For the love of a homegrown tomato, really, nothing should ever stop you from growing at least one plant yourself. Unlike many things you can fail at, organic gardening, is worth the attempt, simply because the victory of the tasting is so very sweet. Jen Hill at Salt Lake magazine offers her top tips for growing tomatoes this season.

I grew up in the midwest, and from a small town in Southern Indiana where pretty much everything grows easily, including the weeds. Utah gardening offers different challenges, our soil tends to be salty and lacking organic matter, our weeds are sticky and prickly, pests like snails and slugs, potato bugs (my fellow Hoosiers call them roly-pollies) and earwigs can take down a plant in seconds, and our precipitation is generally scarce, although this spring has been, unquestionably wet. Being an active gardener brings you a heightened awareness of the weather and surroundings like nothing else can.

This Hori Hori garden knife ($30) from Barebones Living makes transplanting tomato starts a snap.

With gardening, there are always exceptions and things you need to anticipate. One that you’ll face when planting tomatoes is to avoid transplanting them into the garden too early. Unless they are under a garden row cover, blanket or other fancy tomato-saving contraption to insulate them, tomatoes (and several other summertime veggies) will croak if the temperatures dip under 42 degrees. When in doubt, wait a week to transplant, or cover them. And honestly, getting them in early doesn’t bring a ripe tomato to you any sooner. The ripening process is a natural phenomenon, especially those big ones, they know when it’s time, and that is generally in late July/ early August.

I’ll walk you through a few early steps in soil prep and transplanting tips to help get those tomato starts well on their way.

  1. Plant stalks are hearty, leaves are green (not spotted) and check for aphids.

  2. Soil preparation is possibly the most important consideration. When soil is described as loamy, it’s got a nice “feel good” mix of organic and inorganic matter (compost, clay, sand/silt). This is important for water retention, drainage and of course, providing nutrients to the plant.

  3. On planting day, you may want to amend your planting area or each hole with crushed eggshells or organic tomato fertilizer. Follow instructions.

  4. After gently removing tomato plant from its container, sprinkle mycorrhizae (we call it “mike”) fungi to stimulate root development before placement.

  5. Gently surround the plant with soil, pack lightly and up to its true first leaves.

  6. Watering is a daily practice with new transplants, just around the base (not the leaves) although that’s just a good thing until roots get established. I like the thumb in the soil method, nothing is better than feeling the ground to find out how deep the moisture is. surface soil may appear dry when under the surface is just fine.

  7. Mulch it. To cut down on weeds, aid in moisture retention and protect the plants from disease.

See all of Salt Lake magazine’s lifestyle coverage here.

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