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How to Grow Tomatoes

Tomatoes are the most popular home-grown vegetable in the country. Follow these instructions for a bumper crop of the delicious fruit.

Materials and Tools:

tomato plants
compost
fertilizer
wire mesh fencing
6' wooden stakes
plastic mulch
hoe
hammer

Steps:

1. Tomatoes come in two main varieties, heirlooms and hybrids. Heirloom varieties have been cultivated for generations, and are prized for their characteristic shapes, sizes and flavors. Hybrids are genetically bred to be disease resistant and increase yields. While more reliable, the plants are said to produce less flavorful fruits. Popular heirloom varieties include Brandywine and Mortgage Lifter. Popular hybrid varieties include Early Girl and Better Boy.

2. Tomatoes require lots of sun and heat to thrive. Select a site in the garden that receives at least six hours of direct sun per day. Tomatoes are heavy feeders. Work a good amount of organic material and compost into the beds before planting. For an added nutrient boost, add some 10-10-10 fertilizer.

3. Using wire snips, cut 60"-tall wire-mesh fencing to a length of 60" for each plant. To turn the wire mesh into a tomato cage, join the ends to form a cylindrical tower. Fasten the cages by connecting the ends to one another with wire. Place mesh cages where you intend to place each tomato plant. Secure by attaching to 6' wooden stakes driven deep into the soil.

Tip: To increase yields, many tomato gardeners add a layer of reflective red plastic, called red mulch, to the surface of the soil before planting.

4. Well after the final spring frost date, it is OK to plant the tomato transplants. Snip off the bottom leaves from the plants and set in holes about six inches deeper than where they sat in their pots. Tomatoes have a unique ability to grow new roots from their stems. Water well immediately.

5. Tomatoes require frequent and deep waterings. It is important to maintain a consistent moisture level in order to prevent blossom-end rot, a disease that ruins the fruit. When the soil has had a chance to warm up, lay down a thick layer of mulch around the base of the plants to help conserve moisture. When fruit begins to set, work additional fertilizer into the soil around the base of the plants.

6. When ripe, a tomato will pull easily from the vine. Grab firmly but gently and twist to remove the fruit. Be careful not to break the main stems when harvesting. If a frost is in the forecast, remove all fruit, ripe or not, and store inside to ripen.

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