A vegetable garden isn't complete without a few tomato plants (Lycopersicon esculentum). You can choose from dozens of different varieties, including small cherry tomatoes that can be extra-flavorful. This type includes the cultivar 'Tom Thumb,' which originated in the Andes mountain in South America and is named for its resemblance to a red cherry. An easy-to-grow plant, 'Tom Thumb' needs lots of sun, even moisture and well-drained soil to produce a bumper crop.
Like all tomatoes, 'Tom Thumb' is frost-sensitive and grows as an annual in all parts of the United States. If you live where spring frost is common, start seeds indoors six to eight weeks before the last expected frost, sowing them in flat or pots filled with sterile potting soil or soil-less mix. Keep the medium moist and set the plants in strong light once seedlings emerge. You can also start with purchased seedlings, but wait until nighttime temperatures stay above 45 degrees Fahrenheit and danger of frost has passed.
Never use garden soil to start seeds indoors because it can harbor pests and their eggs, as well as fungal organisms.
Site Selection and Planting
Plant seedlings in a spot that gets full, direct sun for at least eight hours each day to produce a good crop. Well-drained soil is also essential, as is soil that's rich in organic matter. Add about 1 inch of compost, mixing it in before planting, to improve the soil's fertility and organic content.
'Tom Thumb' tomatoes become about 2 feet tall and 8 inches wide, so set plants in the garden with about 8 inches between them to allow seedlings to spread as they grow. Plant seedlings extra-deep so the soil level reaches the first set of leaves; roots grow from the buried stem to produce a strong plant. Tamp down the soil and water well to ensure air isn't trapped around roots.
Watering and Fertilizing
This is a determinate variety that produces one large crop of tomatoes and takes about 70 days from planting to produce its first fruits. It needs a steady, even amount of moisture throughout the season for best results. Provide extra water whenever the top inch or two of soil feels dry to your fingertip, but keep foliage dry to prevent growth of fungal organisms. Add 2 or 3 inches of organic mulch under the plant to helps conserve soil moisture, but keep this back a few inches from the plant's center to discourage fungal growth.
Fertilizing 'Tom Thumb' plants also helps support a heavy crop, but wait until you see the first small fruits. Then mix about 1/2 cup of a 5-10-5 granular formula into a shallow trench encircling each plant about 5 or 6 inches from its center -- called sidedressing -- and water it in well. Repeat this feeding when you harvest the first red, ripe fruits.
Providing Other Care
This variety isn't especially tall and doesn't require staking, but you can help keep tomatoes off the ground by using a commercial tomato cage or a stake driven into the ground for support. When tomatoes touch the ground, that can promote rotting. If you use a stake, attach the stems to the stake with soft ties such as strips of cloth, which prevent abrasions to stems where they rub on the stake.
Watch for tomato hornworms, large green caterpillars that devour leaves, and Colorado potato beetles, which are striped yellow, hard-bodied pests. Hand-pick both of these pests to control them. If you see aphids, small greenish crawling insects, control these by spraying them with a strong jet of water, but do this early in the day so the plant dries quickly.