Tomatoes – I kinda feel like Bubba from Forest Gump when it comes to tomatoes. Tomatoes are so versatile, they are the fruit (and, haha, they really are a fruit) of the, um well, vegetable world. -Start Bubba impression now – You can serve tomatoes cold or you can serve ‘em hot. You can use tomatoes in Mexican, Italian, Greek, Algerian, American and probably any other nationality of dish you can imagine. You can grill ‘em, broil ‘em, sauté ‘em, kabob ‘em, fry ‘em and pickle ‘em. You can make tomato bisque, tomato soup, tomato stew, tomato sauce, tomato paste and tomato salad. You can make tomato sandwiches, stuffed tomatoes and tomato salsa. You can even serve sliced tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and a little fresh ground pepper and salt. Well, I could go on forever, so as Bubba would say, “That – that’s about it.”
All those things you can do with tomatoes, why not grow some of your own? We will start to get our tomato plants in toward the end January. Yup, you can plant them then, you just need to protect them from freezing temperatures. And here are a few other things you should know about growing tomatoes.
Tomatoes require full or part sun (at least 6 hours of direct sun) and lots of water to grow well. They will do better through our hotter months if they get their sun in the morning. Our afternoon sun can be brutal on any plants – tomatoes included.
You can plant tomatoes in the ground or grow them in containers. I have even seen some pictures online of people growing tomato plants in bags of potting soil (with holes poked in the bottom for drainage). No container or raised bed required! You should carefully consider the mature size of your tomato plant if you plan to grow in a planter or other container. You will still need to stake or cage your tomato, so be sure you can fit your cage in the container too.
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, tomatoes are what they eat. What? In other words, if you use stinky fertilizers, your tomatoes can sometimes take on that flavor too. Yuck! Be careful not to over-fertilize too. Over-fertilizing will cause tomato plants to grow vigorously, but produce little to no fruit.
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 (well, to a degree, that is).
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 once 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:
Brandywine Heirloom: 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)
Purple Calabash: ht. 4-6′, Medium, PURPLE fruit, 69-80 days to maturity, indeterminate (good for fresh slicing, seeds can be stored if properly cleaned)
Sun Leaper: ht.4-6′, Medium fruit, 69-80 days to maturity, determinate (good for fresh slicing)
Sweet Million: ht. 4-6′, Small fruit, 55-68 days to maturity, indeterminate (good for eating fresh)
Viva Italia: ht. 4-6′, Medium, plum-shaped fruit, 69-80 days to maturity, determinate (excellent for sauces and canning)
Well, I hope you are starting the Fall with plans to grow your own tomatoes. I know I will be doing my best Bubba impression as I pick out a few varieties for my home garden.
by Deb Pavlosky