Common names: tomato, love apple
Botanical name: Lycopersicon esculentum Origin: tropical America
The varieties of tomatoes available would fill a book. Choose them according to your growing season, whether you plan to stake or cage them or let them sprawl, and what you want to do with the fruit. Some varieties are specially suited to canning and preserving, others are better for salads. Beefsteak varieties are the large kind with rather irregularly shaped fruits. Patio varieties are suited to growing in containers or small spaces, and cherry tomatoes are the very small, round ones. Ask your Cooperative Extension Service for specific recommendations for your area.
The following are just a few of the varieties available and are well-adapted for use in most areas. The initials V, F, and N refer to disease resistance; some varieties are resistant to verticillium (V), fusarium (F), and/or nematodes (N). If you've never had any problem with any of these, you can try any variety. If you have had difficulty growing tomatoes in the past you'll do better to stay with resistant varieties.
Varieties for general use: Better Boy (VFN, 72 days); Burpee's Big Boy (78 days); Early Girl (V, 62 days); Fantastic (70 days); Heinz 1350 (VF, 75 days); Terrific (VFN, 70 days); Wonder Boy (VFN, 80 days). Beefsteak varieties: Beef master (VFN, 80 days); Pink Ponderosa (90 days). Patio varieties: Pixie (52 days); Toy Boy (68 days); Tiny Tim (55 days). Cherry varieties: Small Fry (VFN, 60 days); Tumblin' Tom (72 days). Canning tomatoes: Roma VF (VF, 75 days); Chico III (F, 75 days); Royal Chico (75 days).
Tomatoes are tender perennials grown as annuals. They have weak stems and alternate lobed and toothed leaves that have a distinctive odor. The yellow flowers grow in clusters. Most tomatoes have vining growth habits and need a fair amount of space. Some are advertised as bush varieties that save space, but they'll still sprawl if you let them, and you may still have to stake or cage them. Depending on the variety, the fruit varies in size and in color— red, yellow, orange, and white.
Tomatoes can be divided into two main groups, according to growth habits: determinate and
indeterminate. On the determinate tomato (bush tomato), the plant stops growing when the end buds set fruit — usually about three feet tall. It seldom needs staking. On the indeterminate tomato (vine tomato), the end buds do not set fruit; the plant can grow almost indefinitely if not stopped by frost. Most of the varieties that are staked or caged are indeterminate tomatoes.
Tomatoes are also classified
Tomatoes in a cage are easy to take care of.
by the size and shape of their fruit (currant, cherry, plum, pear, etc.), by their color (red, pink, orange, yellow, and cream), and by their use (eating, canning, pickling). When you're short on garden space, grow tomatoes in a large pot or container. Dwarf tomatoes can be grown in one cubic foot of soil, and standard tomatoes can be grown in two to three cubic feet of soil. The small-fruited tomatoes do very well in hanging baskets or window boxes. Plants growing in containers may easily exhaust the available moisture, in which case the leaves will wilt. However, the plants will revive when they're watered.
Vining tomatoes can be staked or caged to support the fruit, or can be left to sprawl naturally on the ground. Naturally sprawling tomatoes require less work than staked or caged plants; they are less likely to develop blossom end rot, and they produce more fruit per plant. In dry areas, sprawling on the ground protects the fruit from sunburn. But sprawling tomatoes are harder to cultivate than staked or caged plants, and they need mulching under the fruit to keep them clean to reduce disease. Staked tomatoes give you cleaner fruit, less loss from rot, and less loss from problems that occur in warm humid areas. They require less room for each individual plant. On the negative side, they produce less fruit per plant, are much more susceptible to blossom end rot, and are more work. Caged tomatoes require less work than staked tomatoes, but slightly more effort than doing nothing. Caged tomatoes conserve space, keep the fruit cleaner, and are easier to work around in small areas.
Tomatoes grow best when the day temperature is between 65° and 85°F. They stop growing if it goes over 95°F, and if the night temperature goes above 85°F the fruit will not turn red. The flowers will not set fruit if the temperature goes below 55°F at night. Start tomatoes either from seed planted in the garden on the average date of last frost for your area or from transplants set in the garden two to three weeks after the average date of last frost, when the soil has warmed up.
Tomatoes must have full sun and need warm, well-drained, fertile soil. Although they will produce earlier in sandy soils, they will have a larger yield in clay soils. When you're preparing the soil for planting, work in a complete, well-balanced fertilizer at the rate of one pound per 100 square feet or 10 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Plant seeds half an inch deep in rows 24 to 48 inches apart (depending on how large the variety will grow). When the seedlings are large enough to handle, thin them to 18 to 36 inches apart.
Set the plants out on a cloudy day or in the late afternoon. If the sun is very hot, protect the plants with hats made of newspapers. Disturb the roots as little as possible when transplanting. Plants should be gently slipped out of clay and plastic pots. If they're planted in peat pots, plant the entire container. Make sure the tops of the containers are below the soil's surface or the peat will act like a wick and evaporate the soil moisture. If the plants are growing together in a flat, cut the plants apart several days before transplanting them.
Put the plant in the soil so that it's deeper than it was growing before, up to the first leaves. If the stem is very long or spindly, lay it on a slant so that only the leaves are above soil level. The roots will grow from the submerged stem, making a sturdier plant. Set the transplants 18 to 36 inches apart in rows 24 to 48 inches apart, depending on the variety.
Fertilize before planting and again at midseason, at the same rate as the rest of the garden. Detailed information on fertilizing is given in "Spadework: The Essential Soil" in Parti.
Tomatoes need lots of water, but they don't like to swim. Water thoroughly before the soil dries out. During the hot days of summer the leaves sometimes wilt because they use more water than their roots can supply. Don't worry about this if the tomatoes are receiving a regular supply of water. If the plants are wilting first thing in the morning, however, water them at once. Sometimes tomato plants curl their leaves as a survival tactic on hot days or during a long period of no rain. This is nothing to worry about; just water them.
To stake tomatoes, use six-foot stakes (one by two inches) or reinforcing rods, and set the supports at the time of transplanting. Staked tomatoes should be pruned so that they grow one straight stem. Prune by removing any suckers that
appear below the first fruiting cluster — the accompanying illustration shows how to prune a staked tomato plant. The suckers are not productive, so you don't affect the yield by pruning, and pruned plants have more energy to develop fruit. Let the suckers develop two leaves above the first fruiting cluster and then pinch out the rest of the sucker; the extra leaves will provide shade for the fruit. To cage tomatoes, use six-by-six-inch mesh concrete reinforcing wire.
A five-foot width can be cut five feet long and bent into a cylinder by locking the ends. Remove the bottom strand and push the whole cage into the ground six inches deep around the tomato plant. If the area is windy, drive in a supporting stake. Or use commercially produced cages — you can now buy square cages that have the advantage of folding flat for storage.
Tomato plants will not set fruit in rainy or very humid weather. Sometimes a plant that has plenty of water and fertilizer produces a lot of foliage but no tomatoes. As a last resort, try giving the plant a shock by pruning it back and cutting down on water; it may start producing.
Aphids, tomato hornworms, cutworms, tomato fruitworms, and whiteflies are the major problems. Tomatoes are almost always attacked by some insect and may not be the best choice for the organic gardener; however, the fresh taste of a ripe tomato may overpower the logical choice. Collars placed around the plants at the time of transplanting help to discourage cutworms, and hornworms can be hand-picked off the plants. Aphids and whiteflies can be discouraged by hosing them off the plants or pinching out infested foliage. Malathion or Diazinon chemically control aphids and whiteflies. Detailed information on pest control is given in "Keeping Your Garden Healthy" in Part 1.
Verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt, early blight, septoria leafspot, tobacco mosaic virus, and blossom end rot are diseases that can attack tomatoes. Planting disease-resistant varieties and maintaining the general cleanliness and health of your garden will help cut down the incidence of disease. Keep moisture off the leaves as far as possible, and avoid handling the plants when they're wet. If you smoke, wash your hands thoroughly before working with tomato plants to avoid spreading tobacco mosaic virus. If a plant does become infected with any disease, remove it before it can spread disease to healthy plants. Detailed information on disease prevention is given in "Keeping Your Garden Healthy" in Part 1.
Time from planting to harvest is 40 to 180 days from transplants, depending on variety, and several weeks longer from seed. Transplants usually produce earlier than tomatoes grown from seed. A 10-foot row will give you anywhere from 10 to 45 pounds of tomatoes. The color when ripe depends on the variety; ripe tomatoes should feel firm — neither squashy nor too hard. When the temperature is high during the day, the fruit may get soft but not red. Take hard green tomatoes inside at the end of the season to ripen; don't leave them on the plants.
Ripened tomatoes will keep up to one week in the refrigerator. You can also freeze, can, or dry them whole, sliced, as juice, paste, relish, or pickles. Green tomatoes harvested before a frost can be held in a cool, moist place up to one month to ripen. Detailed information on storing and preserving is given in Part 3.
Fresh tomatoes from your garden are wonderful with very little embellishment — slice them, and dress them with a touch of olive oil and lemon juice and a pinch of basil; or eat them as fruit.
with a little sugar. Alternate slices of fresh tomato and cooked potato for an interesting side dish — add olive oil and parsley. Add tomatoes to almost any salad, or serve them alone, sliced with bread and cheese for an instant lunch. Stuff raw tomatoes with tuna, chicken, or rice, or broil them plain or topped with breadcrumbs. Serve broiled tomatoes with bacon and sausages for a hearty breakfast. Use cherry tomatoes, whole or halved, in salads or on relish trays; the green kind are delicious fried or pickled. Cooked tomatoes, whole, pureed, or as a paste, are indispensable to all sorts of dishes — spaghetti sauces, stews, and casseroles — and fresh tomato sauce, seasoned with a little basil, is a delightfully simple topping for pasta. Make an unusual pie by alternating layers of sliced tomatoes with chopped chives and topping with pastry. Oregano, sage, tarragon, and thyme all go beautifully with tomatoes.
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