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6 Secrets for Growing the Tastiest Tomatoes

A good tomato is hard to forget. You know you’ve hit the jackpot in that first, juicy bite.

Every tomato has the potential to be great and some extra attention now will pay off big time come harvest. Set the stage for a stellar performance by this year’s crops with these tips.

How to Get The Best Tomatoes:

  1. Healthy soil, healthy plants. Enrich soil with Tomato-tone and compost every other week to keep plants supplied with essential nutrients.
  2. Remove damaged plants. Remove any fruit that shows dark patches on their bottom. These leathery patches, known as blossom end rot, cannot be reversed.
  3. Water well. During hot weather, tomato plants need deep waterings. Tomatoes are also less likely to crack when the soil is kept slightly moist.
  4. Cover the soil. Mulch blocks weeds, saves water and protects your fruit. Adding it is a no-brainer! Spread a 2-3” layer of organic mulch around plants, leaving 2” of room around the stem so water can reach the roots.
  5. Protect plants from heat. Hot sun can cause sunscald, leaving tomatoes with pale, leathery patches on the fruits that pucker when they should be ripening. Bushy plants with lots of leaves naturally shade fruit from sun, however, plants with less leaves are more vulnerable. Cover plants with lightweight cloth covers through the first few heat waves.
  6. Remove tomato suckers. These small shoots sprout out from where the stem and the branch of a tomato plant meet. Though harmless, tomato suckers do drain energy away from the main stems.

Pick tomatoes when you’re ready for them, avoid letting them get soft and mushy. Tomatoes picked at the breaker stage, when they first show signs of changing color, are considered vine-ripened. These tomatoes will continue to ripen off the vine and on your kitchen counter. Plus, tomatoes picked at the breaking stage can still have the same flavor as one that has fully ripened on the vine.

Whatever you do, just don’t put tomatoes in the fridge to ripen.

Want to know more? Check out our tomato growing guide for all the details on getting your best tomato harvest yet!  

Grow These Veggies on Your Patio

As urban gardening continues to trend, container gardens are popping up everywhere! Container gardens are perfect small-space solutions. Not only do they provide added appeal to your space, they also give you delicious food right at your fingertips. If you have limited space, or simply just want to add another element to your existing crop, grow these container plants on your patio this summer.

  1. Blueberries – These sweet summer fruits grow great in containers. Because blueberries are so small, you can get a big harvest with very little space. Blueberries love acidic soil, so check the pH level of your soil and add Espoma’s Holly-tone if necessary. Check out more on growing blueberries here.
  2. Tomatoes – With tons of varieties, there is a tomato for everyone. Some of our favorites to grow in containers include smaller varieties like grape or cherry tomatoes. These are easy to pick right off the vine and are perfect for gardening with kids. Learn more about growing tomatoes in our ultimate tomato-growing guide.
  3. Peppers – Like tomatoes, peppers come in many different shapes and sizes. Whether you’re looking to add some spice to your garden with jalapenos, or prefer milder bell peppers, these colorful veggies are a vibrant summer sight. Peppers love lots of direct sun, so plant these containers in a bright area.
  4. Zucchini – One of our favorite summer veggies, zucchini are a bit larger than tomatoes and peppers and need more room. Grow in a container with at least a five gallon capacity with proper drainage. Use Espoma’s Garden-tone to get the most out of your zucchini plants. Like peppers, zucchini will thrive with 6-8 hours of sunlight, so plant in a sunny spot.
  5. Herbs – Because herbs are small, they are the perfect fit for any container garden. Kitchen staples such as rosemary, basil and mint are great additions to any dish, or even a refreshing summer drink. Grow herbs in Espoma’s Organic Potting Mix in containers inside or out.

If you have limited space, don’t let that discourage you! With the right containers and a little bit of planning, you can have a delicious summer harvest in no time.

Check out this video on container plants and tell us what plants you’ll be growing in containers this season in the comments.

The Best Heirloom Tomatoes to Grow

Have you wondered why heirloom tomatoes taste so much better than those conventional ones from the store?

Conventional tomatoes have been bred for long shelf life, disease resistance, high yield and even for their looks! Some say all the flavor and taste has been bred out of them, too.

So whether you say to-may-to or to-mah-to, we’re here to help you choose the perfect heirloom tomato variety for you.

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 What is an Heirloom Tomato?

Heirloom tomatoes come from seeds that have been handed down from farmer to farmer for generations for their special characteristics and varieties must be 50 years old at least. Because of this, heirloom tomatoes have minimal disease resistance.

Heirloom varieties are open-pollinated–meaning that the seeds you collect will produce plants almost identical plants year after year. That’s key to their survival.

Many heirlooms have been passed down generation to generation. Seeds, once considered valuable property, traveled country to country in pockets or through letters. Varieties come from Central America, Russia, Italy, Japan, France, Germany and Kentucky. Here are a few of our favorites.

Best Heirloom Tomatoes to Grow

 

Pink Brandywine– This is hands-down the yummiest and most popular heirloom. Dating back to 1885, these tomatoes ripen late in the season, but delight with huge tomatoes with even bigger flavor. Plus, Pink Brandywine tomatoes grow well in containers.

  • Growth Type: Indeterminate
  • Time to Maturity: 85-100 days
  • Taste and Texture: Intense, full flavor with a rich, velvety texture
  • Light: Full sun
  • Plant Size: 4-9’
  • Spacing: 24-36” apart
  • Staking: Yes – Cage or stake

Black Cherry – This black, heirloom cherry tomato is somewhat disease resistant and easy to grow – even in containers. The truly striking color makes these cherry tomatoes an instant conversation (or kabob!) starter.

  • Growth Type: Indeterminate
  • Time to Maturity: 65-75 days
  • Taste and Texture: Sweet meets smoky flavor with a meaty texture
  • Light: Full sun
  • Plant Size: 5-8’
  • Spacing: 24-36”
  • Staking: Yes – Cage or stake

Cherokee Purple – Cherokee purple tomatoes may look eccentric, but boy, do they taste good!  Believed to be passed down from Cherokee Indians, this variety produces significantly more tomatoes than other heirlooms.

  • Growth Type: Indeterminate
  • Time to Maturity: 75-90 days
  • Taste and Texture: Sweet, juicy and savory with a thin skin
  • Light: Full sun
  • Plant Size: 4-9’
  • Spacing: 24-36”
  • Staking: Yes – Cage or stake

Striped German/Old German – This sizzling red and orange tomato looks like a work of art. Slice it open, and you’ll be delighted by its intricate texture and pattern. Also called “Old German,” this sunny tomato produces huge beefsteak tomatoes. It does need constant, proper care to thrive.

  • Growth Type: Indeterminate
  • Time to Maturity: 75-85 days
  • Taste and Texture: Incredibly juicy with a faintly tart flavor and meaty texture
  • Light: Full sun
  • Plant Size: 4-8’
  • Spacing: 24-36”
  • Staking: Yes –  Cage or stake

Wapsipinicon Peach – Bright in color and flavor, these tiny, fuzzy yellow tomatoes make the perfect snack. Named for the Wapsipinicon River in Northeast Iowa around 1890, Wapsipinicon Peach tomatoes are resistant to rot and field blight. Plus, they are quite prolific!

  • Growth Type: Indeterminate
  • Time to Maturity: 75-80 days
  • Taste and Texture: Sweet flavor with little acidity and fuzzy, thin skin
  • Light: Full sun
  • Plant Size: 4’
  • Spacing: 24-36”
  • Staking: Recommended – Cage or stake

Why Should I Grow Heirlooms?

We believe the flavor of heirlooms is so superior that no garden would be complete without them. Try a variety this year, and we’re sure you will agree. You will be tasting a little bit of history all summer long.

When you’re organic gardening, be sure to feed tomatoes lots of Tomato-tone during the growing season.  

And if you’re looking for more info on tomatoes, such as easy tomatoes to growhybrid tomatoes or non-red tomatoes, please visit our Organic Tomato Gardening Guide for more tips and tricks.

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The April Garden Checklist You’ve Been Waiting For

Quick! There’s much to be done outdoors and no time to waste! Shed off those winter blues and head outdoors to restore your lawn and garden. The days are getting longer and your soil is beginning to wake up. April is a great time to get out in your yard and begin again.

Wondering where to start? We’ve got 6 tasks you can accomplish this month in your own yard.

April Garden Checklist:

  1. Start tomato seeds. The best way to get a head start on growing tomatoes is to start seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before the last spring frost date in your region.
  2. Get planting. Hydrangeas embody everything we love about gardening. They have billowy texture, come in bright colors and are easy to care for. Plant some this month for the best blooms.
  3. Choose berries. Did you know blackberries have almost as many antioxidants as blueberries? And raspberries make the perfect addition to jam, cobblers and pies. Berries are just so delicious, scrumptious and oh-so-juicy. Plus, many berries are easy to grow and care for. Find out when, where and how to plant your favorite berries.
  4. Revitalize lawns. Perform a soil test to find out what your lawn needs, then amend and choose organic. Organic lawns need less watering, fertilizing and mowing all summer long. Yes — that means you get to spend more time enjoying your beautiful lawn and less time caring for it! Plus, as natural lawn foods break down, your soil becomes stronger on its own and needs less help.
  5. Plant blooms. Azaleas and rhododendrons are some of the most popular flowering shrubs. Blooming from late spring to early summer, these shrubs thrive in almost any garden. Plus, they come in virtually every color of the rainbow — from bold pinks, purples and reds to soft, muted yellows and whites. Make sure you’re adding these bloomers to your garden this year.
  6. Feed roses. Your roses are waking up now, they’ve made it through a long winter and they are starving! Choose Espoma’s organic Rose-tone. It includes more nutrients than any other rose food. Most rose fertilizers contain three nutrients — nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (N-P-K). Here’s how to feed with Rose-tone.

Sit back and relax once you’re done. April showers will give way to May flowers in no time at all.

Top Tomato Recipes, Straight from the Garden!

We cannot get enough of fresh summer produce! Whether you started tomato plants from seeds or seedlings, we bet your tomatoes are full of summer flavor.

Whether red, purple, green, yellow or orange, tomatoes are our favorite summer fruit. While some tomatoes are good for canning and preserving, others taste best when used freshly-picked. Try these new recipes to amplify the already amazing summer flavor of your tomatoes.

Preserve tomatoes now to enjoy the sweet rewards of your summer veggie garden long after harvest season is over.

10 Tomato Recipes You Must Try

1. Tomato and sweet onion salad: Make this salad ahead of time for superb flavor come dinner. Bonus points if made with onions and basil also picked from your garden.

2. Risotto stuffed tomatoes: You’ll want to turn on the oven for this one. Use firmed tomatoes that’ve just been picked off the vine.

3. Eggplant, tomato and smoked mozzarella tart: Try this recipe for a twist on the usual Caprese salad. Crispy crust and tender vegetables make this recipe a keeper.

4. Tomato jam: Steer away from tomato sauce by making jam. Enjoy with crackers and cheese for a delicious appetizer.

5. Classic roasted salsa: Jalapenos give this salsa just the right amount of heat. You’ll never buy store-bought again after you’ve made your own salsa.

6. Grilled Green Tomato Tostadas: Green tomatoes don’t always have to be fried, although they certainly are delicious. Black beans, avocadoes and cilantro combine to make these satisfying tostadas.

7. Pasta with sun gold tomatoes: Yellow tomatoes standout in this beautiful pasta dish. Serve with crispy bread and a garden salad for a complete meal.

8. Best Gazpacho: NYTimes offers up this recipe from Seville, Spain. Serve this creamy, orange version in chilled glasses for a refreshing sip.

9. Sliced tomatoes with corn and feta: A simple no-cook meal to enjoy when the nights are warm. Arugula and oregano give this salad a spicy kick.

The list could go on and on. What’s your favorite way to use your freshly-picked tomatoes? Tell us in the comments or share your pictures on our Facebook page

How to Plant Fruits and Veggies in Containers

Short on space? Grow fruits and vegetables in galvanized buckets! Laura from Garden Answer shows you how to plant the perfect companion plants for containers. Try zucchini, peppers, tomatoes and marigolds or raspberries with strawberries.

Harvesting Tomatoes Made Easy

It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for – tomatoes are ready to harvest! You can almost taste the delicious flavors of that first bite.

Whether you’re cooking, canning, freezing or simply eating your tomatoes raw, you’ll want to pick them at the perfect moment. These harvesting tips will ensure your organic tomatoes are ripe when picked.

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Timing is Everything

One of the first steps to a successful harvest is keeping a close eye on your tomatoes to determine the best time to pick. Tomatoes are typically ready to harvest 60-85 days after planting seedlings outdoors. However, timing can change depending on your climate and the variety of tomatoes you’re growing.

If you’re planting determinate tomatoes, be ready for a large harvest all at once. These varieties typically set and ripen their fruit within about two weeks.

Indeterminate tomatoes can ripen all summer long, so keep an eye on these varieties throughout the season to ensure peak harvesting times.

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Color is Key

When the tomato has even color throughout, it is typically ready to be harvested. Tomatoes often ripen from the bottom up, so check the bottom of the tomato first for mature growth color. Once the entire tomato has reached this color, it is ready to be harvested.

Tomatoes need heat to harvest, and not necessarily light. They continue to ripen on overcast or cloudy days, as long as the temperature is warm. Tomatoes can even continue to ripen off the vine. If you live in an area with an especially hot climate, it’s better to pick the tomato from the vine before it reaches its mature color. Tomatoes will continue to ripen and change color as long as they are stored in warm temperatures.

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Trust Your Instincts

When it comes to harvesting tomatoes, trust your intuition. Ripe tomatoes should feel firm, but not hard. Overripe tomatoes will be soft and can be composted. Ripe tomatoes should feel full and heavy. Under ripe tomatoes are often lightweight and need more time on the vine before harvesting.

Keep a close eye on your tomato plants as harvest times come near. Overripe tomatoes typically become too heavy and fall from the vine. This can lead to disease and rot, causing you to lose a large portion of your harvest.

When tomatoes are ready to harvest, simply twist off the vine by hand or use clippers for larger tomatoes. Cut the stem close to the fruit and enjoy!

How do you plan on using your fresh tomato harvest?

For more tips on tomatoes, check out our Total Guide to Growing Tomatoes.

Protect Your Plants – 4 Common Tomato Pests

When it comes to insects in your garden, don’t be quick to kill. Not all insects are enemies. In fact, most insects are essential players in your organic garden’s success. Others are neutral and don’t cause any harm. Yet some will ruin your harvest.

Spotting the difference between the good and the bad can be tricky, so keep your eyes peeled.

It doesn’t matter if you’re growing hybrids or heirlooms, there are a few pests you don’t want around. Identify harmful pests early before damage is done.

Four Common Tomato Plant Pests:

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If you spot a hornworms, spray with water or remove by hand.

Hornworms – These destructive caterpillars can grow to about 3-3½” at full size, but their green color makes them difficult to spot. If you spot hornworms, spray with water or remove by hand. However, where there is one, there are usually more. If there is a large infestation, consider spraying tomato plants with an organic approved pest control.

tomato-tone, growing tomatoes, organic gardening

Photo courtesy of courtesy of Flex at en.wikipedia

Fruitworm – Adult tomato fruitworms are moths, typically yellow or olive in color. They often lay eggs near the leaves of the plant. If you see fruitworms, check leaves for eggs. Larvae feed on leaves and foliage before moving to the tomato, giving you more time to stop potential damage.

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Photo courtesy of Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org

Potato Aphids – These tiny insects are usually found in dense clusters. Potato aphids are typically not serious enough to kill plants, but a large enough infestation can stunt growth and lead to mold and disease. If you spot an infestation, remove it and be sure to throw in the garbage. If thrown on the ground, aphids will re-infest the plant. To control, apply insecticidal soap

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Photo courtesy of USDA.

Beet Armyworm – Similar to the fruitworm, beet armyworm adults are moths with gray and brown upper wings and white or pale gray lower wings. They typically lay eggs on the underside of leaves. When larvae hatch, they feed on foliage before attacking the tomato itself. Remove beet armyworm caterpillars by hand before they become moths.

When it comes to tomato pests, the best way to stop damage is to spot pests early. Keep a close eye on your tomato plants, especially in the early stages. Introduce beneficial insects such as lacewings or ladybugs into your garden to naturally control common pests.

Pruning tomato plants and giving them the right support can also make pests easier to spot and keep bugs at bay.

For more tips on tomatoes, check out our Total Guide to Growing Tomatoes.

How Much Water Do My Tomato Plants Need?

Imagine having a successful, bountiful tomato harvest every season — juicy, red tomatoes ready for the kitchen.

The good news? You can! Tomato care isn’t hard.

When it comes to growing tomatoes in your organic vegetable garden, the secret is in the soil. Maintaining consistent soil moisture is crucial for a successful harvest.

When, and how frequently, you should water your tomato plants depends on the variety, size and location.

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Start Your Seedlings

When starting tomatoes from seed, the soil can dry out quickly since seedlings are typically in small containers or trays. Check soil daily to ensure it has not dried out.

However, seedlings require very little water. Use a spray bottle to mist seedlings and keep just the top of the soil moist.

If the soil becomes too wet, move the seedlings to an area with increased air flow and hold off on watering again until needed. Never let seedlings sit in a puddle of water.

As seedlings begin to sprout and grow, they will need more water. If the soil in the tray dries in less than 24 hours, it might be time to move your seedlings to the garden or a larger container.

The best way to give your tomatoes the care they need is to closely monitor the plants and the soil moisture weather.

Growing in the Garden

When you plant tomatoes right in the ground, the roots can extend deep into the soil as they seek out water. Water newly planted tomatoes well to make sure soil is moist and ideal for growing.

Early in the growing season, watering plants daily in the morning. As temperatures increase, you might need to water tomato plants twice a day. Garden tomatoes typically require 1-2 inches of water a week.

Container Tomato Plants

Tomato plants grown in containers need more water than garden tomatoes. Soil in containers heats up faster which leads to more water evaporation.

A good rule of thumb for containers is to water until water runs freely from the bottom. Water in the morning and check the soil moisture levels again in the afternoon. If soil feels dry about 1 inch below the surface, it’s time to water again.

Keep Tomatoes Well Fed

Adding organic mulch to tomato plants reduces evaporation in the soil. That means less watering, so you can save time and resources.

Add Espoma’s organic Tomato-tone, a slow release premium plant food, for bigger, healthier roots that can withstand a little drought and excess heat.

There are many factors that affect how much water tomato plants need, such as weather conditions and the size and growth rate of the plant. Every plant is different! The best way to give your tomatoes the care they need is to closely monitor the plants and the soil moisture weather.

Visit our Organic Tomato Gardening Guide for more tips and tricks.

Stop Blossom-End Rot

You’re on your way to growing the perfect tomatoes. Once you’ve selected your favorite varieties, planted and cared for the seedlings, all that’s left is to take a bite into your first harvest.

But wait. That tomato doesn’t look so appetizing.

If a dark, water soaked spot has formed on your tomato you may have blossom-end rot. This problem is likely caused by an imbalance of calcium in the plant. You may also see this on peppers, squash, cucumbers and melons. The spot enlarges and darkens rapidly as fruits develop. Large spots will dry out and appear to be leathery.

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Tips to Keep Blossom End Rot Away

  • Maintain consistent soil moisture throughout the growing season. When the weather is dry, water at least twice a week and moisten the soil to a depth of at least 6 inches.
  • Plant tomatoes in warm soil. Seedlings planted in cold soil are likely to have limited nutrient uptake.
  • Fertilize with Tomato-Tone to make sure plants are getting the nutrients they need.
  • Amend soil to maintain soil pH at or near 6.5.
  • Add a layer of mulch to minimize evaporation and help maintain consistent soil moisture. Remember not to volcano mulch.

The reasons are many as to why the plant may not be able to take up enough calcium to support the fruit, but most lie in the soil. The best way to prevent blossom end rot is to have a soil test done before planting to determine if the soil has adequate calcium.

Other reasons include:

1. Fluctuations in soil moisture

2. Excess of nitrogen in the soil

3. Root damage

4. Soil pH that’s either too high or too low

5. Soil that’s too cold

6. Soil that’s high in salts

Unfortunately there’s no use saving these tomatoes. Pick off damaged fruit as soon as you notice the rot and compost them.

Visit our Organic Tomato Gardening Guide for more tips and tricks. Choosing tomatoes to plant? Check out the easiest tomatoes to growhybrid tomatoes and non-red tomatoes.