This spring, we’re starting a Tomato Club!
To join, come to one of our planting events to sow seeds in soil, then take your plant home and care for it as it grows into a seedling. Repot it in the ground or its final container and watch as it produces fruit throughout the summer.
Members will receive a journal for tracking the plant’s progress. Scroll down for programs and resources to help you take your tomato from seed to sandwich.
Stay tuned for more info, photos, and resources!
Tap the link below for a brief introduction to the tomato growing journey, including sowing seeds, germination, harvesting, cleanup, and common problems.
When starting from seed, the first decision to be made is which seed variety to plant. With tomatoes some of the factors to consider are the flavor and texture of the tomato, time to maturity, and if it is a determinate or indeterminate variety. Tomato Club will be growing the Early Girl variety, which is an indeterminate and take about 59 days to mature after planting.
The germination stage is when the seed sprouts to form a seedling. With the Early Girl variety this takes about 7 to 10 days. For germination to be successful, environmental factors such as temperature, moisture, and soil are extremely important. Some growers use tools to control moisture and temperature.
If all the seeds that were planted in the pot gown into seedling, you will need to thin them. Because of the limited space for the roots, it is better to thin out the smaller, weaker seedlings, leaving only the strongest plant in each pot. The best way to remove a seedling is to use scissors to snip the stem just above the soil line.
As seedlings begin to grow, they will need more room for healthy roots. Transplanting seedlings into a slightly larger pot will help to promote new root growth. A good indicator for when to repot is when the height of the seedlings is three times as tall as the diameter of its pot.
To help tomato plants to stay strong and resilient outdoors, you will want to gradually introduce them to outdoor environment using a method called hardening off. This should begin 1-2 weeks before moving plants outdoors. This method helps to create strong tomato plants that will be able to withstand full sun, strong wind, and any other challenges they will meet in the garden.
Care in the Garden
Tomato plants love warm weather and need to be planted where they can receive full sun. Using a cage or stake will help the plant grow upwards and give the branches support from the heavy fruits. It is suggested to water in the early morning or after the sun has set so that there is less loss of evaporation.
The MGPL Garden Club is growing the Early Girl tomato, which is a vining tomato plant. Vining tomatoes produce suckers, which are the tiny stems and leaves between the main stem and branches. These suckers can be removed so the main branches will be supplied as much energy as possible to produce fruit.
Care in Containers
If you are unable to plant into the ground, you can grow tomatoes in a pot that’s at least 20 inches wide with a drainage hole. Plant one tomato plant per pot and use a cage or stake to help the plant grow upwards and give the branches support from the heavy fruits. Check the soil daily and make sure to keep it moist as tomatoes in containers dry out quicker than tomatoes in the garden.
Tomatoes are ready for harvest when they have a full red color. If you aren’t using your tomatoes right after picking, you can pull them off the vine when they are not fully red and store them indoors. They will continue to ripen and soften. The Early Girl tomato is considered a slicing tomato, perfect for sandwiches. Enjoy the fruits of your labor!
Tomato plants will not regrow the following year as they cannot withstand frost. Tomato plants will need to be disposed of at the end of the season. By cleaning the area and disposing of any dropped fruit, leaves, and pulling the plant out at the roots, you are protecting your garden for next year from any pests or diseases that may have been present.
Gardening can come with its challenges such as pests and diseases. In order to make sure your tomato plants are healthy and strong you can monitor them by checking under leaves, checking the fruit, and soil. If the tomatoes look spotty or leaves look moldy, you can try different methods to combat these problems. If you have any plant questions, you can always contact the Chicago Botanic Garden's Plant Information Services.
Starting Plants From Seed for the Home Gardener University of Georgia Extension
Staking and Pruning Tomatoes in the Home Garden University of Georgia Extension
Vegetable Resources: Tomato Problem Solver Texas A&M AgriLife Extension
Watch Your Garden Grow: Tomato University of Illinois Extension
Check out our Flickr photo album to see Tomato Club photos.
- Planted our tomato seeds (144 seeds total)
- Moved our growing station to the magazine area
- Turned on our heating mat to help with germination
- Seeds started to sprout
- 85 seeds have sprouted
- Turned off our heating mat and turned on our growing lamp
- 110 seeds have sprouted
- 139 seeds have sprouted
- 141 seeds have sprouted
- true leaves have started to grow on some seedlings
- Culled our seedings
- We now have 71 seedlings
- Repotted seedlings to 3" newspaper pots
- Transplanted two seedlings to containers