Growing, propagating, and harvesting tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) from a kitchen garden is possible in Zone 9 and it is one of the easiest fast growing eatable plants to sustain. I am not a master gardener, nor do I have any formal training in ho
rticulture but I have been able to grow tomato plants in a variety of mediums, irrigation techniques, and containers with various of types of tomato genetics. Many people say to start their tomatoes in the spring to avoid frost and benefit from full sun but I keep them going all year. It is almost October and I have just started a few more in a protected place.
I have tried growing tomatoes in all types of mediums but I found found organic home made soil in 18+ gallon containers works the best.
- Advantages – Disease free, moist media which needs less water, looks interesting, very few or no weeds.
- Disadvantages – Uses electricity for fogging, normally smaller growing area equates to smaller plants, water soluble fertilizer needed.
NOTE* I do not suggest aeroponics for tomatoes but if you need aeroponic equipment http://www.futuregarden.com works well.
- Advantages – no disease in media, normally inaccessible to animals, control the fertilizer easily, low evaporation, no weeds
- Disadvantages – Uses electricity for pumping water, normally smaller growing area equates to smaller plants, fertilizer needed.
- Advantages -Low cost for fertilizer, all organic, can use fish as a secondary food source,
- Disadvantages – Must also regularly feed fish, takes time to create fertilizer, uses electricity to pump water
Tomato Container Gardening:
- Advantages – Very few weeds, easily move containers, keeps plant separated from other plants, use less water than ground, no electricity
- Disadvantages – Slower to accept fertilizer (may be good), filling containers and transplanting takes time, may not keep all animals out.
Tomatoes In Raised Bed:
- Advantages -Larger space for growing, keeps water in the bed, no electricity, easier to weed than in ground, control the soil quality easier.
- Disadvantages – Regular weeding needed, plants can grow together or take over other plants, more water needed than containers, animals!
Tomato In ground:
- Advantages – Huge space available for plants to grow, use local irrigation systems and gray water to irrigate ground, no electricity.
- Disadvantages – Soil disease, hard to control quality and hydration, more water needed, animals have easy access to plants.
Tomato Growing Location
The variety of tomatoes that I have been growing have been doing very well in full sun after they have hardened off. This means they do well with unobstructed sun from when the sun comes up until it goes down after the plants have a developed root structure. When I have placed small tomato plants in full afternoon sun on hot days the tomatoes may become dry and wilt sometimes leading to death.
Animals have not been a huge problem with my tomato plants. Sometimes the chick peas or another kitchen garden plant may attract raccoons which can dig up the media that the tomatoes are planted in. Of course if you decide to plant your tomatoes inside this may not be a problem but most likely you will end up paying more in electricity to keep the plants growing the way you want. In general I have only seen a few flies hovering around the tops of the tomatoes and the rest of the animals leave them alone. I have seen some gardeners put up electric fences and motion lights to keep the animals (and at times humans) out of their tomato kitchen garden but in general I do not believe this is necessary unless you have an abundance of wildlife.
Their should also be plenty of air circulation around the tomato plants but they do not seem to grow well in gusty winds because the tomato stem is easily broken or damaged in the developmental stages. Some varieties of tomatoes also benefit from a cage or wire mesh that helps keep the plant growing vertically.
Be sure your kitchen garden area with the tomatoes has easy access to water. In general, even on hot days that have reached up to 114 F I have used a light watering for about 5-15 minutes early in the morning so the media has time to dry out over the day and possibly helping with root rot and other problems associated with damp growing media.
For tomato gardening to be “worth it” for me, I need to propagate, multiply, and reproduce the tomato plants so their is an abundance of tomatoes when harvesting. Just one tomato plant may only give you a few tomatoes which may only last one meal for me and buying many plants from a nursery can become expensive.
The best way I have found to propagate the tomatoes is to get a ripe tomato from a friend that has been growing organic tomatoes in a similar area for years. This way you can be more certain that the genetics of
the tomato will work in your local environment. I have also started tomatoes from seed purchased online from companies like “Burpee” but their tomato plants have not grown as fast or as stable as the plants grown from local seeds.
1) After you have your “starter” tomatoes cut them up and keep the seeds. Eat the pulp and skin but place all of the seeds in a medium sized glass container. You can smash up the whole tomato but I find this to be a waste of a good tomato! I have not needed to wash the seeds but I have placed about 1/4 of Reverse Osmosis treated water (around 50 TDS or lower and 6.8 pH) in the container with the seeds and mixed it up with a wood chopstick. Keep the seeds inside near a window with light or outside in a protected area (so animals do not take them) for 10 days or so. You will see a furry layer of mold which is normal and some say useful to ferment the tomatoes. After about 7-10 days I rinse the grayish redish seed paste with RO filtered water and put the seeds directly into their medium.
2) When you put the seeds in the medium be sure your container is small (2-3 inches across at most) for each seed so it keeps the media evenly hydrated and you do not need to weed out tomatoes around your tomato which could damage the roots or stem. I have used Ultracoir (ground coconut husk), aerolite, sand, compost, potting soil, and many other combinations of germination media to see what works best. In general I find that it really does not matter but organic compost with kitchen scraps and yard waste that is completely “done” with a small amount of natural sand mixed in works the best. I have also found it may be best to moisten your soil before you put it in containers. Make 20 or more small containers so you have better odds of survival for as many tomato plants as possible. Be sure you have sun on your small plants right after they sprout of the lack of light will lead to long week stems. You can keep these small containers in a green house or similar structure if you wish but once the seed has sprouted and you see green, I have found it best to put the plant outside in a protected area that receives direct morning light but protected afternoon light. I also water the small containers early each morning so that the soil is moist but not soggy. I do not let the containers sit for days in water but putting the containers on a tray of water for a day every few days seems to help keep them evenly hydrated. If there is too much afternoon light I find the plants tend to try up or not grow as well. It may take a couple weeks to germinate and show green and then another few weeks to “harden off.”
3) Once your tomato plants have “hardened off” in this case meaning that they are accustomed to the environment, they have a developed root structure, and they can survive transplanting, it is time to move them to your full sun area. I like to prepare 18-20 gallon containers with great drainage at the bottom 1/4 and a organic soil with a little sand mix on the top. You can find containers by asking local gardeners if they have any extra after their projects or by visiting local garage sales and asking. I have found many great containers for free. You can buy soil at a local nursery but your own home made compost will work better in almost all cases. I normally recycle ink free cardboard or other non-toxic media at the bottom which also makes the containers lighter to move. Remember, one tomato plant per container so it has space to grow and if there is a disease or problem you can easily remove it or change the position of the container. Prepare the soil with water so it is moist but not soggy, transplant the tomatoes in the late evening so it is dark for the roots and the plant has time to adjust before the sun and heat of the following day. Do not touch the stem at any point. If you need to, you can use the lower most leaves to handle the plant since they will not be used in food production. I have also found it helps keep the plants alive if you provide some water right after you transplant your tomatoes in larger containers. After this I normally water once a day in the morning directly to the soil and add organic fertilizer or compost tea about once a week or slightly more often. I have read that tomatoes benefit from leaf watering but I have not seen any significant improvement with this and some of the leaves start turning brown if the temps are above 100 F. Once established tomatoes seem to do very well in hot dry weather.
Some say adding used tea or coffee grounds help the tomato plants grow fast but I have not found this to make any significant improvement.
4) Enjoy the beautiful yellow flowers from the plant and harvest the tomatoes when they are completely ripe. Do no refrigerate, store in a cool place if needed but pick and eat right away from your kitchen garden in about two months from transplanting.
Preparing Kitchen Garden Tomatoes
Pick and eat tomatoes promptly when ripe out of your kitchen garden with a variety of herbs including basil, oregano, and thyme. Add a little gray salt from Brittany France for extra flavor and include olive oil or balsamic vinegar over sliced pieces. Many people also love tomatoes with mozzarella cheese or white Queso Mexicano.
Tomatoes are said to have some Vitamin C at 13 mg (22%) of C per 100g. The orange is said to have 45 mg (75%).
Anything to add? Please leave me your suggestions here for a better tomato growing and eating experience for everyone!