More home gardeners in the United States grow tomatoes than any other crop. Tomatoes are inexpensive, easy to grow and produce large yields of fruit for relatively little labor. To get started growing your own tomatoes at home, all that you need is a pack of tomato seeds and a few basic tools that will help you have a fruitful growing season.
You need very little equipment to get started with tomatoes, which, in part, explains their popularity in home gardens. If you plan to start your tomatoes from seed, you will need seed starters and growing medium. Transplanting and caring for your plants require basic gardening tools: a shovel, hoe and cultivator. Finally, many gardeners prefer to grow tomatoes inside of cages or tie them to stakes to maximize the yield from a small bit of land.
Because tomatoes are prone to diseases found in the soil, they should be started in an environment free of pathogens. You can start tomato seeds in a container as simple as a shallow cardboard box filled with potting soil. Garden supply stores also sell individual seed starter pots or peat pots that can be planted in the soil, minimizing damage to the plant's root system.
Keep weeds around your tomatoes in check with a hoe or cultivator, but be sure to break off weeds at the soil line to avoid damaging the tomato's shallow root system, the University of Illinois Extension warns. The University of Missouri Extension recommends a fertilizer high in phosphorus while "Rodale's Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening" further prescribes a handful of bone meal and a pinch of Epsom salts when you transplant your seedlings.
The University of Delaware Cooperative Extension urges gardeners to cage their tomatoes, citing impressive gains in crop yield and reductions in labor and sun damage to plants. Tomato cages are rounded structures made of heavy wire forming concentric wire rings that provide support to the tomato plant. Cages help contain unruly growth and allow gardeners to plaqce more plants in a smaller amount of space.
Although sowing tomato seeds directly in the soil may work--it worked for wild tomatoes for many millennia before domestication--you will likely yield better results by investing a small amount of money into some basic tools for raising tomatoes. As the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension points out, a tool as simple and inexpensive as the tomato cage yielded one grower 66 pounds of tomatoes per plant. Considering the improvements you'll see by starting seeds properly, providing regular and attentive care and confining plants to a cage, the money you save on not buying tomatoes at the supermarket will shortly pay for your equipment. Even better, the equipment can be reused from year to year.