image by xandert: MorgueFile.com
Juicy, ripe tomatoes are a summertime staple, and can be used in many ways throughout the year. Canned or preserved, whole or diced, pureed into tomato sauce or ketchup, or combined with peppers and onions to make salsa, tomatoes are prevalent in the kitchens of America. Growing tomatoes can be tricky, but worth the hassle; nothing compares to a fresh garden tomato.
Find a sunny place to plant your tomatoes. Most varieties require at least five hours of direct sunlight in order to produce the lycopene and carotene that provide the desired taste and texture.
Plant your tomatoes when there is no chance of overnight frost. In some areas, you may need to cover your tomatoes at night.
Spread a fabric ground cover down over the area where you will plant. This will keep weeds from choking the tender, new plants. Slit an X in each spot where you will dig.
Dig a hole large enough to envelop the entire root system of the plant. Leave enough space between plants; spacing depends on the variety and size of your tomatoes, but they should be roughly 24 to 36 inches apart.
Stake tomatoes or place cages around the plants to keep them growing upright. The weight of the fruit will drag the plant down, and could result in the ripening fruit touching the ground, where it will rot.
Cover the plants with plastic at night if you live in an area where spring temperatures are erratic and there is a chance of frost. Some products allow you to place a cylinder of plastic around the plant and fill it with water. This acts as a mini-greenhouse during cold weather.
Mulch with organic material once the soil has warmed and there is no longer frost.
Water your tomatoes often, especially during hot, dry summer days. Tomatoes without sufficient water may develop cracked skins.
Fertilize tomatoes three weeks after planting, and again six weeks after planting. Give each plant about 1 tbsp. of ammonium nitrate, placed around the root of the plant. Water the plant thoroughly after application. Avoid getting fertilizer on the plant's leaves.
Discourage pests. Tomato hornworms are small, green caterpillars that eat the leaves of the plant and can cause the plant to stop producing fruit. Handpick them from the plant in the morning and evening, or use a commercial insecticide.
Harvest tomatoes every day or so once they have begun to ripen. Pick tomatoes just before they are fully ripe and allow them to finish ripening indoors.