Growing tomatoes

Tomato seedlings ©Janet Allen
Tomato seedlings

Since tomatoes go into the garden in warm weather I start them indoors around April 1st so that I have good sized healthy plants to transplant.

An alternative is to buy seedlings to transplant but then it's hard to get all the varieties I want.

There is a huge variety of tomatoes including hybrids and heirloom plants. I have received seed catalogs solely devoted to tomatoes.

Planting in the spring ©Janet Allen
Planting in the spring

Tomatoes are definitely a warm season crop. I have occasionally succumbed to the temptation to plant them in early May (late April once) when the weather is temporarily warm but a frost will cause considerable damage and really slow them down, if they survive.

So I plant between May 15th and June 1st and it doesn't take long for them to begin vigorous growth.

Tomato surrounded by eggshells ©Janet Allen
Tomato surrounded by eggshells

I have read that putting crushed egg shells in the planting hole helps tomatoes by providing calcium (and preventing blossom end rot, says one source) but, while I use egg shells around certain vegetable transplants to try to fend off slugs and snails, I haven't always remembered to plant them with the tomatoes.

tomatoes ripening ©Janet Allen
Waiting, waiting

One mistake I've made was to not grow any early tomatoes. Then I don't have my first tomato until August 1st.

Bumblebee pollinating tomato  ©Janet Allen
Our bumble bees help pollinate our tomatoes

Although tomatoes can be wind-pollinated, bumble bees provide reliable "buzz pollination."

Our yard is very pollinator-friendly, so we have many willing helpers.

A tomato plant growing in a container ©Janet Allen
Tomato plant surrounded by lettuce, which will be harvested before the tomato gets very large.

One year I planted four tomato plants in large containers (with about the volume of a 5 gallon driveway sealer bucket).

I used soil that had not had tomatoes grown in it before to try and avoid any diseases that have accumulated in my garden soil over the years.

The tomatoes grew well enough but it is necessary to water them daily and, in very hot weather, more than once a day.

Staking tomatoes ©Janet AllenStaking tomatoes—a good use for old sheets

Staking the tomatoes is also a problem when growing in containers. I put stakes in next to the container so I could tie up the vines as they grew.

I have always staked indeterminate tomatoes (indeterminate means they continue to grow all season).

I also remove the suckers that form in the axils of the plant.

Determinate tomatoes tend to grow a large crop all at once and can be supported by various tomato cages. I don't remove their suckers.

Polish linguisa tomatoes ©Janet AllenPolish linguisa tomatoes—one of our favorite tomatoes

My very favorite vegetable (technically a fruit) is the tomato and my favorite use of tomatoes is a tomato sandwich. Mine consist solely of toasted bread, slices of tomato, salt and pepper and mayonnaise. I eat one (or more) just about every day from the time the first tomato ripens (mid-July) until the last tomato to be picked has been used (sometime in October). I don't eat tomato sandwiches the rest of the year.

Problems

Tomato blight ©Janet Allen
Tomato blight

The blight cut short the life of the plants and further production, but not until we had harvested quite a few tomatoes.

Tomato blight ©Janet Allen
The cause

Leaving infected tomatoes on the soil helped transmit the blight. Something we need to be more careful of.

Blossom end rot ©Janet Allen
Blossom end rot

The Edible Gardening CNY group includes tomatoes in our list of easy vegetables to grow.

Not that they are trouble-free. There is early blight and, in 2009, late blight, blossom end rot and various wilts, but generally tomatoes grow easily and productively. Tomatoes from the grocery store cannot compare.

Squirrel taking a tomato ©Janet Allen
Absconding with our tomato

And one problem, shared with our pears, is predation by squirrels. Not much we can do about that.

The problem is worse when the pear crop is bad, though. When there are lots of pears, the squirrels prefer them to tomatoes.

Our favorite uses for tomatoes

We've learned that we need to think as much about how we use our produce as we do in growing it. We love tomatoes, but even with a favorite vegetable, it's sometimes hard to know how to use the harvest.

We're constantly extending our uses for each vegetable, and these are some of our favorite ways to use tomatoes:
* Cherry tomatoes right off the vine
* Fresh (of course) either as part of a sandwich with red onion with mayonaisse (John's favorite) or even just in a dish with pesto, mayonaisse, and red onion (Janet's favorite). We both like to grind some chunks of salt on them.
* Roasting slices of tomato in a hot oven until they're cooked down and using them as the "sauce" for our pizza.
* Making The Victory Garden Cookbook's Fresh Tomato Soup (p. 319). This also uses some of our other produce such as leeks. We found that this freezes very well.
* Dehydrating them. Since we stick them in the freezer, they don't have to be bone dry, so they a very sweet addition to winter salads.

The Victory Garden Cookbook also has a good recipe for green tomato pickles.

NOTE: Although most recipes say to peel tomatoes, we don't. That's where much of the nutrition is! We don't find the peels at all objectionable and they're hardly noticeable.

Harvest record

YR LB Notes
15
14 130
13 91 We had twice as many plants as last year, but not as productive
12 94
11 75
10 55
09 21