting Seeds?
The best time to plant your seeds indoors is about 6-8 weeks before the last expected spring frost in your neighborhood. You can plant your seedlings or plants about two weeks after the last spring frost. You can enter your zip code on this website to find the best dates for you to get started. Farmer’s Almanac First and Last Frost Dates By Location
Tomato plants really like a longer growing season, so it’s important to try and plant them as early as you can safely do so. Give your plant every advantage possible by starting early, tracking their growth and development, and allowing them to ripen.
It’s really easy to grow tomatoes from seeds. You can start with seed pellets or plant them in smaller containers and transplant them to larger containers as needed.
The seeds don’t need much light, so you can put them on top of your refrigerator to keep them warm to germinate. As soon as the seedlings pop up they need sunshine. You can put them on a window shelf or a table close to the window. You should see them poke through the soil in 7-10 days. I purchase seed pellets from SeedsNow
The seedlings need the temperatures to be 70 degrees F during the day and 40 degrees F at night. Once the seedlings reach 4 inches tall, transplant them into larger containers. Please plant them deeper than other vegetables.
What Is Hardening of Seedlings?
About two weeks before you plant the seedlings outside, you need to get them used to the outdoors. Place the plants outside during the day to harden up and bring them back in during the night. I do this with plants I purchase at garden nurseries as well.
It’s good to get them acclimated to your backyard temperatures during the day and night. This is critical to have your tomatoes or other vegetables thrive into the biggest harvest ever.
What Are Some Good Companion Plants?
I like to plant carrots, onions, lettuce, and Marigolds around my tomatoes. I use up the space that my tomatoes won’t use in order to produce more food by planting seeds that will work together.
What Are The Best Growing Conditions For Tomatoes?
Sweet tomatoes need at least 8 hours of sunlight each day. Be sure and plant your seeds or seedlings in a location that will have at least this much sunlight. They also need at least 3-4 months of warm dry weather. Continue feeding your tomatoes throughout the season with organic compost. The temperatures at night should be 55 to 75 degrees F.
You may notice some of the tomatoes split during their growth process. That is usually caused by the plants being subject to sudden drops in temperature or getting too much water.
If it looks like the weather will change such that the plants are exposed to temps below 60 degrees F, then you may want to consider trying to cover them for a night or two. As mentioned, the plants need to have soil that drains properly, so check those splitting plants and make sure the water isn’t “pooling” around the base and root system.
What Can I Do to Protect My Tomato Plants from Bugs?
One of the worst bugs for tomatoes is the tomato hornworm. These pests can eat a large volume of plant leaves, making it hard for the plant to benefit from sunlight. Look over the plants often in case your garden has been invested. They can grow pretty fast and get to be as large as one of your fingers. Although large, they can hide based on their color as they blend in with the plant’s foliage.
If you discover them on the plant(s), be sure to pull them off and discard them in your garbage. You may want to discuss some safe “organic” sprays to kill the hornworms and other pests based on your location and what is allowed.
How To Plant Tomatoes-DEEP
I have always planted my tomato plants so that 2/3 of the plants are in the ground. To make this easy, picture a plant ten inches high. You will plant it deep enough so only three inches are above the soil. Yes, that is deep, but it works, I promise.
This makes for a really strong root system, and stronger root systems mean the best sweet tomatoes ever! The main stock will soon begin to sprout more roots, yes it works! The extra roots give the plant stability down the road when the fruit starts to set.
Feed The Sweet Tomatoes
Be sure and add organic compost as needed to keep those tomato plants thriving. I check my plants frequently for water issues, diseases, or fertilizer needs.
Cages For Tomatoes
I wish everyone could purchase these tomato cages from Glover Nursery in West Jordan, Utah. They are extremely strong and last for many years. I like them since based on the gauge of the wire, they are strong enough to hold the plants up during the entire growing season, thus keeping the fruit from touching the ground, and allowing the fruit to completely ripen and become as sweet as possible.
UPDATE: I just found these cages at a store called IFA which stands for Intermountain Farmers Association. They didn’t have them in Southern Utah but they up north in Riverton, Utah.
I really hope my post today gets you excited to grow your very own sweet tomatoes. There is something so awesome about working with my hands in the soil, pulling weeds, and nurturing my plants in the garden. I love it! It’s one more step to being self-reliant. Thanks again for prepping for the unexpected. May God bless this world. Linda
Planting with Marigolds by Linda