There are few things more American than having a fresh tomato right from your own garden on a hot summers afternoon. I have been growing tomatoes in my Jessamine county garden since I was a little boy and I have learned a few tricks over the years. Most of these tricks will work anywhere in the nation but are particularly useful throughout Kentucky where we are in Zone 6.
First, you need to pick the right location considering sun and soil. Ideally, we want a spot with 6-8 hours + of sun every day, which makes a south facing side perfect. I also consider good air flow important and this will help keep down diseases. In Kentucky, if you can find well drained, bluegrass topsoil then you will be in excellent shape. If you cannot find perfect soil, then I would encourage tilling in compost (vegetative mushroom or aged horse/cow) for nutrients and shredded pine bark to help drainage.
Second, have fun picking out some unique and different tomato varieties! There are so many types currently available but I always try a couple new varieties in addition to a my standards. My favorites are Black Krim, Super Sweet 100s, Green Zebra, Rutgers, Cherokee Purple and Mortgage Lifter. Keep in mind when selecting tomatoes that there are two main types, indeterminate and determinate. Indeterminate’s will fruit over a much longer window and are great for casual picking. They can also get much larger in size and are better suited in the ground. Determinate’s will fruit in a much shorter window and therefore are better for those looking to can or make sauce in batches. Determinate’s are also great for pots and in containers above ground.
Super Sweet 100s from my garden.
Third, take your time buying and planting! Buy healthy plants with clean foliage, ideally already being a foot tall. While you are at your local garden center, pick up a tomato specific fertilizer like Espoma Tomato-Tone. This will help get the plant off to a great start and supply all the nutrients they need like calcium. Reapply several times during the growing season. When planting your tomatoes, I like the strip off the bottom sets of leaves and plants the main trunk 6-8 inches deep in the ground. The tomato will actually develop roots on this trunk during establishment, just make sure to keep the leaves from touching the ground. I like to mulch my tomatoes after planting to keep them from drying out and will help keep the fruit juicier.
Espoma Tomato-Tone, a great fertilizer.
Fourth, the hard work is done! Take your time to watch how fast these plants grow with all your hard work. Keep an eye out for discolorations/spotting on the foliage and remove these branches with pruners. If you start to see any insects develop and determine that they are harmful, spray with an organic option like Insecticidal Soap. Prune out suckers that develop between the main stem and branches. You will notice that they grow much more upright and much faster than the other branches. Tomatoes can take dry conditions but don’t let them dry out too much or they will drop fruit. Now it’s time to pick your fruit and enjoy the flavors of your hard work!