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Grow Your Tomatoes With These Easy Tips

Noah Lee

By: Danielle McLeod

Summer just isn’t summer without at least one tomato plant growing somewhere. At least that’s my opinion, and it doesn’t take many to have a healthy crop to feed your family and friends if you are so inclined.

But occasionally tomatoes can be finicky and provide some moments of grief and anxiety while you coax them to maturity and fruition. Tomatoes are a pretty easy summer plant to grow however, so there is no need to worry that you aren’t up to the tomato growing task. If you are looking for tips for growing tomato plants, look no further; simply follow the helpful hints below to ensure a healthy, and happy growing season!

Picking Your Plants

Whether you are going to grow your tomatoes from seeds, or pick out well-started seedlings from a catalog or garden center, you’ll want to consider your choices in advance. Lucky for you, there are a lot to choose from, 25,000 varieties worldwide to be exact, but don’t worry – only about 700 are in true cultivation!

Don’t freak out! Fewer than this will be available to you, but you will need to narrow your choices down between three broad categories that hold a few dozen varieties each.

Sometimes It’s nice to have a variety of plants to use for different purposes in cooking and culinary bliss! You’ll find that no matter where you shop for seeds or seedlings, each store will have their favorite hardy picks for you to choose from.

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CHERRY TOMATOES

Cherry tomatoes are known for their sweet-tart flavor and are popular upon snacking and salads.

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SAUCE TOMATOES

Sauce tomatoes are known for their lower water content which makes them good contenders for sauces, pastes, and sun-dried, or dehydrated, tomatoes to put into salads, or use as toppings in recipes.

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BEEFSTEAK TOMATOES

Beefsteak varieties you may remember from your childhood picking from the vine and eating like an apple. These have the biggest fruits and are very flavorful. These are popular for in sandwiches, and caprese.

Starting seeds is an easy enough task for anyone to do if you follow a few simple rules to get started. The first rule to remember, is that in order of for tomato seeds to germinate, the soils needs to be at or above 60 degrees fahrenheit (preferably warmer), and that your best results will come from starting seed indoors six to eight weeks before the last expected frost date

  1. Ideally you will want to place your hardy seedlings in the garden about two weeks after the last frost, especially if you live in a growing zone that experiences a short season.
  2. Using a sterile seed starting mix, or soilless seed starting compound, moisten your soils and create ¼ inch deep holes or rows )depending on what sort of container you are using).
  3. Plant seeds at least a half inch apart and pinch soils back over them to cover loosely. Be sure to label your varieties.
  4. By day 7 you should have some sprouts making their appearance, and by day 30 they will begin to grow their true leaves above their ‘baby’ leaves. At this point, or shortly prior to it, you should thin out any seedlings that are closer than a half inch to one another, or down to only one seedling if you are using individual seed starting pots.

When to Plant Your Tomatoes

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It’s safe to assume that two weeks after frost is a safe enough buffer to ensure there is no threat of another freeze that would ruin all your hard work with seedlings, or destroy your newly bought plants. If by chance a late frost threatens once you have them in the ground, cover your plants with a sheet, or garden cloth of some type.

Tomatoes are particularly susceptible to frosts, which can occur at anywhere under 40 degrees fahrenheit, as well as rough spring winds- so be sure to carefully watch the weather. You may even want to consider a portable cold frame to place over your plants if you have any doubt about their survivability.

Tomatoes also do better when planted on a cloudy day, or in the late afternoon and evenings as it allows them the chance to settle in and not be exposed to direct sunlight and dry conditions. They will bounce back from transplant shock much quicker this way.

Where to Plant Your Tomatoes

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Tomatoes LOVE the sun, and if possible, plant yours in full sun, providing two to three feet of space between each plant, and three to five feet from each row to provide good air circulation. I like to grow my tomatoes in cages for support and use my cages as good space indicators immediately after transplanting my seedling. However, cages aren’t always the best choice depending on your tomato variety, as I will explain below.

Also try to rotate your planting spot from one year to the next, or every three years at the maximum. This helps to reduce the spread of disease and also allows soils to replenish nutrients. If you augment your soils each year, this isn’t as important as you will be mixing in and turning over new material before planting anyway.

It’s important to note that tomatoes also make great patio plants and can easily be grown in pots or backyard containers if you lack the space for a true garden plot. Just be sure to cycle out your soils from one year to the next!

How to Plant Your Tomatoes

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Holes should be twice as wide and twice as deep as the root ball. This is especially important for tomatoes since they root from the stem (fun fact: a broken branch stuck back in the ground will often re-root itself into a new plant). You will want to place your seedling 1/3 of the way up the stem to ensure healthy root growth. Root growth equals big, healthy plants and lots of tomatoes!

If you have used or purchased a plant in a biodegradable pot then all you need to do is remove the bottom and plant the pot with the seedling still inside. But if you need to remove it for transplantation, gently tip the container and squeeze the sides to loosen the soils. Your seedlings should slip out fairly easily for you to cradle the soils bound roots and place into the hole you’ve created. Cover with soils and gently push it into place.

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Skills for the Future with Washington Youth Garden

Noah Lee

Posted on July 14, 2017 by Catalogue for Philanthropy

by Crystal Williams, Communications and Events Manager, Washington Youth Garden

Washington Youth Garden (WYG) is a program of Friends of the National Arboretum (FONA) on the grounds of the US National Arboretum and uses the garden cycle to enrich science learning, inspire environmental stewardship and cultivate healthy food choices in youth and families. WYG has three subprograms within the organization; SPROUT (Science Program Reaching Out) – field trip program, Green Ambassador Program- high school internship program, and Garden Science – school garden development program.

In 2016, 3,140 students visited the garden on nearly 100 SPROUT trips while 90% of SPROUT participants tasted something new from the garden.

This year from April through June, we’ve already served 2,500 students through our SPROUT program and 15 new high school Green Ambassadors joined us for the busy summer ahead!

Gardening and carpentry skills are not the only thing our students gain in the garden, as illustrated by the following quote:

“The Green Ambassador Program] gave me a lot of skills for future jobs and helped me grow as a person as well. A lot of my peers come from very different backgrounds, so it gave me a lot of new perspectives.”
                                                -DeWayne Walker, Green Ambassador Program 2016

This year we celebrate our new education pavilion. The new pavilion at Washington Youth Garden’s demonstration garden is the result of a partnership between the Weissberg Foundation, local businesses, and nonprofit organizations working together to benefit school groups and families from underserved D.C. neighborhoods and other communities in the region. The pavilion is dedicated to the late Judith Morris, who was passionate about sharing nature and the Arboretum with surrounding communities and underserved youth. The pavilion provides a much-needed outdoor classroom space for young people coming to our demonstration plot to learn about environmental science and nutrition.

We encourage the community to be a part of Washington Youth Garden by either attending an event such as Family Garden Day on August 12th or volunteering with us. Volunteer as an individual or bring a group. Individuals should sign-up for an orientation here. Volunteering as a group with Washington Youth Garden is a fun and active outdoor experience that is sure to build staff cohesion outside the office. 

Meet Erin! 10 Questions with WYG's 2017 Green Ambassador Crew Leader

Noah Lee

Get to know a little bit about one of our amazing Green Ambassador Crew Leaders, Erin! As a past participant of the program, she is a seasoned alum who helped lead our incoming interns this summer.  

  1. How old are you? Where do you go to school?
    • I’m 19 years old, I went to Yorktown High School in Arlington VA and I now go to William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.
  2. How long have you been involved with Washington Youth Garden?
    • 2 years
  3. How has the Green Ambassadors program influenced your everyday life?
    • It causes me to think about gardening more often and causes her to appreciate gardening.
  4. What is one important thing that working here has taught you?
    •  Communication and organization are key. Without these two things work doesn’t get done. 
  5. What is your favorite thing about this program?
    • The people and the environment. Green Ambassadors used to have something called teach it where the ambassadors would split into build it/ teach it groups.
  6. Is there anything that you think could be changed about this program?
    • No
  7. What have you learned here that you think will benefit you in the future?
    • I gained people skills which helped me with things like public speaking and day to day communication
  8. Do you have a favorite memory from your time spent in this program?
    • I once did a small art project which I enjoyed very much. The art project included painting blocks. I also really liked helping with the children’s playground.
  9. Do you have a favorite part of the youth garden, or a favorite area that you like to work in?
    • I love working in the sensory garden
  10. Do you want to continue working in gardens/with nature and the environment after you leave this program?
    •  Maybe not in a garden but definitely the environmental field. There are so many paths to take and so many programs to be a part of. I might  an environmental policy minor at William and Mary.