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Growing Tomatoes in Your New England Garden is Easy with a Little Help

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The most common question asked by amateur gardeners is.... you guessed it, "how do I grow tomatoes in my New England garden?"

Believe it or not, tomatoes are one of the easier vegetables to grow, and will do well either in the ground or in VERY large pots, like ½ whiskey barrels in a warm sunny location. In this case, the size of the pot really matters- tomatoes require a lot of water and if the pot is small, your results will not be very good. I've seen tomato plants in what you would normally think is a good size pot, and they simply don't grow or produce tomatoes. Our best is advice is to grow them in the ground if possible. The ground can maintain moisture levels much better than a pot, and the plant will require less watering. Half-whiskey barrel pots are a good minimum size, even if you only have 1 plant growing in it. It may seem way too large, but try to remember tomato plants can reach heights of 6 ft pretty easily during the growing season.

Pick the Right Variety of Tomato for Your Garden
Decide what kind of tomatoes you want to grow is an important step in getting the most out of your tomato harvest. The new hybrid tomatoes have good disease resistance but tend to be harder-skinned while the heirloom varieties are very juicy and have thinner skins. Also, don't forget the various cherry tomatoes available through garden centers and seed companies... these cherry tomatoes ripen faster than the larger tomatoes so you can start eating your tomatoes sooner! Buy your tomato plants online from a respected grower- you'll get healthier plants and much better varieties than you'll find in any garden center. The two important things to remember are: the larger the tomato, the longer it will generally take to grow and ripen, and newer hybrid varieties can reduce that time even further by more than 45 days! The end result could be a smaller size tomato that could start ripening as early as mid-July rather than the end of August.

indeterminate vs determinate tomatoes

Indeterminate vs. Determinate Tomato Plants
Most people don't even know there's 2 very different kinds of tomato plants, but knowing the difference can be very helpful in planning your garden. Indeterminate tomato plants keep growing and producing fruit until the frost kills them. Determinate tomato plants only grow to a certain size then stop growing and producing fruit. You would think that indeterminate would be the overwhelming choice, but these types of tomato plants have their downside too- they don't start producing fruit until later in the season, and I've seen some indeterminate plants grow 15-20 feet in a season where frost comes late. Determinate varieties produce fruit earlier (and therefore you pick tomatoes earlier) but will most likely produce less tomatoes overall because they will probably top out at 4 or 5 feet.

Plant Your Tomato Right Up to the Top Leaves
Tomatoes do something many plants do not - they can grow roots all the way up their stems. In the wild, as tomatoes grow tall they fall over and touch the ground. Where they touch, the tomato sends roots down into the soil. If you have the room, you can let your tomatoes do this but you also run the risk of having the fruit touch the ground and rot. The better solution - plant your tomato at least 8 inches below the soil, a foot is even better. Every bit of stem below the soil line will grow roots and help your tomato take up water, resist disease and reduce the amount of water you need to give your tomato plant during the growing season!

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Water Your Tomatoes Deeply and Thoroughly Once a Week
With roots so deep, it only makes sense that when you do water, you do so thoroughly. That means at least an inch of water a week, preferably 2 or 3 inches. That way, the water seeps deep into the soil and can make contact with all those roots the tomato has grown on its stem below the surface.

Pick Out Any Side Shoots to Encourage Bigger Tomatoes and Better Air Circulation
This can be done weekly and goes a long way to making bigger tomatoes and less leaves on your tomato plant. These sideshoots appear between the leaves and stem of the main plant and all you need to do is pinch them off the plant with your fingers. At this stage, they are soft and can be easily removed.

Eat Your Tomatoes and Repeat!!
This tried-and-true method has worked very well for us over the years. We water less and get big juicy tomatoes every time!

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