Who doesn’t love a good tomato?

Save some seed (and 47 cents, over and over) on this seasonal star by growing your own this summer

Smiling woman with long red hair

By Amanda E. Kelly

Special to The Knightly News


German Pink, Berkley Tie-Dye and Buffalosun Hybrid wouldn’t strike a chord of recognition, let alone excitement, for most people. For many gardeners across the state, these exotic names, along with those belonging to dozens of other interesting varieties, are encapsulated in the pages of seed catalogs and nursery websites, to where many flock for their gardening purchases.

However, more common household names, such as Roma, Beefsteak and Cherry, are popping up alongside patios all over, ready to start the growing season with dreams of becoming salad toppers, sandwich condiments and pasta sauce. According to RubyHome.com, over 55% of American families have a garden, and 86% of those families are growing at least one variety, so it’s no secret: The tomato plant is America’s favorite garden crop to grow.

While the result is the same for all people venturing this path, regardless of which variety is chosen, the growing season starts at different points for many individuals.

Seasoned gardeners will pine over seed catalogs during cold, wintry months, planning their spring gardens in anticipation of warmer weather.

A bunch of red tomatoes in a blue bowl.
This is what you’re after. Photo by Amanda E. Kelly

Intermediate-level gardeners may try their hand growing things from seed, eagerly awaiting the first sprout to appear weeks before the spring sun ever rises.

Beginner gardeners will likely find themselves standing in rows of freshly revealed plants, wondering what the best option is for their first plant. Having taken their chances on a five-dollar special from their local home improvement store, they will wonder how to keep this plant from dwindling away on their stovetop.

If you find yourself among the group of new plant parents wondering what to do with your impulse purchase, here are some simple tips to follow.

Gather supplies

Your new plant will have been purchased in its first home, which is called a nursery pot, but tomatoes require a lot of room to grow, so a larger pot is necessary. You can get as fancy as you’d like, but I recommend a five-gallon bucket, which can be found at most home-improvement stores. You will also need potting soil.

Pro-tip: Pick a potting soil that is for vegetable growing. Many companies offer varieties for flowers, indoor plants and outdoor plants, all of which have different densities and moisture properties. I recommend ProMix All-Purpose, which can be found at Walmart during spring and the early months of summer.

Plant and nurse

After you have picked your pot and soil, it’s time to transplant your new baby into its forever home. If your pot doesn’t have drainage holes, you will need to make some. This step, which is often ignored, provides crucial air flow to your plant’s root system and will prevent things such as root rot and yellow leaves, which is caused by improper air flow and overwatering. To prevent this, drainage holes can be added to any pot or bucket by drilling small holes into the bottom. If a drill is not available, you can layer something like stones, pebbles or twigs underneath your soil to create a void for extra water to go.

Ah — the fruit of your labor. Photo by Deniz Altindas on Unsplash

Once your ventilation choice is finished, it’s time to get dirty! Carefully remove your new plant from its nursery pot, then use your fingers to lightly loosen the roots. It’s okay to lose some of the soil that the plant came with because it has served its purpose. Once your plant is free, you’ll want to set it to the side and pour potting soil into your prepared pot. Lightly water the soil, and after mixing it together, use your hands to pack the soil against the sides of your pot. There should be enough soil in the pot that the bottom and sides are covered, leaving a hole for your new plant.

Now, take your prepared plant and plant it! Some gardeners plant their tomatoes straight, but I recommend laying it on the side and planting it at an angle, which creates a stronger stem system. Using your hands, scoop the soil from the sides of your pot to cover your exposed roots, lightly pressing down so that the soil is tightly packed around the plant. Once finished, scoop soil into your pot until it’s almost full, then sit back and wait.

Pro-tip: While some gardeners may prefer drilling holes and adding an element such as twigs to their pots, I do not recommend both. Doing both creates a space from your less-dense component, which is an invite to unwanted pests, who may find an easy entrance through your drilled holes. I recommend playing it safe by picking one option.

Water, wait and sow

There’s an ongoing joke in the gardening world that gardeners spend three months growing tomato plants, tending to them, and sowing the plants for an average of 47 cents of savings.

After all, how much does a typical tomato cost at the grocery store? Once a gardener considers the average growing time for a harvest, which can be between 45 to 60 days, it does seem like a slight waste of time.

That joke, however, does not consider that a typical tomato plant can yield up to 15 pounds a season.

Now, all that is left to do is wait. Patience is the key when growing. When your soil is dry, water it. Or don’t. If it is outside, the rain will likely suffice. You can provide a tomato cage, or trellis, for your plant, if you’d like. They don’t require it, though. All your plant needs are a steady sun and water, and in less than two months, you can save yourself 47 cents, too.

Kelly wrote this story for a class Professor Michael Lear-Olimpi is teaching this term.

Comment or story idea? Contact KnightlyEditors@CentralPenn.Edu.

Edited by media-club co-adviser and blog editor Professor Michael Lear-Olimpi.