You say toh-mah-toh, we say t’may-toh, but either way there’s nothing better this time of year than waiting for this wonderful fruit—and it scientifically is a fruit rather than a vegetable–to show up ruby red in our pots, in our vegetable patches, and on our tables in all sorts of soups, salads, side dishes, and main courses. To learn more about the different varieties and do’s and don’ts we went straight to Joan Casanova, who writes about gardening for Bonnie Plants, a large vegetable and herb provider in North America, based in Union Springs, AL.
Here’s what Joan shared:
Tomatoes: Some like it hot: Some tomato varieties can ride the heat-wave with you, setting fruit even as the temperature rises. Below are some basic terms, tips, types of heat-set tomato varieties that like it HOT!
Tomatoes, though a fruit, are widely accepted as the most popular vegetable in home gardens across America. Now through mid-July, you can plant tomatoes for later harvests in fall, often right up to frost dates if you protect them overnight or harvest them green and ripen them indoors.
Tomatoes need the right combination of good soil, water, and heat. Use transplants—grown from seeds, through germination and transplanting, so they’re faster than starting from seed. Transplants offered in biodegradable pots can be planted directly into the ground, preventing them to go into shock and saving millions of pounds of plastic from landfills. To plant, find a sunny location–at least six hours a day– with good drainage, and if you plant tomatoes each season, rotate the spot in the garden where you plant them. If you don’t do that, the plants will remove a lot of the nutrients from the soil over time, and you’ll have to amend it to gain good results.
Tomato plants are classified as either indeterminate or determinate:
Indeterminate plants grow all season, continuing to bloom, and producing fruit as long as weather conditions are favorable.
Determinate plants are the compact bush type, which grow to a certain size, set fruit, and stop growing, bearing fruit all at once. This type of tomato is popular with gardeners who like to can and make sauce.
Tomatoes are often designated by the terms early, middle, and late, which refer to when the fruit will be ready to harvest. Early season tomatoes are the first to ripen, late season are the last to ripen, and middle season types fall somewhere in between. Planting some of each type is a good strategy for enjoying ripe tomatoes throughout summer.
Heirloom tomatoes are at least 50 years old and not hybrids. Hybrid tomatoes are tomatoes bred by crossing varieties. Hybrids offer better disease resistance, higher yield, and other improved traits.
Time to pick your plants
While tomato lovers have a seemingly endless list of varieties to plant in their gardens, tomatoes fall into three basic categories: small salad (cherry) tomatoes, slicing tomatoes, and thick-walled tomatoes ideal for making sauces. It can be confusing to pick the perfect tomato best suited for your needs; you might want to check out the “Tomato Chooser” on Bonnie Plants Web site as a guide (http://bonnieplants.com/tomatoes/choose-your-tomato/) You can sort through tomato varieties to find just what you want, if you check off the traits that you’re looking for, the Tomato Chooser will do the work for you, bringing up all the varieties that match. Or, you can use it to get started, go to your local nursery, and find others from similar plant companies. If your temperatures are rising, and most are throughout the country, choose a heat-set tomato variety that’s able to set fruit in high temperatures compared to many other varieties.
1. Prepare your plot: Loosen the ground to create a welcoming bed for roots to grow. You can add 3 or 4 inches of compost or other organic matter, especially in clay or sandy soils. Dig a hole that is as deep as the plant is tall because you are going to bury two-thirds of the plant, which provides a stronger plant.
2. Slip plant from pot if in plastic: Gently remove the plant by slipping the plastic container from the root ball. Don’t tug on the plant stem; this can sever it from the roots. If the roots are growing out of holes in the bottom of the pot, tear or cut them away and squeeze and twist the pot as necessary to work it from the roots. If your plant is in a biodegradable pot, just tear off the bottom of the pot to make sure that roots are in instant contact with the soil.
3. Bury two-thirds of the plant: Set the plant in the hole deeply enough so that two-thirds of it is buried. Roots will sprout all along the buried stem to make a stronger plant. You can pinch off the lower leaves if you prefer, but it is not necessary.
4. Don’t forget to fertilize: Mix fertilizer into the soil that you will put back into the hole. It is best to fertilize according to recommendations from a soil test, but if you don’t have that, use a timed-release fertilizer, which doesn’t leach…or use an organic fertilizer at the rate recommended on the label. Your tomato plant is almost ready to grow. When you’re done, two-thirds of the entire plant will be buried; only the top of the tomato plant remains above ground.
5. Water well: Water thoroughly at soil line. This is very important to help settle the soil and start the plant.
6. Maintain your mulch: Mulch with pine needles, straw, or compost to help keep moisture in the soil and prevent weeds. Mulch should be 2 to 3 inches deep for effective weed control.
7. Parting shot: Plant tomatoes that work for you, and which you find fun to grow. The taste of a home-grown tomato is definitely more delicious than almost any store bought tomato. The harvested tomatoes can be kept indoors, too. If not fully ripened, you can let them finish on your windowsill. Try to use them as soon as possible, however. They’ll keep better in the refrigerator if they require being indoors after they’re ripened and before you use them, but try to do so within a week or so. Mostly, just enjoy the fruits of your labor!!