How to grow tomatos

Flow to grow large, luscious fruit

Tomatoes need warm, rich soil. Prepare their bed in fall if possible: dig or rototill 9 inches deep, and work in 2 inches of compost, well-aged manure, or other organic matter. In early spring, rake in 1 pound of 5-10-10 fertilizer for each 25-foot row. Or, at planting time, dig a 6-inch hole 2 to 3 feet across for each plant and line the bottom with a 2-inch layer of organic matter mixed with a handful of 5-1010 fertilizer: cover with topsoil.

Start seeds 8 weeks before you expect to set plants out, or buy healthy young plants from a nursery or garden supply center. When overnight temperatures average above 55°F, set plants out in rows 3 feet apart. Space plants at 18-inch intervals if you plan to support them, at 3-foot intervals if you are letting them sprawl. An indeterminate, or vine, type can be supported by a trellis, stake, or mesh cage. A determinate, or bush, type needs no s tak ng but benefits from the support of a mesh cage.

Before planting, remove all but the top few leaves. Bury the stem to those leaves; roots will develop along it. Place a leggy plant on its side in a sloping trench. Mulch to conserve moisture. Water well if tomatoes receive less than 1 inch of rain per week. When the first fruits are about half-dollar size, encircle the stem, at a distance of about 10 inches, with a tablespoon of 5-10-10 fertilizer; repeat every 3 to 4 weeks.

Pinch off all suckers. When an indeterminate plant has six branches, cut off its growing tip to direct energy into the fruit. To prolong harvest beyond frost, cover plants at night with burlap, bedsheets, or plastic tents.