Get Growing Your Own Tomatoes This Season
by: Jackie, contributing freelance writer
Fun fact: Canada is a vegetable superpower! We ship more tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers to the states than they ship to us, despite their longer growing season. With proper planning and planting, this could be the year you too start growing your own tomatoes. Here’s a few key tips you want to keep in mind.
Know when to plant
The big picture key to a home garden is knowing when to start seedlings inside and when it’s safe to transplant them or alternatively start plants from seed or seedlings outside. Almost all online plant vendors rate their seedlings using the basic methodology of the United States Department of Agriculture Hardiness Zones. However, the Natural Resources Canada specifically details hardiness zones for growing at home in Canada. These are based on seven different climate variables, one of which is the minimum temperature necessary for successful planting.
Now while the hardiness zones will give you the broad outline of when to grow, what you really want is when to start tomato seedlings indoors, when you can plant them outdoors where you live, and when you can expect to harvest. The Old Farmer’s Almanac web site covers both the US and Canada: just enter a nearby town or city, look down the chart until you see tomatoes and there’s the growing season. For example, here in Coquitlam, BC, start tomato seedlings indoors between Feb 21-Mar 7, and start tomato plants outdoors between Apr 26-May 17.
Know which varieties to plant
As you browse the Poirier Street Farmers Market, keep a sharp eye open for vendors selling tomato varieties that do well in this part of BC. That’s the easiest way to make good choices among the over 3,000 varieties of heirloom or heritage tomatoes in active cultivation worldwide and let alone the 15,000 known varieties of tomatoes, many of them available commercially and online.
Your local seedling vendors will know which varieties do the best in our growing climate – and which are the best for salads, sauces or canning, just ask!
Where to plant
Tomato vines like sheltered, sunny locations. For example, the south wall of your house or against a south-facing fence are both good locations. And they don’t like rain – a rainy summer can easily wipe out 90 per cent of your crop, so plan to use some form of a rain awning that protects your tomatoes but lets in beneficial insects.
Space tomatoes well and pitch them often
Tomatoes start small and get big – very big. Plan on spacing your tomato seedlings outdoors at least 2 feet apart. And, tomatoes put out a lot of branches if left to their own devices – you want to pinch (literally – cutting does more damage) Sucker shoots which are the shoots that appear in the elbow between the stem and a branch.
One last suggestion
Tomato plants love certain kinds of company – especially basil, the scent of which deter many injurious insects – and hate others, like cabbage. Enjoy growing your own tomato plants this year and their addition to your tasty Caprese salad in the months ahead!
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