Tomatoes are one of the more commonly grown vegetables in home gardens, although technically they're a fruit. While some varieties can grow up to 10 feet tall, most varieties can be grown in compact areas. Using organic products such as soil, fertilizer and mulch, along with following a few basic growing steps, helps ensure juicy, tasty tomatoes for you to enjoy during the summer months.
Select a planting location that receives full sun all day. Till or rake to loosen the soil to 12 inches deep. Begin working the soil in early spring as soon as the ground begins to warm up and there is no chance of frost. Mix in organic compost or rotted cow manure to make a well-draining, fertile soil. Tomatoes like a pH of 5.8 to 7.0.
Dig a hole the day before planting the tomato plant. The hole should be two times the depth and width of the root ball. If you're growing more than one tomato plant, space the holes 6 to 8 inches apart. Fill the hole with water, let it drain completely, and the next day add a handful of bone meal to the bottom of each hole. Alternately, a handful of crushed egg shells can be used in place of the bone meal. Bone meal and egg shells both provide needed calcium for the tomatoes.
Cut off the lowest set of leaves on each tomato plant, leaving only the top set in place. Put a tomato plant into a hole, planting deeply up to the top set of leaves. Fill in with soil and gently tamp the soil down around the base of the plant. Repeat for all the tomatoes you are planting.
Water the tomatoes well after planting and keep them watered on a consistent basis, two to three times weekly, throughout the active growing season. Use a drip irrigation or soaker hose to water so the roots receive a deep watering and the foliage does not get wet. Cut back on watering, one to two times weekly, once the fruit appears. Too much water at this time creates a watery tasting tomato.
Feed your tomatoes with a lower-nitrogen organic fertilizer (such as 5-10-10) once a month to encourage a more plentiful fruit production. Nitrogen is the first number on fertilizer bags; it increases foliage on the plant. Another option is to use a handful of organic compost instead of fertilizer and work it into the top layer of the soil around the base of the tomato plant once a month.
Stake the tomato plants either using a 2-foot wooden stake near the plant and tying the plant to it with nylon ties, or using tomato cages. Retie and adjust the growing tomato plant as needed around its support.
Apply a 2-inch layer of organic mulch around the base of the tomato plants to help the soil retain moisture, stay cool during the summer months and help control weeds, which compete for water. Use chopped leaves, pine needles or shredded bark.
Watch for pests such as horn worms and aphids, two of the most common pests to attack tomato plants. Horn worms are tiny green worms that eat through the leaves and fruit and can be simply picked off if spotted. Aphids appear as white markings on the underside of the leaves; they can be prevented or controlled by spraying the leaves with a homemade pesticide made of 1 tbsp. vinegar per 1 quart of water. Mix in a spray bottle and spray on leaves as needed.