Expert Advice on Growing Tomatoes

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If there’s one vegetable that tops everyone’s garden planning list, it’s the tomato. But growing tomatoes isn’t as simple as it may seem.

First, you have to choose which varieties to grow. Whether you’re perusing seed catalogs or shopping at your garden center, the selection can be daunting.

Then, once you get your seeds or transplants, how can you make sure they grow?

And once the plants establish themselves and you think you’re on your way to a bountiful harvest, how do you deal with unexpected pests and disease?

No, despite what you may have thought, growing tomatoes isn’t without its challenges.

organic roma tomatoes

Thankfully, a bumper crop of tomatoes isn’t out of reach. But to get started well, it’s always good to have an expert’s advice on-hand.

In this episode of the Beginner’s Garden Podcast, I talked to Mike at the White Harvest Seed Company. He shared his expert knowledge on his favorite tomato varieties, his top three recommendations for growing successful tomatoes, and his tips for dealing with some of the most common pests and diseases that plague tomatoes.

Click below to listen, and scroll down for the highlights and links to the tomato varieties he recommends.

Top Heirloom Tomato Varieties

As the owner of an heirloom seed company and avid gardener himself, Mike is the one to ask when it comes to top-notch tomato varieties. Depending on what type of tomato you want to grow, how you plan to use it, and even special considerations for climate, Mike has a tomato for you.

Beefsteak Tomatoes

Who doesn’t love a good beefsteak tomato? Excellent on sandwiches and burgers, these heirloom varieties also please the palettes of the most avid tomato eaters. Nothing in your local grocery store will compare to these.

Paste Tomatoes for Cooking & Canning

canned tomatoes

If you’re like me and prefer to grow tomatoes that you can cook and preserve, a reliable paste tomato deserves a permanent home in your garden. Choose the reliable Roma, which will fruit all at once (ideal for canning), the tasty San Marzano popular for its flavor profile, or the large Amish Paste, which keep producing all season. Or choose tomatoes such as the Rutgers or Arkansas Traveler that offer a delicious flavor for both cooking and eating fresh.

Tomatoes for Fun

The best tomatoes are those that don’t bear any resemblance to the ones you find in your grocery store. Whether you want to venture into the striped or green varieties, or you prefer a reliable and productive cherry tomato, Mike offers his favorites.

Striped Tomatoes

Cherry Tomatoes

Green Tomatoes

Tomatoes for Hot Climates

Although Mike lives in Missouri, his area isn’t immune to scorching summers that many of us in the South experience. As temperatures climb, many tomato varieties cease to set fruit, and sometimes they perish altogether with the heat and drought. Humid summers also help proliferate disease, making growing tomatoes in the height of summer a challenge. Here are recommendations for those of us in hot climates.

Drought & Heat Tolerant

young tomato plantTop Recommendations for Growing Tomatoes:

Have you ever wanted to sit down with a tomato expert and ask all the questions you can think of? That’s what I had the pleasure of doing in this conversation with Mike (listen when you get a chance!). Surprisingly, his advice is uncommonly simple.

Be patient

In the early spring, all of us want to get our tomatoes in the ground as soon as we can. The sooner we plant the sooner we harvest, right?

Not necessarily. Tomato plants in particular will stagnate in tool cool of temperatures. Although they will survive through nights in the 40s, they don’t thrive until those low temperatures remain steadily in the 50s. Wait until the soil temperature has warmed and the temperatures have settled into a warm weather pattern.

Be consistent

Go back to the reasons why you want to grow tomatoes. It’s easy to stray from your garden goals, especially when you see new ideas and varieties. But be consistent with growing what will help you accomplish your garden goals.

Be attentive

Walk out in your garden every day. Take note of your plants’ growth and take action if you see signs of disease. The quicker you can act, the more likely you are to stop problems before they have a chance to overwhelm your tomatoes.

Most Common Pests & Diseases + Recommendations:

It never fails. Every year I fight some kind of pest or disease with my tomatoes, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. These are the most common issues Mike has seen in both his garden and from what gardeners across the country have told him.

Tomato Hornworm

tomato hornworm

The best way to deal with the tomato hornworm is to catch it early and pick it off. But to put measures in place to help prevent it in your garden, consider planting dill, basil, carrots, radishes, and/or lettuce nearby. Also, don’t plant tomatoes next to corn, as corn can attract the hornworm and also the corn earworm to your tomatoes.


Aphids can do a lot of damage to your plants. In my experience, promoting a natural garden keeps my aphid population in check. But for infestations, Mike recommends the organic measures  Neem Oil and diatomaceous earth.

Early Blight

Early blight is arguably the most common tomato disease, but it’s also somewhat preventable and treatable. As a preventative measure, lay down a thick mulch. Then, trim foliage to twelve inches above the ground. You can also spray Neem Oil to help prevent and control its spread.

Blossom-End Rot

A very common problem with tomato gardeners is blossom-end rot. This condition is caused by the plant’s inability to take up calcium. Mike recommends focusing on the health of the plant and the soil. Soil pH out of the ideal range and uneven watering can also interfere with the plant’s ability to update calcium. A soil test can help you determine if either of these issues is present.

Other Resources from this Episode:

Mike’s Favorite New Seed Varieties for 2018

Rogue Hoe

White Harvest Seed Co. Web Site

What are your favorite tomato varieties?

15 Tested Tomatoes to Grow This Season

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