Growing tomato crops in raised beds can be quite rewarding… You should definitely be doing so if you aren’t already – they are must have for your culinary repertoire. For the last few years I have always been unsatisfied by the quality of tomatoes I see in conventional groceries – it seems to be deteriorating. (Maybe in the summer months, they’re slightly better..) So naturally, I looked into growing my own!
Starting with container buckets, then I progressed into the elevated bed. If you’re in a warm, humid climate as I’m in, you’d be crazy not to plant them,. And there are so many different varieties of them available, you only need to sample a few and try them to see which you like the best. And did I mention that I love the smell of the plants themselves? I hope that doesn’t sound too weird….
Pin Me, Gardeners…🍅
What varieties should you plant?
Well, there’s as many varieties of tomato plants as the day is long. Over the years, I’ve planted Better Boys, Early Junes and cherries with some success, and when the ruthless July heat was getting to be too much, I got a heat-resistant Florida variety (I think it lived up to its’ name…)
Last year, we started off with Better Boys and added Cherokee Purples to the mix. The fruit of the Cherokee Purple isn’t actually purple – it’s more of a muted wine red. They are also medium-sized.
A lot of it depends on what your culinary goals are…if you’re into Italian cooking, the oblong/oval-shaped Roma may become your favorite, This is the kind used in a lot of pasta sauces and will not disappoint with its flavor. If you’re looking for a nice big tomato to slice onto your sandwiches, a lot of people like the Big Boy or Beefsteak which is nice and big. I’m also a big fan of cherry tomatoes, which I like to slice in half and drop into my salads.
This spring so far, we’ve planted the following varieties: Big Boy, Sun Sugar, Beefmaster, Tasty Early Slicer, and the Park’s Whopper .
Did you know that some tomato types come in orange or yellow, and purple? From what I’ve heard, these types have less acid in them. The Sun Sugars are orange and like the name implies, are nice and sweet..yum! In our front yard garden bed we planted a couple of grape tomato plants, which of course will be red.
Indeterminate vs Determinate Tomato Plants
Tomato plants are classified as “Indeterminate” and “Determinate”.
Indeterminate tomato plants can produce fruit for an undefined length of time, as the name suggests, length of time – up until it gets chilly and the first frost happens. This may depend on your region and zone. In the past I remember the first official frost (or temps getting to around the freezing point, or close the week of Halloween. Now, it seems to be more close to the middle of November before that happens.)
All of the tomato plants I’m cultivating are indeterminate varieties.
Determinate tomato plants have a set season to yield fruits. It may be a shorter period, and last for only about three weeks. but the crop yield may happen sooner than indeterminate plants. Size-wise, they may spread out more and have a “bushy” appearance, but they don’t get as tall. They may not even need that much staking, either.
Plant codes defined
You know the little tags that come with the plants that are labeled with the plant’s name and variety and a synopsis of care instructions? With tomatoes you may see a number combo that reads VFN, VF, etc. Ever wondered what those mean?
What this is is a classification system for hybrid tomatoes that indicates resistance to common diseases. The VFN stands for “Verticillium wilt, Fusarium and Nematode” These are three major fungal diseases that the variety is cultivated to be resistant to.
How to Space Out Your Tomato Plants
Because tomato plants can get big and sprawl out a great deal they need to be spaced out properly, about a foot between each plant is a good idea, for cherries and small-medium sized. If you are using the square foot approach, this will be easy to figure out. If your raised bed is a fixed size like 2 x 4, that would give you a total of about 8 plants with sufficient room to grow and thrive.. We have long beds and at the present have about 10 in the first one.
The largest varieties (like the beefsteak) you could space out a little more, perhaps as much as 2 feet between each plant. It’s hard to imagine them getting that big when they’re still seedlings…but tomato plants can get pretty unruly in their growth.
Staking your plants
Tomato plants have a lot of growth spurts early on, you’ll want to be sure you stake them when the time is right – around the third week after planting would be a good time to do so. I don’t use cages for the plants in the bed since they take up a lot of room. I save them for the plants I grow in the 5 gallon buckets.
To stake our tomato plants, we used a series of square wooden rods, my better half used a miter saw to cut them all about four feet in length and with a chiseled point on the bottom. The plants we bought already came with small plastic mini-stakes for added stability.
Try to position each stake about 3″ from the plant before inserting it so you don’t damage the roots as you drive it into the soil. I use a hammer and give the stakes a few taps until it is firmly in place. Use twine or some strong cord to tie the plant by the stem to the stake. Also, don’t tie it too tightly, you should be able to get a few fingers in there easily.
Somewhere around the middle of the plant is where you should start the tieing. If I have a plant that will become especially large (like the beefsteaks) I will tie it at two points, one near the bottom and one in the middle for added support.
🍅Tomato Plant Care and Cultivation
Tomatoes love the sun…they should be getting an average of 6-7 hours of daily sunlight in the maturation phase. Between April and June you will be seeing a lot of growth, the yellow blossoms first and then the teeny tiny fruits (green, of course) will start showing up. It can be real exciting to watch. They also need a lot of water, too, during drought periods, the leaves will show it if they’re not getting enough moisture.
On those periods when we’re going without rain for more that fours days, we have a sprinkler system we use and let it run for about an hour to hydrate our juvenile plants. Everything you do in the first 60 days counts. Also, you’ll need to start applying fertilizer sometime around the third week after planting. A product like Osmocoet or Micracle-Gro is a good choice.
I use Miracle-Gro, which I mix a tablespoon of in a gallon of water. It’s a light blue color, which will supply nutrients to 10 plants well, after about the fifth week, I may apply another dose. after that i may go for at least three weeks before applying any more.
My first plants that I started in 2015-17, had this problem of something called “blossom end rot” (They were grown in container buckets, btw) I blamed it at first on the heavy rains that were going on in 2017, but it’s actually caused by a calcium deficiency. One ingredient that i add to my beds is crushed eggshells which are a good source of calcium. Powdered limestone is another good product too.
Trim the stragglers
Sometimes tomato plants get a few little straggly leaves near the bottom, I use trimming shears to clip those to promote healthier growth.
At last…the part you’re looking forward to the most. The average time period of maturity for tomato plants is between 50 to 80 days. Cherry tomatoes being small, emerge the earliest. I think I picked the first cherries towards the end of May. The big ones, of course, may take around 80-90 days to produce fruit.
The cherry/grape tomatoes in our front bed have done VERY well….Even better than the ones in the backyard , I dare say. With this surplus, I ended up turning a few handfuls of them into pasta sauce -although they are not as suited for that as the Romas, it turned out great! Here’s a shameless snapshot of some of our front bed pickings to inspire you…
The tags that come with your plants (or if you started from seed, the envelopes) will tell you the average time of growth/harvest for the specific variety as they all vary. Sometimes I’ll pick a tomato that is slightly red but not yet fully ripened – this is a good idea if it’s within a cluster, and especially if it’s near the top – this can help it produce fruit more consistently.
Tomatoes that are semi-ripe that you pick, can finish reaching the full red color if you place them on a windowsill near ample sunlight.
Hope this article helped, and that you soon have juicy, ripe tomatoes to harvest from your very own elevated beds. Once you bite into real, red tomatoes, you’ll never want to go back to those mushy pink ones at the store. Good luck to you! and happy harvesting.