Homegrown Tomatoes

The Garden Advisor, By Lisa Ray,  Grow Something Today For Tomorrow

A few things in this world still cannot be brought, and one of them is a fresh tomato.  Nothing seems to fit in the kitchen garden better.  Whether your garden is big or small, you should have no trouble raising plenty of rich-tasting tomatoes in a rainbow of colors including red, pink, orange, yellow, striped or even purple.  When choosing tomatoes, it is a good idea to grow different types and varieties.  That way, you can be assured that you will get plenty.   

Disease resistance types are a huge plus, because diseases live from year to year in the soil.  While vigorous hybrids usually produce heavy crops, try heirloom types because they taste great and the seeds can be saved.  Also, consider the growth habit.  Tomato varieties labeled “determinate” grow to a certain height and then produce a crop that ripens in a short period.  “Indeterminate” types continue to grow and produce all season long.  Buy tomatoes as transplants, or start seeds indoors six to eight weeks before the last spring frost in your area.  Wait until all frost is past to set out transplants, unless you can provide special protection.  Tomatoes need full sun, fertile soil and an even supply of moisture.  A week before planting, work one to two pounds of 5-10-10 or similar low-nitrogen fertilizer into the soil. Too much nitrogen will reduce yields. 

Remove all the lower leaves, and set plants deeper in the garden than they were growing in the pots.  The buried stem will grow additional roots for a better plant.  Except for the very shortest varieties, tomato stems are not strong enough to hold up the vines and fruit on their own.  Use cages, stakes, or trellises to supports the plants.  Apply thick organic mulch a month after transplanting to retain moisture in the soil and to keep weeds down.  When the first fruit clusters form and every three weeks afterward, work ½ tablespoon of 5-10-10 fertilizer in to the soil six inches from the main stem. 

Protect young plants from cutworms with cardboard or metal collars.  Handpick tomato hornworms or control them with BT.  Folklore states that planting basil with tomatoes helps repel hornworms.  To avoid soil borne diseases, do not plant where tomatoes, or their relatives, have grown in previous two years.  Grow disease resistant cultivars if you suspect your soil harbors diseases such as Fusarium or Verticillium wilt. 

Harvest tomatoes when they are fully colored but still firm, unless you want “green” tomatoes.  Never chill ripe tomatoes, keep in a warm place to preserve the flavor compounds.  Place tomatoes on old newspaper to catch and juices that might leak out.  Eat or preserve tomatoes quickly after harvesting.  here are numerous ways to preserve tomatoes.  Recipes have been handed down in almost every family.  Tomatoes can be dried, canned, or frozen.  You can make salsa, sauce, juice, jelly, and stew chopped or leave them whole.  Search the internet or your favorite cook book for limitless recipes.

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