Springtime Preparation for your Tomato Garden: The Basics

Springtime Preparation for your Tomato Garden: The Basics

Tasting the sweet, tart, juice of a sun-ripened tomato is my most yearned-for moment of summer. If you are dreaming of tomatoes as much as I am, use these spring months to get your garden ready! 

Tomato plants are picky and require you to have a precise strategy in place from the get-go. This is in no way meant to sound discouraging. If you are looking to grow delicious, top-quality tomatoes, you must first accept the challenge. Here I am going to give you a quick run-down of how you can produce sweet cherry tomatoes, sauce-worthy Romas, hearty Beefsteak tomatoes and those striking and strangely beautiful heirlooms. Once you know how to grow one tomato, you’ll have enough of a foundation to grow them all. 

Choosing your tomato varieties

If you’re starting from seed, begin sprouting seeds in early-mid spring. Those of you buying already started seedlings can wait until the end of spring to get them in the ground. My first consideration when choosing varieties is my ability to select and save seeds for the next season’s crop. If you would like to do this, bring home only open-pollinated and heirlooms varieties – these will breed true and produce identical offspring with their seeds. Hybrids produce total wildcards. 

Tomato varieties come in two distinct growing styles:

Determinate: shorter, more compacted, and bushy-looking plants that stop growing when baby tomatoes begin budding. Can be grown with short stakes or in containers, require no pruning, and all fruit ripens at once. On harvest.
Indeterminate: large, sprawling plants that grow and put out fruit for harvest until the season ends, require substantial support from stakes or cages, and need frequent pruning and harvest. 

Preparing the soil

Tomatoes are hardy plants that thrive in a wide range of soil types, from clay-heavy to sandy soils. The most important soil characteristics are:
Very rich in organic matter
Soil pH of 6.0-7.0
Excellent drainage to ensure that the soil does not become waterlogged

Prepare your soil a good 1-2 months before planting by clearing any debris and turning over the soil with lots of rich compost. Tomatoes are nutrient-greedy and highly acidic, so do not plant your tomatoes in the same soil season after season. If you are able, get a test kit for pH and essential soil nutrients. Limestone can be worked into the soil to ameliorate any extra acidity. If you get heavy rainfall, consider mulching or otherwise providing some ground cover to prevent flooding. 

Care and maintenance 

Tomatoes will demand daily attention, diligent weeding and watering, and careful maintenance. Poor soils, too much or too little water, and exposure to garden pests can all spell disaster for your tomato crop. Agricultural fleece is a great way to protect the fruits from would-be predators. 

If your area does not get much rainfall, you will need to water daily until the soil is thoroughly moistened and pools of unabsorbed water begin to collect around the bases of the plants. This gives the plants a little water reserve to last them through the daytime heat. If you get lots of springtime rainfall, dig trenches along the edges of the tomato bed and build rounded mounds of dirt around the base of each individual plant. 

This is just a quick-and-dirty overview of what to expect from your tomato plants. Growing tomatoes is as much art as it is science – the artistic part comes into play once you have made it through your first season, learned from the experience, and begin to develop your own tricks and tips along the way.