Monday, July 10, 2017

Tomatoes


My love affair with gardening began with the tomato, and my obsession with tomatoes continues today.  Every year my husband kindly suggests I plant fewer tomatoes, and in in all honesty every year I start out with that intention but sadly I usually end up increasing the number of tomatoes I plant.  As I browse the catalogs, read the descriptions, fall in love with the history, and find the colors irresistible, I am truly enchanted with the tomato.  I can't resist planting old favorites and trying new potential favorites.





Why not?  There are so many tomato varieties.  They come in all sizes, shapes, colors, textures, and have a range of flavors.  There are endless sauces and ways to preserve the tomato, and there is never a shortage of people willing to take tomatoes if I become overwhelmed with the harvest  (Unlike the zucchini which only chickens and pigs seem to appreciate.)  When I participated in the farmer's market, it was the heirloom tomatoes that kept customers coming back to my booth.  If your only association with the tomato is in the grocery store aisle, then you are truly missing out on one of natures most delicious treats.







History of the Tomato

At one time the tomato was avoided and thought to be poisonous. What is now a passion for some was avoided as a poison.  My son served a mission for our church in 2013 in the Philippines and says they still believe that parts of the tomato are poisonous and cut out most of the tomato. 

Perhaps the problems stems from the fact that the tomato belongs to the Solanaceae family which also happens to include the nightshades and other poisonous plants.  Many still believe the leaves are poisonous but they are not.  Clearly the tomato's reputation suffered because of its association with the nightshade family. 


Choosing varieties

There are a couple of things to consider when choosing a tomato variety.  New varieties continue to come out each season.  To grow tomatoes successfully in your area you need to choose the right kinds.  

Green Zebra tomatoes


Heirlooms vs. Hybrids

Heirlooms offer lots of benefits.  They come in various colors, shapes, sizes, and have unique flavors.  They are open pollinated so you can save seeds.  What makes a tomato an heirloom?  Its seeds has been saved and handed down for generations.  It has a history and is usually from a distinct area.  Because seed was saved in specific areas where they grow vigorously, heirlooms are sometimes finicky about the area they grow.  Pay attention to where the tomato is from and choose heirlooms which are suitable to your situation.  

Old Ivory Egg, Pineapple, Pink Caspian

Heirlooms have some disadvantages.  They are harder to grow in some cases and some have less disease resistance than hybrids.  They are most always indeterminate and need lots of room to grow.  The beefsteak varieties have very large cores.  Also the fruit is more easily damaged in handling.  Some may call the heirloom the ugly duckling they often have fluting, cracking, green shoulders, and other usually features. Despite a less than perfect out appearance they taste divine. Heirlooms offer unique rich flavors and are absolutely worth the effort.


In my garden I have my standard heirlooms that I always plant because I have success with them and absolutely love the taste.  These include:

Paul Robeson (purple, beefsteak) 

Green Zebra (green with yellowing, slicing type)

Pineapple (yellow with red and orange, beefsteak)

Old Ivory Egg (egg shaped yellow)

German Pink or Caspian Pink

Brandywine 

Principe Bourghese (the tomato grown for sun drying)


Green Zebra



Pineapple





 Then I always try a few new heirlooms.  If that variety doesn't succeed the first year then give it a try another year before you give up on it.

I do not exclude the hybrid tomato from my garden.  I have some reliable, disease resistant hybrids I really like to eat fresh and process for sauces and salsa.  They are firmer for processing and I like that.  



Celebrity (dependable with traditional tomato flavor)

Early Girl

4th of July (smaller salad tomato that is very early)

Taxi  (Yellow slicing tomato)

Sungold - (absolutely sweetest cherry tomato yet)

Taxi hybrid tomato

Taxi tomato a good hybrid, very productive and good taste.

Determinant vs. Indeterminate

Determinant tomatoes or bush tomato do not usually require staking.  They are good for smaller gardens and containers.  They have a more compact growth habit around 3-4 feet.  They stop growing when the top bud sets fruit.  Fruit ripens within weeks of each other and no more fruit is produce which is good for canning.

 Indeterminate tomatoes are large vigorous vining plants.  They continue to produce fruit until a frost kills the vine.  They produce blooms, set fruit, and ripen fruit at the same time.  They can grow from 6-10 feet and need staking.  Most heirlooms are indeterminate.



Tomato Sizes:


 Cherry:  These are bite size tomatoes packed with sweetness.  They are usually smaller than an 1inch used in salads and fresh eating..  They come in different sizes and shapes and colors.


Currant:  These are the smallest of the tomatoes about the size of a pea. More time consuming to pick.

Grape:  Oblong tomatoes the size of a grape used in salads and for fresh eating.


Pear:  As the name implies they are shaped like a pear.
 
Sauce/paste:  Oblong tomatoes used for sauces.  Usually more meaty and less juicy.

Slicing:  Medium sized tomatoes with many uses.  Variety of colors and shapes.

Sliced tomatoes with a drizzle of olive oil and herbs.

A tortilla with cheese, slices of fresh tomatoes, and fresh salsa.

Beef steak:  These are the largest of the tomatoes also in many colors
 
Sungold


Tomato Color
The flavor of a tomato is the result of a balance of acids and sugars.  A tomato low in acid and sugar will have a bland taste-the grocery store tomato- which is breed for shipping and not flavor.  

The pigment of the fruit influences the production and balance of acids and sugars which affects the taste. While all tomatoes are acidic the combination of acids and sugars can produce a range of flavors from sweet and mild to acidic.

 Orange, yellow, and white tomatoes are sweeter and milder.

Red tomatoes tend to have the traditional balance giving the expected slightly acidic tomato taste.

Black tomatoes are a combination of green and red pigments and have a unique flavor that some love and some do not.



   

Cultivating:

Most tomatoes need to be started from seed indoors 8 weeks before the last frost date.  If you don't want to start your own then look for transplants with 6-8 leaves and healthy green color.  Be picky about tomato transplants.  I believe some come from the garden center already diseased and will only bring frustration.  

Tomatoes are one plant that is not planted at the same level as it is in the pot.  If part of the stem is buried it will grow roots.  A good strong root system is necessary for healthy tomatoes vines.

Dig a hole bigger than the transplant.  Add a couple tablespoons of dry organic fertilizer and compost.  Mix into the soil.  Cut, don't tear, off the lower leaves and lay the plant on its side so that the stem you exposed by cutting off the lower leaves is in the planting hole. Bend the stem with leaves up and cover the part in the planting hole. Be gentle so you don't damage or break the stem.
Dry organic fertilizer which I mix. It includes bone meal, blood meal, greensand or azomite, and sometimes kelp meal or another meal available.

It's important to mulch around tomatoes.  There are many soil borne diseases that will splash up on the leaves if you don't.
Nutri Mulch which is a composted turkey manure.

Tomatoes needs even moisture.  Do NOT let them dry out between watering.  They  fairly deep roots so water deeply. 

  
As the tomato grows you can remove lower leaves that yellow or prune any leaves that look diseased.  Tomatoes need staking.  I like these square wire cages that fold up during the end of the season.


To help my tomatoes get a healthy start a put a row cove over the top of the tomato.  It helps give a little shelter from direct sun until the transplant is established.  Some studies also suggest it may give some protection from leaf hoppers that spread curly top.




Harvesting:
For best flavor let the tomato ripen on the vine; however, tomatoes will ripen after they are picked.
If a lot of rain is coming I pick those close to ripening because a heavy rain will cause tomatoes to split. 



With endless uses and so many unique tantalizing colors and shapes there has to be a tomato or many tomatoes out there just perfect for you and your garden. So when you want real tomato taste get out of the grocery store and into the garden.




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