Here are a few things to know when looking for your favorite tomato at the market or planning your Summer garden next year:
Cherry tomatoes are the smallest (and generally sweeter) variety. Sungold is a popular choice here in Healdsburg, but if you are looking to try something new, we suggest Chocolate Cherry.
Paste tomatoes are most commonly used for making pasta sauces. They have less juice than most tomatoes and make a thicker sauce. The most common variety to be found at the grocery store is Roma, but we recommend growing San Marzano tomatoes for extra flavorful sauces.
Cutting tomatoes are the classic big tomatoes used for slicing, either in sandwiches or combined with basil and mozzarella in caprese.
Determinate vs. Indeterminate
Determinate just means that the tomato plant will have only one harvest.
Indeterminates are better for our long growing season here in Healdsburg, as they will continuously produce until the cold weather sets in. They typically require pruning. Learn how here
Tastes are very personal and there is a great range between flavor (salty to sweet), color and size. A good guideline to use is that tomatoes rich in color (deep yellow, deep orange and purple/red) have more antioxidants than lighter tomatoes (white, pink and pastel shades), and generally more complex flavors. Two of our favorite varietals include Black Krim and Red Brandywine. Learn more about some of our favorite tomato varietals.
How to Grow Tomatoes
Prepare your planting area: Make sure that there are no underground obstructions, such as existing root vegetables or rocks.
Allow for adequate space: One thing to keep in mind is that when planting tomato plants, they will take a good amount of space and water. This is important as you plan the right companion plants to grow with them. In general, tomatoes grow nicely with basil, onion and chives, but can also grow very nicely with vining squashes, carrots and cucumbers. All of these plants have roughly the same watering requirements and can be used in so many different recipes together.
Optimal exposure: To optimize your tomato production, you will want to find a spot that gets roughly 6-8 hours of full sun, or 8+ hours of filtered sun. Here in Santa Rosa, we get a lot of sunlight, so it may be necessary to put a shade cloth up, or raise your umbrella, for the first month after planting to give your plants better production. If plants get too much sun, it will slow the growth of the plant and potentially limit the amount of tomatoes produced.
Sowing the seeds:
Tomatoes should be planted when night temperatures stay consistently above 50 degrees.
Sow the seeds shallowly (about ¼”) deep and 1 ½ - 2” apart. Sprinkle just a pinch of seeds, about 3-5 per hole. Gently draw soil from the edges of your hole, back over your seeds so they are well covered
Tomato seeds can be sensitive to temperature and tricky to germinate. If that is your experience, many local plant nurseries and even farmers market during select times will carry a variety of tomato plant starts for you to purchase.
Water: Maintain moisture in the top layer of soil until you see germination, but be careful watering to minimize disturbing the seeds. This should take about 7-10 days. The timing will vary depending upon the soil temperature.
Thinning and Pruning: Thin tomatoes to be about 6 inch apart, when the tops are 2 inches high. Indeterminate varieties may require pruning.
Fertilizing: Tomatoes, like many other summer plants, are heavy feeders. If you are transplanting a tomato start, we recommend putting a dose of granular fertilizer in the bottom of the hole before planting. Once that settles, you should fertilize every two weeks and/or as directed on your preferred fertilizer
Support: Tomatoes will also require a trellis or cage for support. Install one early during in the growth process.
Tomatoes have varying harvest directions based on the variety.
The first harvest typically happens around 2 - 3 months after planting. This means that tomatoes are in peak season in mid-late summer and are readily available at farmer’s markets if you weren’t able to get your garden going in time.
Although color and size are good indicators of ripeness, and it is always good to know what your end fruit should look like, the best indicator is by doing a "feel" test. Gently squeeze the shoulders (upper edge near where it is attached to the vine) of the tomato. The tomato should give slightly under a gentle squeeze, this means it is ready to pick.