A beginner’s guide to growing tomatoes

As I am writing this, most Canadians are physically distancing  themselves to prevent spread of the virus. I would suggest planning a garden is a great way to deal with these uncertain times. It is a great at home activity, provides for healthy eating, and exercise and is great for children as well.

Gardening can be done in a small space, in raised beds, in pots, on the balcony or patio. It is better to start small than to dig up the backyard, work like a slave and end up disappointed.

There are lots of resources available for new gardeners. Online videos are a
great way to start. Links through the Horticultural Societies and Master
Gardeners are useful. One of the best ways is to talk to your neighbors. They
may even have seeds or plants to share.

A favourite garden plant is the tomato. They are easy to grow. They come in so many varieties. Homegrown tomatoes taste so much better than the ones for sale in the winter. They can be used for eating fresh, for canning, freezing, soups, pasta or paste.

You can grow them from seed. Or you can buy nursery grown plants. Right now most of the nurseries are closed but will accept orders on the phone. They will set your purchases out in a cart for you to pick up. The seedlings need a great deal of light or they will grow leggy. The accompanying picture shows my tomato and lettuce seedlings on a south window with a homemade reflective aluminum taped onto cardboard and plywood.

Seedlings need to be hardened off. That means they can’t go from a nice warm building right out into the ground without a period of time to get used to the changing temperatures. I set my potted plants in a
wheelbarrow or wagon and take them out of the garage during the day and put them back in at night. Make sure they don’t dry out.

They can be set out in the garden in mid to late May when all danger of frost is gone. Tomatoes like to be planted deeply as they have a little hairs on the stem that will develop into roots to help feed the plant. Many people lie the stems in a trench and let them grow upwards. I have raised beds and the soil is easy to dig deeply. I throw some half finished compost in the bottom of the hole and often toss in a teaspoon of Epsom salts as it provides magnesium. Pelletized hen manure contains calcium which helps fight off blossom end rot. It comes in milk carton type containers. Tomatoes like to be staked in order to keep the branches off the ground. When the lower branches get splashed with earth they tend to get diseased. They need water regularly or they will split because they will soak up huge amounts of water when it’s available and cause the skin to crack. Regular watering will ensure constant growth.

I pinch off the suckers as the plant will become bushy with multiple stems when I want one long, strong stem. The suckers are the little stems that begin above each leaf node. They are easy to pinch off when they are very small. They can be cut off if you miss some.

The fun part is the harvest. Half a dozen tomato plants keep us satisfied all

Submitted by Don Farwell