Just a couple of decades ago, grape tomatoes were largely an unknown fruit. Then, they seemed to hit the marketplace by storm right around the turn of the century. These cherry-sized, egg-shaped grape tomatoes are firmer, but not as sweet as regular cherry tomatoes. Gardeners like you and me quickly added them to our gardens. Now, our vegetable gardens would not be complete without growing a few grape tomato plants. This “How to Grow Grape Tomatoes” guide will help you to have a bumper crop. So, start planning now to give all of that excess away.
In the marketplace, grape tomatoes have quickly become very popular, despite a higher price tag. Being a little smaller than cherry tomatoes, it takes more effort to fill a container for the marketplace. As gardeners, we give little or no thought to the extra time to harvest. The taste is well worth the effort!
Growing Tip: Plant grape tomato plants at the edge of the garden. Kids and adults will come right up for a tasty, right from the garden treat.
Certainly, you can buy seedlings plants from your local garden store. But, why let the garden stores have all the fun. So. plan to start your own grape tomato plants indoors.
Tomato plants are usually started indoors. Planting tomato seeds is an exciting time. It is one of the very first gardening projects of the year. After a long winter, you are itching to get your hands back into some “dirt”.
Begin starting tomato seeds indoors in small containers, eight to ten weeks before the last frost date for your area. Sow tomato seeds about 1/8″ inch deep, using seed starting soil. Seeds will sprout in 10-14 days, depending upon soil temperature. Sprouting tomato seeds is quicker and more productive when using a heated germination mat.
As soon as the seedlings emerge, they need full sunlight to grow sturdy. Lack of sunlight causes the plants to grow “leggy”. Use grow lights to supplement the amount of available sunlight.
Tip: To help your plants grow sturdy, place a small fan on low nearby. Or, lightly brush the tops of the plants with your hands a couple of times each day.
Generally speaking, grow grape tomatoes just like any tomato variety. Like other tomato plants, it prefers full sun and rich garden soil.
It is best to start your grape tomato plants indoors. Plant grape tomato seeds in small containers, eight to ten weeks before the last frost date for your area. You can also start seeds in a cold frame.
Just before planting seedlings in your garden, “harden them off” by bringing them outside during the daytime and for increasing hours, until you are leaving them out overnight. Use of a cold frame is recommended, but not a requirement. If frost is predicted, bring them indoors.
On planting day, pour liberal amounts of water with a soluble liquid fertilizer on them. Plant them in the garden carefully. To minimize transplant shock, avoid disturbing the roots. Normal spacing is 24 ” apart, in rows 30″ to 36″ apart.
Fertilize plants, regularly. Early applications should be high in nitrogen. As soon as flower buds begin to appear, switch to fertilizers that are higher in Phosphorus and Potassium. Too much Nitrogen fertilizer results in lots of lush green leaves, and little fruit. A fertilizer specifically formulated for tomatoes will help to maximize your crop.
Keep your grape tomato plants well-watered. Deep watering is preferable, over more frequent, light watering. You want moisture to go deep to all the roots of the plant. Water directly to the roots. Keep water off the leaves if at all possible. Tomatoes are susceptible to plant disease that grows in wet, humid conditions.
Caging or staking grape tomatoes, is highly recommended. We consider it a must. You can also plant them next to a fence and tie them to the fence as they grow.
Also see: Veggie Cages
Tomato Cages and Staking – Maximize your crop, and minimize disease and insect damage, by staking or caging tomato plants. Grape tomato plants are an indeterminate variety. A healthy plant will grow five to six feet during the growing season. Staking or cages rewards you with more tomatoes. The fruit will be cleaner, as they will not be sitting on the soil. More on staking tomatoes.
Grape tomato plants grow at about the same speed as other tomato plants. The small fruit takes less time to grow and ripen. The fruit should begin to ripen about 70 days after you set seedlings out into the garden.
Cold and hot spells affect fruit development and growth. Fruit set does not occur below 55 degrees or above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Grape tomato plants are prolific producers. Continuously harvest ripe fruit. This will promote new flowering and fruit set, for a maximum harvest.
Tomatoes experience insect problems with cutworms and a few other garden pests. Also, if not staked or caged, snails and slugs will munch on the ripening fruit.
Deer will nip the young, tender growing tips of the plants.
Did you Know? Tomato plants emit a mild toxin that discourages many small insects from bothering them. This toxin can also cause skin itching and irritation.
Tip: Borage plants can be used as companion plants, to deter Tomato hornworms
Did you Know? Tomato plants (not the fruit) are used to make an organic insect repellent. See Tomato “Juice” Spray
Several plant problems can arise, usually in the mid-summer heat and humidity. Blights and fungus infections can occur in high humidity. Early treatment with fungicides is effective. Spacing plants too close cuts down air circulation and promotes disease.
Blossom end rot can also affect the fruit. This is a round, brown, indented spot on the bottom of the tomato. It is caused by either uneven watering or a lack of calcium in the soil. More on Blossom End Rot.
Tip: Do not water at night if possible, in hot and humid weather if possible. Moisture and humidity combined with high temperatures promote plant diseases. If possible, water at the roots.
Tomato Plant Problems Causes and cures for many plant problems
Tomatoes like it hot! They will die if exposed to frost. Make sure to plant them after the last frost.
Tip#1: Cover your young seedling if frost is predicted. A simple and easy cover for small seedlings is to buy large or extra large plastic disposable cups. Place them over the seedling at dusk, and remove them in the morning. There is usually little or no wind on nights with frost, so they are not easily tipped over.
Tip#2: If you get a light frost overnight and you did not cover up your plants. Go out early before the sun rises, and spray your plants with the garden hose. This melts the ice off the plants and may save them.
Harvest grape tomatoes anytime from when they begin to turn pink, to when they fully ripen into a bright red, color.
Importantly, pick all fruit as it ripens or just before. With healthy prolific plants, this can be a chore. However, unpicked tomatoes rot, turning messy and smelly.
Store ripe grape tomatoes on a countertop, or any cool, dry location. Also, do not put them in the refrigerator.
May we suggest:
Sauteed Cherry Tomatoes – And, you can use grape tomatoes with this recipe,too.
Fried Green Tomatoes – It’s a great way to use up those end-of-season tomatoes that didn’t ripen before frost.
When making large amounts of juice or sauce, you will need a tomato strainer and sauce maker, to easily remove seeds and skin. See Tomato Strainers.
On the Light Side: See Tomato Trivia
Tomato Mania – In-depth information and advice from Garden Hobbies
Problems with Tomatoes – To begin with, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure