Tomatoes All Summer Long!

The most popular edible garden crop in our area is the tomato. Many people love to grow these because it is not only easy, but because they yield a large crop.  One plant will give you tomatoes throughout the summer.  And with delicious heirloom varieties that you can’t always find in the grocery store, growing them in your backyard is even more rewarding.

In order to have a successful harvest of your tomato plant, be sure to plant it in a sunny area and keep it watered.  When purchasing tomatoes that have already been started, you can plant them a little bit deeper than where they are in the container you bought them in. Tomatoes are covered in tiny little hairs that when planted in soil turn into roots.  By planting the tomato deeper into the soil, you allow the plant to establish itself quicker with a better root base.

For tomatoes in the garden, you need plenty of room for them to grow. Wait until the soil has warmed up to at least 55 degrees, which we are in the clear to do so now.  Space tomatoes between two and three feet apart, because while they look small when bought, they will need all of that room. Be sure to put any cages or supports around them when you plant them. It will get to be way more difficult to do so when they are larger.

Also, once they have established and are growing, be sure to remove any suckers in the joint of the branches and main stem.  These are small green leaves that will form right in the “elbow” of the plant which do not bear any fruit but will take some energy away from the fruit baring branches.

Tomatoes can also be grown in containers, but there are certain tomatoes that are better than others.  The Patio tomato was designed to be grown in a container.  It is a determinate, which means it grows more compactly and its fruit grows closer together, but can still grow to be three feet tall.  Indeterminate means it grows tall and more like a vine.  Both varieties will need support from tomato cages or supports to prevent breakage. 

There are other factors to think about when choosing which tomatoes to grow.  Other than the space you have available, you need to think about what you will be using them for.  There are mainly two categories: paste and slicing tomatoes.  Paste tomatoes are used for making your own pasta sauce or soup.  Slicing tomatoes are used more for putting on sandwiches, making bruschetta, and eating fresh off the vine.  Cherry tomatoes fall into this category, being that they are mainly eaten on salads or right off the vine.

Cherry tomatoes are also a great pick because their time to maturity is short. You’ll be picking tomatoes fairly early in the season and throughout the entire season.  Early Girl tomato is another variety that produces quickly.  When shopping for seeds or tomato plants, each tag should have the time to maturity listed, to let you know how quickly you’ll have tomatoes in your garden.

There’s also acidity to think about.  While this is not a factor for everyone, typically yellow tomatoes have the lowest acidity and are the best to choose. Finally, and most importantly, there’s the flavor to think about.

Heirloom tomatoes have great flavors and cannot be found in grocery stores. Heirloom tomatoes are tomatoes that have been passed down through several generations of a family because of their great flavor and growing characteristics.  These varieties also have some interesting names that are typically derived from the stories behind them.

One example is the tomato Mortgage Lifter. This tomato was named after a man whose nickname was Radiator Charlie who ran a truck repair shop.  During the Great Depression he developed this tomato and began to sell it throughout his area.  He was so successful at doing so that he was able to pay off his $6,000 mortgage, thus the name Mortgage Lifter.

There are also hybrid tomatoes, such as Better Boy tomatoes or Supersweet 100 cherry tomatoes, which can be purchased in store.  Whichever type you choose, with enough sunlight and water, you will be growing loads of tomatoes throughout the summer.

Kim Boyer