Now that we are reasonably sure the cold weather is behind us it is time for planting tomatoes. In our zone 4 region there is a real chance of frost right into June so we always have to keep an eye on the weather. A frost could easily kill an unprotected tomato plant so we wait until it seems safe.
Our tomato garden really began last fall when we planned what variety we would grow. In the past we grew as many as 8 different varieties for sale but this year we grew only 4. Supersweet 100, Oregon Spring, Better Boy and tumbling toms. The supersweet 100 is a cherry tomato and they produce tons of fruit.

Unless the family is large, 2 or 3 of these will be all you can handle. The Oregon Spring is an early determinate variety that is good for containers. They produce 2 to 3 ounce fruit. Better Boy is a standard beef steak variety that will yield large slicing size tomatoes. Tumbling toms are a hanging tomato that are supposed to work well in baskets and this is the first year we are growing them so we will see.

We also grew husk cherry and tomatilla, both related to the tomato. The husk cherry produced a grape size fruit that is very sweet and the tomatillais a green variety that is used in salsa and Mexican cooking. The fruit from both of these is encased in a paper like shell that is discarded.

A word on hardening off. It is a good idea to make sure before planting tomatoes, or any plant for that matter, the start is strong enough to handle cool weather, raw wind and bright sunshine. Tomatoes need full sun but many store bought tomato plants have never seen the out of doors so the safe thing to do is harden them off before planting. To harden the tomatoes bring put them out doors. If the wind is blowing hard make sure they are protected. If the sun is shining then leave them in the shade for the first day. Then increase the time in the sun and wind a few hours each day for a week. Now you plants will be better equipped to stand up to the ravages of nature.

To start the garden we tilled up a spot where we grew glads last year. We like to rotate the tomatoes to avoid disease problems. There we a few weeds and some grass growing in the spot so after we tilled the area we raked it fairly clean with a garden rake. If the garden were free from grass and weeds we would have been able to plant it right after tilling with no raking because our trusty old Troy Bilt tiller leaves the ground level and ready for planting.

raking ground for tomato

Rake the soil free of weeds

After everything is cleaned up a level the planting begins. We like to plant on a cloudy day or later in the after noon so the plants will not be in full sun right away. As to the phase of the moon, that is up to you.

Check the tag or other source to determine how large the plant will get and how far apart to plant them. Next dig a deep wide hole for the plant. Make the hole wide and deep enough to plant the tomato right up to its neck.

dig hole for tomato

Dig a deep wide hole for the tomato plant.

There is a good chance the plant will be root bound after spending weeks on the growers shelf. This happens when a plants roots outgrow the container. As the roots grow longer they grow in a circle as seen in the plant on the right. If the roots are left like this they may continue to grow in a tight circle, restricting growth and limiting the ability of the plant to absorb water and nutrients. Carefully tease the roost apart before planting. This should not hurt a tomato plant, in-fact it helps free the roots so they will continue to grow in a more natural fashion.

teasing tomato roots

Tease the roots out

By the way tobacco use is bad for people are really bad for tomatoes because of the tobacco mosaic virus. Don’t smoke in the garden, better yet, don’t smoke tobacco at all. If I can quit anybody can.
Once the plant roots are teased apart the plant is placed in the nice big hole. At this point some people fertilize the plant but we wait and top dress them after the shock of transplant has passed. Any of the lower leaves can be plucked off.

bury tomato plant

Bury the plant up to it’s neck !

Now fill the hole in all around. Put the tag next to the plant or record the location of individual varieties. Water the plant and keep it watered for the next week.

tomato plant

Fill the hole in all around.

At this point the plant is at the mercy of the weather, and wild or domestic animals. The urge to staking the tomato now may be strong but buck up ! If the plants are allowed to brace against the wind they will be stronger for the effort. When they begin to branch out and grow taller you may find supporting the plant, which is heavy with fruit, is necessary but for now let the plant grow strong.

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