Okay, who doesn’t love a homegrown tomato picked straight from the garden? If you say “Not me! Not me!” Stop reading. This page is only for tomato lovers and not tomato-immune wack-a-moles! I mean, seriously, who doesn’t love a fresh tomato. Hmph. As I was saying, tomatoes reign Queen of the garden. They are beauty and grace and gastro-gourmet. However, as one would expect, tomatoes can be prima donnas, too. Know the secrets going in and you’ll retain the upper hand.

gorgeous rot-free San Marzano tomatoes

Tomatoes are a must to start indoors before exiling them to the perils of the garden. Especially in areas where its cold–start them about 6 weeks before the last frost, and warm areas–the tender babes will fry in the southern sun. As with all my sprouts, I give them a healthy dose of organic matter to begin and we start off on the right foot.

yellow tomatoes

My perfect potting concoction contains:

1/3 organic black top soil

1/3 compost

1/3 worm poop

The rich dense top soil helps retain the moisture while the compost and worm poop provide the nutrients. The seeds are moderately small, but like to be planted about 1/2″ deep.

secrets to our tomatoes

A fun way to sprout your tomatoes is in eggshells. Kids will love this and can plant their “biodegradable” pot along with their sprout!

tomato seeds in eggshells ready to sprout

Once your sprouts reach 4-5″ in height and the frost threat has passed, transfer to the garden. Be sure to include a mix of crumbled eggshells and Epsom salts when you transplant, mixing in the soil around the base of each plant. It goes a LONG way toward eliminating this ugly condition. Your Queen will thank you. I’ve heard red paper is magic when it comes to tomatoes, however my actual experience did not reflect this claim. I stick to plain dirt and hay mulch.

tomato transplant in red

As with many queens, this one’s a heavy feeder so keep her fed and well-watered, especially during early growth. Once they have fruit you can dial back the water as they harvest.

Something to keep in mind as your tomatoes grow is the pinch factor. “Suckers” will form between the main stalk of your plant and the larger branches. Pinch these while they’re small as it encourages fuller, healthier growth of the plant.

don't forget to pinch your tomatoes

Also important for tomatoes is a sturdy support structure. Whether you use a pre-formed wire cone, a center stake or your own contraption of sorts, make sure your tomatoes have something to hold onto as they grow. Keep in mind how you attach the plants to the support structure as well. Injury from being tied over-tight will only invite disease. One of the best ties I’ve found is the soft green garden tape. Keep it flat against the stem–not twisted or it will cut into the stalk/branch flesh–and it will expand with your plant.

sturdy tomato stakes

To harvest it doesn’t get any easier. Pluck and chuck–into your mouth. Ruby-red and rich and delicious, tomatoes are delicious fresh. However, this is one vegetable that when cooked, actually releases more of the coveted lycopene.

Problems: Where do I begin? Blossom-end rot, hornworms (shown below), squash bugs, aphids–everyone loves tomatoes (except tomato-immune wack-a-moles). Be vigilant with your tomato plant and consider housing beneath a screen of sorts. It will keep the brown five-spotted moths out (hornworm mommas) and let the water in. Calcium is a must, so if you don’t use the eggshells and Epsom salts, add it somehow.

meet the tomato hornworm

Good Companions: Bush bean, brassica family, carrot, cucumber, garlic onion, peppers.

Bad Companions: Pole bean, potatoes and dill. I don’t usually mention herbs here, because I suggest planting herbs in their own garden, however because the hornworm is so vile to tomatoes its important to note that the dill plant ATTRACTS the beast. Keep them apart!

Health Benefits: Calling all men! We all know tomatoes are an Italian’s best friend. They taste great, pair well with red wine (another healthy choice), but did you know that the lycopene found in tomatoes seems to concentrates in the prostate? Men who consume high levels are at lower risk for prostate cancer. And–it has been shown to boost concentration of sperm levels. Cooking the tomatoes releases more of this powerful antioxidant than eating raw, however both ways work. Studies also suggest that lycopene can help keep older folks active, longer. You’re speaking my language, now! It’s good for the eyes, good for the cells… Like I said, tomatoes are the Queen bees when it comes to the garden.

Saving Seeds: A tad more complicated than saving your beans, saving tomato seeds is a two step process. First, you’ll want to slice your tomato in half, scoop seeds and pulp from the center and transfer to a jar or bowl. Cover with at least an inch or so of water and seal tightly, poking a knife hole in plastic wrap for air escape.

set tomato seeds in jar by sunny window

Allow to sit undisturbed for a few days, until a white mold forms on top.

remove moldy top and rinse seeds

Next, remove moldy surface and any seeds that go with it. These seeds are no good. The seeds on the bottom of the jar are the ones you want to save. Drain water through a sieve and carefully rinse seeds with cold water. Set out on a plate (I like to use paper but regular dinner plate will work) and allow to completely dry.

set seeds on plate to dry

Scoop from the dish and deposit into the safety of one of your homemade seed saving packets — full instructions on how to make can be found in the Kid Buzz section of this website. Store in a cool dry place until you’re ready for planting.

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