There’s nothing like a freshly picked tomato, and tomatoes are easy to grow everywhere in the Buffalo area. You don’t even need a garden– a very simple container will do.
Thomas Mitchell, a horticulture teacher at Niagara County Community College, shared tips on growing vegetables during a presentation at Plantasia, Western New York’s premier garden and landscape show held in March.
Mitchell’s number one point was that you have to have good soil. I demoted that tip to number two only because I want everyone to know that they can have a tomato plant and enjoy fresh tomatoes no matter how little land they have. Once you read Mitchell’s first tip, you’ll realize that everyone has room to garden.
1. You can grow tomatoes in small spaces
You don’t need a lot of room. You can grow tomatoes in containers, and they don’t have to be fancy containers. Do you have room for a five-gallon bucket? Then you can grow tomatoes.
If that’s too hard, how about this idea: Just use a bag of potting soil as your container.
Take a a big bag of potting soil, Mitchell explained. Poke some holes in it for drainage. Flip it over and cut a hole in the top. Insert your tomato plant.
Presto! You have a vegetable garden that you can place on a balcony, porch, stoop or driveway.
2. Start with good soil
“It’s important to have good soil,” Mitchell said. “You can’t be successful if your soil’s not good. The more you can do to improve your soil, the more successful you’ll be.”
If your soil is especially problematic, he suggests using raised beds.
3. Fertilize properly
Test your soil so you know how much fertilizer to use.
Be careful with feeding, he said. If you feed too much, you’ll get big plants, but not many tomatoes.
The acidity of the soil is important, and most vegetables like a pH of 6 to 6.5.
“You can’t tell the acidity of the soil by tasting it,” Mitchell said, trying to dispel a myth. “My grandfather used to say he could smell if the soil needed lime” to change the pH, but you really need to have the soil tested.
There are lots of opportunities to get your soil tested– check our Upcoming Events Page.
4. Choose good seeds
Mitchell encourages people to start plants from seed, but “cheap seed is not better seed,” he said.
He likes hybrid varieties of tomatoes, which have been bred to be more disease resistant and tend to perform better than heirloom plants.
However, if you like to save your own seeds, be aware that the seeds from a hybrid may not be true to the variety because of pollination with other plants. If you want a plant that is very much like the one you have, save the seeds from heirloom tomatoes, he said.
5. Don’t plant seeds too early
Don’t start your seeds inside more than five weeks before it’s safe to plant outside, which is usually after May 20.
“The biggest mistake people make is they start them too early,” Mitchell said.
When you transplant your seedling outside, plant it as deep as you can and new roots will form along the stem, he said.
6. You can let your tomato plants trail
We’re all used to staking tomatoes or using tomato cages to prop them up, but you can allow the tomato plant to grow on the ground if you want, he said.
Mitchell doesn’t like the wimpy tomato cages that you buy, so he makes his own with the screen used to reinforce concrete.