Did you know nearly 9 out of 10 American gardeners grow tomatoes?* And according to the USDA, the average American eats more than 22 pounds of the fruit each year.
(Yes, it’s a fruit, botanically speaking. Because a tomato has seeds and grows from a flowering plant, it is a fruit, not a vegetable. The U.S. government introduced confusion back in the late 1800s when it classified the tomato as a vegetable so it could be taxed under custom regulations—a story for another day.)
The tomato’s popularity is no surprise when you consider its countless culinary applications and health benefits. To that end, tomatoes are incredibly good for you, containing vitamins A and C, folic acid, lycopene and much more. Research shows eating tomatoes can lead to healthier skin and a stronger heart health. One study suggests it may even help block UV rays!
Here are our top tips for growing this nutritious, tasty crop.
Fun Fact: For maximum health benefits, you should cook your tomatoes, as cooking increases the absorbable lycopene in tomatoes. (And high lycopene intake is associated with lower risk of prostate cancer.)
From the curious yellow pear tomato to the beloved beefsteak, tomatoes come in different sizes, shapes, colors and flavors. Some are better for certain uses. For example, when it comes to salads, you can’t beat cherry tomatoes. But if you intend to slice tomatoes for sandwiches, beefsteak is best. And Roma tomatoes are the variety most commonly used for cooking.
So when selecting which kind of tomatoes to grow, think about what you will use the tomatoes for. Also be sure to consider which growing type you prefer: indeterminate or determinate.
Indeterminate tomatoes require the most maintenance, as they keep growing as long as the season allows. You must prune these plants regularly so they don’t overtake your garden or get too leggy and weak to hold the fruit they produce. Indeterminates also need the support of a tomato cage or similar structure. Though they require more work, indeterminate varieties are prolific (and, some might argue, the best tasting).
Determinate tomatoes grow in a bush-like fashion and, unlike indeterminates, have a “determined” size. Once they reach it, they stop growing. Determinate varieties may need a tomato cage and light pruning, but only for purposes of strengthening or containing the plant.
Tomatoes thrive in full sun and warm weather. Plant yours after all chance of frost has passed, ideally once daytime temperatures reach 70–90˚ (dips below 60˚ can stunt your plant’s growth). If you’re not sure when you should start your tomatoes, reference this planting calendar.
When starting tomatoes, plant about 2 seeds per rock wool cube. Seeds should germinate within 1–2 weeks. After this happens, cut and remove the weakest seedlings in each cube. The remaining seedlings should be ready to transplant 3–5 weeks after sprouting. Tomatoes grow large and heavy, so we recommend planting them in the bottom section of your Tower Garden.
Tower Tip: For step-by-step instructions on starting seeds and transplanting seedlings, reference page 7 of the Tower Garden Growing Guide.
With Tower Garden you’re less likely to encounter pests and plant diseases. But it’s still wise to occasionally check for:
Do the bottoms of your tomatoes turn black and rot before they mature? This is the signature of blossom end rot, a condition that occurs when a plant cannot absorb the calcium it needs for proper development. A low or high pH level can cause blossom end rot. But if your pH is not the problem, consider using a calcium-based spray on your tomato plants to remedy the problem.
Most tomato varieties produce fruit about 70–80 days after planting. If you’re growing in a greenhouse or if your plants flower but never produce fruit, consider hand pollinating to ensure a successful yield. (In most cases, you won’t need to, as tomato flowers are self-fertile, which means even a light breeze can facilitate pollination.)
Tomatoes not turning red? Hang in there! One of the hardest parts of growing tomatoes is waiting for fruit to ripen. But it will happen. We promise. (If you can’t—or don’t want to—wait, fried green tomatoes or salsa verde are tasty options for your unripe fruit.)
Fruit will mature in the order it appears on the truss (i.e., the fruit closest to the stem will ripen first). For most varieties, a tomato is ready to pick when it turns a deep red color, becomes slightly soft (but not mushy) to the touch, and easily “pops” off the truss.
You can harvest the entire truss or just pick individual fruits. Watch this video for more details on harvesting (and pruning) tomatoes:
Ready to enjoy the (literal) fruits of your labor? You have many ways to do so! Warm pesto caprese, spicy salsa, creamy tomato bisque, chilled gazpacho, hearty vegetable soup—the list of Tower Gardener recipes goes on! Get these free Tower-to-Table recipes here.
Tower Tip: For more advice on growing tomatoes, download our PDF guide »