My farming and gardening experience is acquired by years and years of hands-on digging in the dirt and reading, reading, reading. When I went to college, I didn't even know there were colleges that specialized in "agriculture" degrees. I was pressured by my parents to get a Business degree, but my passion was my minor, Interior Design. When I think about it, those skills and knowledge actually do help if you want to farm or garden.
When you own a business, you need to know about accounting; marketing; public relations; employee issues; profit/loss. If you care about the presentation of your products you make or the produce you grow; designing your farm logo; or even putting together a produce and flower garden, having some "design" thoughts would be very helpful.
Now to tomatoes. In my experience, starting tomatoes from seed is time consuming and difficult. You have to start early in a greenhouse, transplant several times before they are ready to meet the real world outside. I purchase my tomatoes either from our local garden center in town, Mac's; or I purchase them directly from a fabulous nursery in Auburn, Eisley's. We used to live in Nevada County and each year, we would always get everything we needed to plant directly from Eisley's. They are one of the last large nurseries that supply most of the plants you see at hardware stores and even other small nurseries. I purchase many varieties of tomatoes either in flats or 6 packs. I like my tomato plants to be at least 6"-8" tall before I put them in the ground outside. If you are planting only a few around your yard or in large container type gardening, my advice would be, spend a bit more money and go for the large tomato plants.
A gardening tip that I do to help get my plants going, takes a bit of courage. When I first put the little plant in the ground, I make sure the complete root and dirt system it had in its' container are completely covered. Then if there are any small yellow leaves, I break them off.
After a week or so, I use my hand cultivator, my preference is called a Cobra. I cultivate all around the tomato plant, pulling up any weeds that have grown close to the base of the plant. I again, pull off any weak, lower branches.
Then after a few more weeks, the plant should be strong and healthy and much, much taller. This next tip is again, hard to do, be brave.
From this point on, I will add more string higher and higher, about ever 12". As the plant gets high against the metal panels, I will push some of the top stems and branches through the openings to disperse the weight across the panels instead of the main stem of the plant.
Periodically, in the next month or so, I always move dirt around the base of the plant with my cobra. Careful not to cut into the roots but move more dirt up against the roots and to always keep weeds away. Weeds complete for nutrients and water and will cause your plants to not be their best or yield the best produce if their roots are invaded with weeds. The weeds also bring insects that can pray upon the leaves or fruit of the plant.
This year, because of the water shortage, I have placed straw around the base of my tomato plants to help maintain the moisture given to the plants from our drip system. The winds have been bad recently and we had a very hot spell early this spring so I feel the straw has added in protecting the young tomato plant roots and to maintain the moisture in the ground instead of being lost in the wind and sun. The dis-advantage of the straw can be that it may have seeds still in it and cause additional weeds. I put it pretty thick around the roots to help with that so the seeds don't germinate. And the ideal conditions under the straw can bring in beetles and ear wigs which are not good for the plant. So keep an eye on any signs of holes in leaves.
I use food grand, diatomaceous earth (DE) for my insect control. It is harmless, it is NOT what goes into pools, that has been treated. It is great for ear wigs, ants and other insects. I sprinkle it around my veggie plants and all around the base of my fruit trees. Ants are one of my problem pests so I use a lot of DE.
After each time I trim up the lower branches of my tomato plants; when I cultivate new dirt around the base of them, I see a spurge of new growth and vigor in the plants.
I hate seeing all the piles of cut off branches and leaves but know it is for the best of the plant. Same thing happens when we thin our fruit trees, you see all these green fruit on the ground and you think what a waste, but necessary.
When I go into the house and wash my hands, they smell of that beautiful fresh tomato scent and turn the water and my hands yellow. Just dream of picking these wonderful fresh, plump tomatoes and slicing them on a sandwich in about 6 weeks, it will be worth it.