Perhaps one of the most popular plants grown in the home vegetable garden is the tomato, although technically it is a fruit. Full of vitamins A and C, and other vitamins and minerals including iron and folic acid, tomatoes are a wholesome food. A little garden space and a few relatively simple instructions will get you on your way to a bountiful harvest of your own home-grown tomatoes.
Prepare your garden area in the spring after danger of frost has passed. Amend the soil with compost and work into the soil with a rake until the soil is somewhat light and fluffy. Tomatoes need the soil to be warm and weather temperatures around 60 degrees F. or higher before planting. Be sure the location gets at least 6 hours or more of full sun daily.
Dig the holes for each plant about 2 feet deep or twice as big as the root ball depending on the size of your plant and space the holes about 3 feet apart to give your tomatoes ample room to grow. Add a handful of bone meal into each hole.
Place your tomato plants into the holes, planting them deeply with most of the stem below the ground surface. Only about two sets of leaves should be sticking up above the ground. Planting tomatoes deeply ensures sturdy plants and stronger roots. Fill in the holes with soil and firm down the top of the soil with your hands.
Water your newly planted tomatoes deeply using a garden hose, letting the water trickle out slowly for a half hour to an hour. Keep your tomatoes watered on a regular basis once a week using long and slow watering, and watering in the morning. If the soil is moist about 3 inches below the surface, do not water. Wilting or drooping plants are not a sure sign of needing water, as plants will tend to droop in the midday heat--so always check the soil.
Mulch around your tomato plants with straw to help the soil retain moisture and keep the soil temperature even. Mulch is also important for keeping the branches and tomatoes from touching the soil, which can result in diseases or rotting.
Feed your plants with an all-purpose time-release fertilizer (e.g. 5-5-5) after planting. Once your tomatoes begin to flower, use a fertilizer with lower nitrogen in it and more phosphorous to encourage more fruit production. Nitrogen is the first number on a fertilizer package and phosphorus is the second number, so use a fertilizer with a lower first number and a higher second number (e.g. 4-5-5).
Add crushed oyster shells around the base of the tomato plants once they start flowering to add needed calcium. Oyster shells are extremely high in calcium and after adding them be sure to water in well. Black or gray spots on the bottom of a tomato indicates a calcium deficiency in the plant.