Tomatoes can be grown easily in patio containers. Be sure to offer a large enough pot, and place it in a full-sun location. Support plants with stakes or cages to ensure proper fruiting. Be sure to monitor water, as containers dry out more quickly than plants in the ground.
Plant tomatoes in the ground 24 to 36 in. (60 to 90 cm) apart in rows. Each row should be spaced 48 inches apart. It's very tempting to put them closer at planting time, but if you get them too close you'll only increase the chance of disease. Use slow-release fertilizer at planting time.
- Choose a sunny location (6+ hours of sun) and dig a hole about two times as wide as your pot.
- Remove your plant from the pot by loosening the soil and tipping it out into your hand. Plant tomatoes deep in the soil – up to the top two leaf nodes. The tiny hairs on the stalk have the potential to become additional roots, which will stabilize your plant well in the soil.
- Refill the space around your plant with soil and press lightly to compact the dirt, keeping your plant firmly in the ground.
- Water immediately to settle the soil, and add more soil as needed, bringing it level to the rest of your garden.
You'll need stakes or wire tomato cages to support the plants and keep the fruit off the ground where it might rot.
Best suited for 14-in. (35-cm) or larger patio pots.
Tomatoes need even watering to prevent rotting. Water thoroughly but not too often (twice per week should suffice at first), and try to water early in the day so that plants will dry off before evening. This helps to reduce disease problems. Use drip or soaker hoses whenever possible. Water is used more efficiently this way and the leaves don't get wet.
Tomatoes prefer regular feeding once the fruit sets, but too much early in the season will grow a large plant with fewer tomatoes.
Mulching helps ensure an even supply of moisture is available to the plant.
Tomatoes can be harvested when they begin to show color, as they will continue to ripen. However, the closer you can get to vine-ripened the better the flavor will be.
Bird damage usually becomes a concern at this stage. Birds love to peck holes in the fruit. Some gardeners say they're after water, so try placing some pans of water in the garden. Others claim red ornaments will fake the birds out and they will go away. Putting plastic owls in the garden (move them around every few days) and covering the plants with bird netting (just before harvest time) are other techniques to try.
Fresh ripe tomatoes should not be stored in the refrigerator. Unfortunately, refrigeration renders them tasteless and turns the flesh to mush. Flavor and texture begin to deteriorate when the temperature drops below 54°F (12°C). Temperatures above 80°F (26°C) cause tomatoes to spoil quickly. Store tomatoes at room temperature for 2 to 3 days, away from direct sunlight until ready to use.
Refrigeration also slows ripening of tomatoes. Refrigerate only extra-ripe tomatoes you want to keep from ripening any further. To reverse some of the damage, bring chilled tomatoes to room temperature before serving raw or simply add to cooked recipes.
To ripen tomatoes, place them in a paper bag, stem end up. Punch several holes all around the bag and fold the top over. The bag will help to keep some of the natural ethylene gas in place, which aids in the ripening process. Depending on how under-ripe they are, tomatoes may take one to five days to ripen. Check progress daily.
Tomatoes are excellent for canning, freezing, and drying. With a forced-air dehydrator, you can make your own sun dried tomatoes. Use plum-type Romas, with their thick, meaty flesh for best results. Once they are dried, tomatoes should be packed in airtight containers. They should not be packed in oil for longer than one or two days, and they should be stored in the refrigerator. Commercially prepared sun-dried tomatoes in oil have been treated to prevent bacteria growth.
Tomatoes are delicious raw, sautéed, grilled, stewed, and added to many preparations. Use a serrated knife or very sharp non-serrated knife to slice or chop tomatoes or prick the skin to get a slice going. Cut tomatoes lengthwise from stem to blossom end to retain more juice in each slice.
To peel tomatoes, blanch by dropping them into boiling water for about 30 seconds, or longer for firm tomatoes, then plunge into a bowl of ice water until cool enough to handle. Cut an X on the stem end and use a paring knife to pull skin away. Skin will pull away easily if the tomatoes have been blanched long enough.
To seed tomatoes, cut the tomato in half horizontally. Holding a half in the palm of your hand, squeeze out the jelly-like juice and seeds over a strainer and scoop out remaining seeds with your fingertip.
Tomatoes originated in the South American Andes in a region that now makes up parts of Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. Eventually tomatoes were planted throughout Central America and into Mexico where Spanish explorers found them growing in Montezuma's garden in the sixteenth century. The Spanish introduced tomatoes to the world.
Recently scientists learned the lycopene content of tomatoes was especially good for maintaining a healthy heart. This extremely nutritious vegetable is now considered America's favorite vegetable.