Grow Your Own Food is an information series on Gardening in Canada that covers every aspect of growing your own food at home. I help you every step of the way so that you can have the garden you dream of. This series was originally written for and published on Food Bloggers of Canada.
One of the most rewarding moments in gardening is when you enjoy your first vine ripened tomato picked straight from the plant, still warm from the sun. A tomato grown by you. And in that moment you realize how amazing home grown food tastes, you vow to double the amount of plants you’ll grow next season.
There are so many different tomatoes to choose from, the different varieties are used for different applications, some are better for saucing while others are preferred for canning or juicing. We will take a look at the different varieties and what they are best suited for.
What are The Tomato Growing Basics?
Choosing and Prepping The Site for Your Tomatoes
Tomatoes like it hot so be sure to place them in a hot full sun location, a minimum of 8 hours of sun exposure a day is best.
Work the planting site well and add amendments to the soil like compost and peat moss for long time feeding and to lighten the weight of the soil, which is especially helpful with container grown tomatoes. If growing in containers use at minimum a 4 gallon sized pot for each plant.
When To Plant Tomatoes
Also make note of the days to maturity on the seed packages or tomato seedlings and buy according to your growing zone and frost dates. For the very best results you want to get varieties that are best suited to your growing location. To get an extra early start on the season you can start the seeds weeks before you plan on moving them outdoors.
Tomatoes like support so be sure to get tomato cages at the garden center, they are inexpensive and last for many years. They help hold the weight of the tomatoes and prevent the plants from falling over. They also allow for light to reach the inner parts of the plant.
It is best to set the cages early on in the season so the plants can grow into the cage. Trying to cage larger plants often results in damaging the plants in an effort to make them fit.
Tips for Watering Tomatoes
Be sure to water well and if you are growing in containers, water often. The water needs for growing tomatoes is high and you will need to water container grown tomatoes daily during hot weather.
Feeding Your Tomatoes
A regular feeding schedule will help improve yields. There are fertilizers on the market specifically for growing tomatoes. Alternately you can feed them using compost from your own composting efforts at home.
The Difference Between Determinate and Indeterminate Tomatoes
Tomatoes have two growth patterns:
- Determinate tomatoes bloom and set fruit all at once and then die as their season is over
- Indeterminate tomatoes grow and produce all season until frost kills the plant
This information helps you better plan for the season. For example if you would like to do a large canning marathon you would be better off growing a selection of tomatoes that will ripen at the same time. Though be sure to grow both kinds to have a fresh supply of tomatoes the entire season.
Common Varieties of Tomatoes
Roma Tomatoes are a type of plum or paste tomato. They are oval or egg shaped and are the preferred tomato for sauces and pastes as they are drier, meatier and have less seeds. Their texture is perfect for cooking because of the low moisture content and require shorter cooking and processing time. They can also be canned as whole plum tomatoes, be sure to select the firmer ones for canning. Another great way to enjoy your romas are to season them well, drizzle with oil and roast them in the oven until dried. Once you try it you will make them often! San Marzano are a popular type of Roma raved as the very best for saucing and pastes.
Cherry Tomatoes are small globe or grape shaped fruits that can come in a multitude of colours. They grow in clusters and are a great choice for growing in containers on the patio. They are best enjoyed fresh and do well being froze to be enjoyed later in the year in soups, stews and chili. Sweet 100’s are a popular cherry tomato variety.
Heirloom tomato varieties are becoming more popular every year. Gone are the days of people wanting perfect red round tomatoes, consumers are wanting the flavourful multi coloured fruits that were bred with exceptional flavour in mind. Because they are so juicy they are best enjoyed fresh soon after harvest. The perfect option for juicing. They are also a good choice for dehydrating which will compound their spectacular flavour.
Beefsteak tomatoes are the large meaty tomatoes that have multiple seed compartments throughout the fruit. They come in a variety of colours and can grow upwards to 3 pounds. They can not only be enjoyed fresh they can also be used for juicing, or canned as diced tomatoes. Brandywine is a common beefsteak variety.
Explore Your Tomato Options
Your options are endless so have fun and mix up your selection. With so many different kinds of tomatoes available you can be sure to have a great supply all season long for fresh eating as well as for your canning needs. Be sure to take notes on the varieties you grow, how they did, any growing specifics that you think are important and make your notes as detailed as possible. You may never know when you will need to refer back to them and will appreciate the finer details years down the road.
I like to start my tomato seeds indoors under lights in the latter stages of winter. It assures that I get a nice long harvest because my plants are more mature. You can learn about that in the post of Starting Seeds Indoors.
I also love cooking with tomatoes and have a few recipes that are my got to’s when I have a surplus of fresh garden tomatoes. Of course you have to try the Salsa. It is one of the best recipes I have ever created. It is spectacular!
And this Garden Fresh Tomato Tart is a beautiful flakey tart that is full of tomato flavour. It is perfection.