Tomatoes are one of the most popular cash crops grown in Florida, and one of the most popular for the home garden, where they can be grown in containers or planted directly into the ground. Because of Florida’s unique climate, tomato plants grow best in spring and fall, but grow poorly in summer, when rain, heat and humidity create the perfect conditions for bacteria and fungus to grow. You can grow tomatoes throughout the winter if you are willing to cover them with plastic to preserve them through even the lightest frost.
Get your soil analyzed to find out what nutrients are present, and how to improve the soil. Dig one tablespoonful of soil from the surface of your garden and a second tablespoon approximately 6 inches down. Repeat this process in several locations around your garden.
Mix the samples completely, put the soil on a piece of newspaper to dry and and place the soil in a brown paper bag. Contact the University of Florida UF/IFAS cooperative extension service to have your soil analyzed: http://solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu/hot_topics/agriculture/soil_testing.html
Purchase the recommended amendments once you receive the soil test results. Typical soil amendments for the heavy sand or limestone characteristics of Florida include a finished organic compost, lime, if your soil has a pH lower than 6.0, and approximately 10 pounds per 100 square feet of a 6-8-8 fertilizer.
Break your soil up to a depth of 12 inches using a rototiller, and spread the amendments over the top to a depth of 4 inches. Turn the amendments into the soil using the rototiller.
Plant seeds indoors in January for a spring harvest and July for a fall garden. Soak them overnight in warm water, then sow them into a flat filled with peat moss. Keep the flat moist with a plant mister and cover with plastic until the seedlings sprout. Keep seedlings at a temperature around 80 degrees and place the flat in a sunny window or beneath a plant grow light.
Transplant the seedlings into 3-inch seedling pots when they reach 4 inches tall. Wait for two to three weeks before transplanting outdoors.
Dig planting holes as deep as the root ball plus the bottom 2/3 of the plant’s stem. Strip lower leaves from the bottom 2/3 of the tomato stems, then place the tomato plant into the hole and cover the root ball and the bottom 2/3 of the stem with soil. Place plants 2 to 3 feet apart so that there is adequate air flow between them.
Water well, then mulch around the plants with straw to help hold in water and keep the soil at a constant temperature.
Plant marigolds, basil or garlic near your tomato plants to help repel bugs, and place tomato cages around them to repel birds and to support the vine. Water weekly.