Easy to grow and far superior to their bland supermarket counterparts, homegrown tomatoes are the most popular crop choice for home gardeners. With proper planning and care, gardeners can grow the largest tomato yield, providing enough fresh, juicy tomatoes for use throughout the growing season and beyond. If you choose the optimum tomato varieties, protect them from freezing temperatures, care for them carefully and freeze the excess for winter, you may never suffer a supermarket tomato again.
Prepare the soil. Like most vegetables, tomatoes prefer a deep, well-drained soil. If needed, add organic material such as compost and peat to improve the nutrient- and water-holding capacity of your soil.
Use a soil test to determine the pH of the soil. You will obtain the highest tomato yields in soil that is slightly acidic--approximately 6.2 to 6.8 on the pH scale.
Ohio State University Extension recommends that you "apply 2-1/2 to 3 pounds of a complete fertilizer, such as 5-10-10, 5-20-20, or 8-16-16 per 100 square feet of garden area. Work the fertilizer into the soil about 2 weeks before planting."
Choose your seeds or plants. Select a mix of early, mid-season and late varieties for the longest harvesting season. If possible, further mix your plantings with determinate and indeterminate cultivars. Determinate varieties set all their fruit over a short period of time while indeterminate plants will produce over the entire season.
Set the plants outside once they have developed four to six true leaves and all danger of frost has passed. To extend the growing season by as much as 30 to 40 days, use water-filled teepees to protect the seedlings from frost. These teepees are available from specialty garden retailers.
Staked or caged tomatoes yield more fruit. Tomatoes are protected from soil rot and ground based pests like slugs. Staking also protects fruits from sun scald. Use wood or metal stakes or tomato cages to support and protect your harvest.
Mulch to retain moisture and keep weeds to a minimum. Black or red plastic mulch improves yields--especially in colder climates with shorter growing seasons--but may not meet aesthetic requirements. Use straw, leaves or pine needles instead.
Water evenly and regularly. According the NC State University Extension, "tomatoes need 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week either by rain or irrigation. A uniform water supply reduces blossom-end rot and results in higher yields and better quality."
Apply a nitrogen fertilizer after the first blooms have set fruit.
Pinch off any "suckers," which are branches or stems that are growing out of leaf axils.