Tips for growing and caring for tomato plants, plus our favorite recipes come harvest time
– April 15, 2011
Photo by Ted Stefanski; written by Julie Chai
1 of6Photo by Ted Stefanski; written by Julie Chai
Nothing beats the flavor of a ripe, homegrown tomato—it’s the pure essence of summer. And you can get plants in the ground as soon as the weather warms up in spring, after all danger of frost has passed.
With hundreds of varieties to choose from—in shades of gold, orange, crimson, chocolate, and even green; in sizes ranging from cherry types that you can pop into your mouth like grapes to giant two-pounders—your biggest challenge will be finding room for all the varieties you want to grow!
Tomatoes love heat, so grow them in a spot that gets full sun (this means at least six hours a day). Before you plant, mix 4 to 6 inches of mature compost into your soil so that it’s packed with nutrients. You can give tomatoes a stronger start by pinching off some of the lower leaves, and planting their stems deeply.
It’s also important to stake or cage your tomatoes at planting time, so that you keep leaves and fruit off the ground, and give plants good air circulation. When plants are young, water often enough so that their roots don’t dry out, and keep the soil moist but not soggy. As plants grow, water less often but very deeply since tomatoes have deep roots.
3 of6Photo by Norman A. Plate; written by Margo True
How to harvest
Snip fruit from the stem with scissors or puners or gently pull by hand. Tomatoes ripen best on the vine. If your plants still have green tomatoes hanging on them after the weather starts turning cold, pick them from the vine and bring them indoors to ripen.
Photo by Andrea Gomez; written by Margo True
4 of6Photo by Andrea Gomez; written by Margo True
How to cook: Our favorite tomato recipes
After a few months, once you’re ready to harvest, here are some of our favorite ways to eat fresh tomatoes.
Marinated Heirloom Tomato Salad
This is a great way to show off all the different varieties of tomatoes you’ve grown. Try mixing whole cherry tomatoes on the stem with juicy slices and wedges of larger tomatoes, and use as many colors as you have available.
Heat and a bit of blackening gives the tomato a savory depth that’s only enhanced by toasted chiles. Make the salsa to eat on the side with chips or grilled meats, or use it in any of the three recipes we developed to showcase it: beef burgers, smoky huevos rancheros, or Mexican steak salad.