Biting into a juicy, delicious tomato freshly picked from the vine makes all the work worthwhile. Most gardeners find just a few plants provide enough tomatoes to feed a family and still offer enough for canning or sauces. When space is at a premium, tomato plants grow well in containers as long as they get adequate sunshine and plenty of water.
Types of Tomatoes
Most tomatoes fall into three categories: slicing, plum and cherry. For eating right off the vine, slicing tomatoes work perfectly with their large, round shape and lots of juice and seeds. Plum tomatoes are oval-shaped and meaty, making them perfect for canning and sauces. Cherry tomatoes are small, one-bite tomatoes that may be eaten raw or cut in half and used in a variety of dishes.
Planting tomato plants from containers, also called transplanting, saves gardeners several weeks' growing time. Tomato plants should be transplanted to the garden after danger of frost has passed. The plants need to be spaced so they have room to grow--staked plants require 15 to 24 inches of space while some larger plants require up to 60 inches on all sides.
Tomato plants grow best when they receive fertilizer during transplanting. Once the plant sets fruit, another application of fertilizer may be applied every four to six weeks throughout the growing season.
The plants need a good soaking every week as well as extra water during drought conditions. Tomato plants growing in containers require daily watering, and in hot summer weather they may require watering each day. Adding a layer of mulch to plants growing in the ground helps retain moisture during the hottest summer months.
Many tomato plants benefit from staking so the plant gets support as it grows. The plants should be staked right after planting, with the stake kept 3 to 5 inches away from the plant. Strips of cloth or heavy string are then used to tie the plant to the stake. Tomato cages and trellises also work well to provide support.
Ripe tomatoes feel firm and are fully colored, making them perfect for picking. In hot weather above 90 degrees, tomatoes stating to show color need to be picked every day or two and ripened indoors. Otherwise, the hot weather reduces the quality of the tomato. Green mature fruit may also be harvested right before a deep freeze and ripened indoors over the course of a few weeks.