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Gaardening with Gaard: How to Plant the Perfect Tomato Plant

It's been 20 years since I first started growing tomatoes. My first crop produced heirlooms that didn't look very aesthetically pleasing — they had nooks and crannies and were a purple color. So, I threw them out. I quickly learned I made a mistake.

Learn from me! I'm going to teach you how to plant, yes; you guessed it — heirloom, Roma and beefsteak tomatoes. If you do it right, you'll have a ton of tomatoes to enjoy.

First, you need to find the right spot in your garden. Remember, tomatoes soak up the sun just like water. You'll want to find a place that gets about seven to eight hours of direct sunlight daily, so a lot of sun! I planted mine near a wall, which heats up and keeps the plants warm after sunset — kind of like a natural greenhouse.

I'd advise not to plant too big of a vegetable garden. Mine is about 40-square feet, meaning it's pretty manageable.

Picking the right soil is critical to growing tomatoes and basically all kinds of veggies. Try to go organic when you can; it'll be more expensive but much healthier. Each year, I bulk up my garden with mulch and nutrients. Tomatoes thrive in rich soil that drains correctly and is slightly acidic. Mulch will help with all of that!

Since we're working with a smaller area, I like to stagger mine about three to four feet apart — don't plant in a row. This allows more space to grow other veggies and more light to get to the bottom of the plant. I also prefer to plant big plants with smaller ones. This means the plants will produce tomatoes at different times in the season, and you won't get them all at once.

The trick is you want to plant your tomatoes deep in the dirt because they will root along the stem. You'll see tiny little hairs, and those are actually roots. Snap or pinch off the lower branches and drop the plant deep into the hole. Make sure to keep the top canopy about two inches from the mulch. You can also plant it sideways! Dig a trench and lay the roots in sideways, and then gently bend the plant to bury everything.

Tomatoes are a vine, and they will climb. I like to put cages around each plant and one between to let the tomatoes really grow. But make sure you do it early. Once the plant gets too large, it's a pain to try adding a cage later.

When you water the plants, try not to hit the leaves. That added moisture could produce rot or other diseases. Deep watering is the best and will help the fruit from cracking when the weather gets hot.

And when you're finally ready to harvest, you can pick your tomatoes when they are still a little green. Tomatoes will continue to ripen off the vine or on your kitchen countertop.

One last tip: don't stick your tomatoes in the fridge to ripen! It doesn't work great; placing them in a brown bag on the counter is a better option.

There really is nothing like a sweet tomato. Good luck and happy harvesting!

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