Vegetable gardening is so satisfying and home grown tomatoes are at the top of my favorites list. The taste of home grown tomatoes is nothing at all like those that you buy in the stores. Even the vine ripened ones can’t compare in taste to the sweetness of those you grow yourself. Have you ever wondered what you need to do to grow sweet tomatoes?
Contrary to popular thinking, not all tomato varieties give off the same kind of sweetness. Just because a tomato is home grown does not mean that it is automatically sweeter. The actual flavor of a tomato comes from a combination of the plant chemistry and also variables that are present in your gardening spot such as the air temperature, your soil type and the amount of sun and rain that you get during the growing season.
The flavor of the tomato comes from the balance of acidity and sugar in the crop. Tomatoes that taste the most acidic have a lower level of sugar in them. Sweeter tomatoes, on the other hand have a low level of acid and a higher level of sugar in them. If your plant is low in both acid and sugar it will be bland. The ideal tomato, for many people, is one that is high in both acid and sugar.
Tips for Growing Sweet Tomatoes
Choose the right type!
The single most important thing that you can do to ensure that your tomatoes will be sweet is to grow the right cultivars. For the sweetest varieties, choose cherry tomatoes known for their sweetness, such as sweet million and sun sugar varieties. Heirloom varieties are known for their intense flavors, but be sure to check the description on the package of seeds to see whether the tomato is know for its sweetness of tartness.
It does not matter whether the plant is a determinate or indeterminate type of tomato plant. Both have varieties that give some tomatoes that are sweeter than others.
The size of the fruit makes a difference.
Larger varieties, such as beefsteak tomatoes can often be less sweet. Some sweet varieties of tomatoes are shown here. Both cherry and grape tomatoes reach a higher sugar concentration in the fruit than full size tomatoes do, so they will generally taste sweeter. If sweet tomatoes is your goal, go for a smaller tomato!
Make sure the plant is suited to your area
Sure, you can order tomato plants known for their sweetness from mail order catalogs, but the plants you choose should be suitable for your climate and soil conditions. Many varieties that perform well and produce sweet tomatoes in some areas may do poorly in others. A plant that does well in one planting zone may suffer when the rainfall or humidity in another is different. This will have an impact of the quality and sweetness of the fruit.
Spacing Tomato Plants
Crowded tomato plants gives you stunted growth and a drop in fruit production, since the sun cannot reach the tomatoes as well. This gives the plant a perfect breeding place for disease and other problems. Tomatoes need room to grow. Be sure to keep the type of plant that you have in mind and space the plants so that the fruit will have a chance to not only grow but develop sweetness. See more great tips for spacing tomato plants.
Start your Tomato plants early
Tomato plants like a long growing season in the heat. If you start them too late, they will have a shorter time to ripen. Starting seedlings indoors before the last frost can extend your growing season and give tomatoes a longer chance to ripen naturally
If possible, let them ripen on the vine.
To encourage your plant to grow sweet tomatoes, allow the fruit to ripen on the vine. But sometimes, garden critters make this a challenge. I have had squirrel problems in my yard and often have to pick my tomatoes green and let them ripen indoors. If I don’t do this, the squirrels will take a bite out of each one and destroy my crop.I have found that tomatoes that ripen on the vine are much sweeter than those that I have to bring indoors to escape the squirrels.
Add organic matter to the soil
In order for any tomato plant to do well and end up with a sweet crop, it needs nutrients to meet its growing needs. You can use tomato fertilizer or add lots of organic matter to the soil to add these nutrients back as they are used up in the growing process. Having a compost pile that creates humus and using it around the plants will help to encourage good growth and natural sweetness.
The weather matters
Healthy tomato plants require hot weather with abundant rainfall of at least 1 inch a week. If your weather is cool and the soil stays wet for a prolonged period of time the whole tomato plant as well as the sweetness of the tomatoes will suffer. Too hot a heat and less water than the plants need will mean that the tomatoes cannot access the moisture and nutrients they need to develop their sweet flavor.
Common Home Remedies for Sweet Tomatoes – Do they Work?
Adding Baking Soda to the Soil
There is a theory that adding baking soda to the soil will lower the acidity and make the tomatoes sweeter, but is this true? The short answer is not really. Tomatoes don’t draw acidity up from the soil. They produce acids and sugars based on their genetics. Some gardeners swear that the baking soda works, so I suppose it is worth a try to discover this for yourself.
There are some effective ways to use baking soda in the garden, though. Check them out here.
There is one good use of baking soda with tomatoes, though. Mix it with vegetable oil to make an organic tomato spray to fight tomato fungal disease. To make the spray, combine a gallon of water with a tbsp of baking soda and 2 1/2 tbsp of vegetable oil in a spray bottle. Stir and add 1/2 tsp of castile soap. Spray this solution on the foliage of tomato plants until the fungal disease disappears.
Will Epsom salt help to sweeten tomatoes?
Another common thought is that adding epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) around tomato plants will sweeten the tomatoes. Once again, the sweetness of tomatoes is generally genetic, so this won’t help but epsom salts can be an effective all purpose fertilizer. You can also mix 1 or 2 tbsp of epsom salts in a gallon of water to use as a spray to discourage blossom end rot.
Have you discovered some other tips in your quest for growing sweet tomatoes? Please share them below. I’d be particularly interested in your results with epsom salts, baking soda and other home remedies that are reported to sweeten tomatoes.