By: Deb Pavlosky
Tomatoes are quite the controversial vegetable. Educated people have debated their classification in the US since the late 1800’s. Vegetables or fruits, what do you think? The biologist in me finds the answer to be undeniable. Tomatoes are very clearly (drum roll here) FRUITS. The very definition of a fruit is, and I quote from my desktop Scientific dictionary, ‘the ripened ovary of a seed plant and its contents.’ That is exactly what a tomato is my friends. So, why ARE tomatoes classified as vegetables? The 1893 US Supreme Court classified tomatoes as vegetables so that they could be taxed under the 1883 Tariff Act (10% duty on whole vegetables). Now, it all makes sense – right? Interested?
I bet you all are wondering where the useful tomato planting information is. Here ya go:
Tomatoes require full or part Sun (though most say they require full sun or 6 hours of direct sunlight) and lots of water to grow well.
You can plant tomatoes in the ground or grow them in containers. You should carefully consider the height of your tomato plant and the size of your container before planting.
Bury young tomato plants deeper than the container you buy them in. You can even leave just the few top leaves above the ground. Tomatoes are able to develop roots all along their stems, so this helps create a strong tomato plant. You can also dig a hole wider than it is deep to accommodate a tomato plant lying on its side. The plant will grow up toward the sun and straighten itself out.
Tomato plants definitely need fertilizer and if you plan to eat them (why would you grow them if you didn’t?) we recommend an organic fertilizer like Microlife. During heavy fruit production, apply Microlife more frequently. Lots of folks have their own magical tomato fertilizer concoctions. Just remember, fruits are what they eat. What? In other words, if you use stinky fertilizers, your fruit can sometimes take on that flavor. Yuck.
Hold off on mulching tomato plants until the summer heat really starts to cause a problem with moisture for your tomatoes. You want the soil to “heat” start your tomato plants – they like it hot!
Tomato plants can be determinate (bears all fruit at one time) or indeterminate (bears fruit through the whole growing season). Determinate tomato plants will stop growing when they start bearing fruit. Indeterminate tomato plants can continue to grow as they produce fruit through the whole season.
Caging tomatoes is important. Some tomato fruits are HEAVY. The largest recorded was over 7lbs. Yours probably won’t grow to the size of a cantaloupe, but you never know. So, use a cage from the very beginning. The tomato plant will appreciate the assistance and could possibly bear more fruit if supported.
You can remove the bottom leaves off a tomato plant once the whole plant gets pretty close to its normal height. These leaves get very little sun and are usually the ones to start fungal issues for the entire plant. You can also thin the leaves to allow more sun to reach the tomatoes, but remember, the plant needs leaves for photosynthesis. Lastly, you can remove the small growths that pop up between branches. These won’t bear fruit and just take energy away from growth or fruit production.
Just a few of the cultivars Maas Nursery will likely carry this year:
BigBeef: ht.8-10′, Medium fruit, 69-80 days to maturity, indeterminate (good for fresh slicing, canning)
BrandywineHeirloom: ht.3-9′, Large fruit, 90 days to maturity, indeterminate (good for fresh slicing, seeds can be stored if properly cleaned)
Celebrity: ht. 2-3′, Medium fruit, 69-80 days to maturity, determinate (good for fresh slicing, canning, drying)
Glory:ht. 6-8′, Medium fruit, 69-80 days to maturity, indeterminate (good for fresh slicing)
PurpleCalabash: ht. 4-6′, Medium, PURPLE fruit, 69-80 days to maturity, indeterminate (good for fresh slicing, seeds can be stored if properly cleaned)
SunLeaper: ht.4-6′, Medium fruit, 69-80 days to maturity, determinate (good for fresh slicing)
SweetMillion: ht. 4-6′, Small fruit, 55-68 days to maturity, indeterminate (good for eating fresh)
VivaItalia: ht. 4-6′, Medium, plum-shaped fruit, 69-80 days to maturity, determinate (excellent for sauces and canning)
GOSH! And that’s just a few…
I am always intrigued to find out about the brave souls who first ate those exotic and interesting foods that came from far away. We should pay homage to those who did not make a wise choice (moment of silence here). It is rumored that Mr. Robert Gibbon Johnson did us all a favor when he ate an entire basket full of bright red delicacies brought over to New Jersey from Europe in the early 1800s. Folklore says he did it just to prove to the crowds the tomato fruits weren’t poisonous. Good thing he didn’t eat any of the leaves!