Easy Gardening Guide for Tomato Lovers
Subspecies: Lycopersicon esculentum
The flavor of fresh picked tomatoes is much better than tomatoes available for purchase that some fans of this vegetable/fruit grow at least a few plants each summer, even if they grow nothing else. Tomatoes are a perennial, but are grown as an annual.
In addition to the traditional red tomato, there are also black, yellow and green varieties. Some heirloom varieties are striped and many heirlooms have an old fashioned tomato taste that cannot be beat, in spite of the their less than perfect appearance. Compact varieties make good container plants and are a good choice for planting in flower beds. Read on for tips on how to grow tomatoes of different varieties.
Tomatoes are extremely sensitive to frost damage. Start seeds inside 6 – 8 weeks before last frost.
Tomato transplants do best if moved to progressively larger pots as the seedlings grow. First seeds can be broadcast in shallow trays. After germination, they can be planted 2 or 3 at a time in 2 x 2” pots, egg crates, or flats. When the seedlings reach about 3 inches high, the strongest should be planted individually in 4 inch pots. When they are about 6 inches high they should be moved to larger peat pots or soil blocks that will be placed, whole, in the soil at transplant time.
Seedlings should be hardened off by exposure to the outdoors during the day for two days, then left overnight for 2 or 3 days, before finally being placed into the ground.
If the ground is not consistently warm yet, black landscape cloth can be used and the seedlings planted through holes in the cloth. The landscape cloth will suppress weeds, keep the soil warm and heat the plants during the day.
Determinate varieties have an almost bush like habit and yield all of their fruit in one short growing period.
Indeterminate varieties have a more vine like growth and will continue to yield fruit for as long as the vine is healthy and seasonal conditions permit.
Semi-determinate varieties are compact and will yield fruit for as long as temperatures do not get too cool.
Within these three types of tomato plants, there are hundreds and hundreds of varieties, from well known staples like Beefsteak and Cherry, to interestingly colored and shaped varieties like Baby White Sugar, Black Russian, and Uncle Jarred’s Bill Buster.
Gardeners should choose varieties that meet their growing and consumption needs, and seek out heirlooms with a proven track record of thriving in the local environment.
Avoiding harmful pests may be the most difficult part of growing tomatoes. Here are some tips for doing that.
Manually remove the larvae of Horn worms. They can be destroyed or fed to chickens.
A direct and steady spray of water will displace aphids from the plants. This should be done before the sun is directly overhead so plants will not be scorched.
If purchasing established seedlings, check for evidence of whiteflies and beetle larvae. Do not buy transplants with larvae or that are near seedlings with signs of insect presence or damage.
Tomatoes are well suited to canning, freezing, and drying. There are almost as many sauce, salsa, marinara, and soup recipes as there are varieties of tomatoes. Use family favorites, or basic instructions from your local agricultural extension service.
Sun dried tomatoes can be made with a simple homemade solar dehydrator. Plum tomatoes or tomatoes labeled as sauce tomatoes, work best for drying because of their meatier flesh. Once tomatoes have been dried, they should be packed in airtight containers. Neither dried nor fresh tomatoes should be stored in oil for more than two days. Grocery store tomatoes, that are packaged with oil and have been treated with an anti-bacterial.