Selecting and Growing Tomatoes

Selecting and Growing Tomatoes

By Paul Schnare

Monday, May 19, 2003

When one thinks of a garden, one usually sees images of tomatoes. These "King of the Garden" plants were first discovered in South American and domesticated by Europeans. Most people usually describe tomatoes as vegetables, but in actuality they are really fruits. Believe it or not, the United States Supreme Court debated the issue and ruled that tomatoes were vegetables. Somehow I bet money was involved.

Because there are over 500 varieties known, it can boggle the mind when trying to determine which variety to grow in your garden. First decide if you want determinate or indeterminate varieties. Determinate varieties such as Early Girl produce just one batch of tomatoes. They all ripen at the same time. Indeterminate varieties such as Better Boy produce tomatoes all season long.

Find varieties that are disease resistant. Information on the seed or plant package should tell you if they are resistant to V, verticillium wilt, F, fusarium wilt, FF, fusarium races 1 & 2, N, nematodes, T, tobacco mosaic virus, A, alternaria stem canker, and St, stemphylium gray leaf spot. Celebrity is one variety that is extremely disease resistant. Just remember that the disease pressure in the Heartland is extreme. Therefore, even disease resistant varieties can be attacked.

Yellow varieties are usually low in acid. Jetstar, a red variety, is also low in acid. It is a great eating tomato, but don't use it for juice or paste. Bush varieties have shorter, stockier vines that are good for container growing. Champion is also a tomato with a shorter vine.

Showme is a tomato variety developed at the University of Missouri. This is a great multi-use tomato for the Heartland. Roma is a variety used a lot for paste and juices. Sweet 100's are great small tomatoes for salads.

Any of the beef or steak varieties are large and meaty tomato varieties. Brandywine is an heirloom variety-not a hybrid. Rutgers is a great canning tomato.

People often ask me which variety is the best tasting one. Since this is an individual thing, I suggest that you try different ones until you find the one that you like best.

When planting tomatoes choose a site where the plant will get at least 8 hours of sunlight per day. Tomatoes need a well drained soil. Don't plant tomatoes until after the threat of spring frost, unless you are willing to cover and uncover the plants, depending upon weather conditions.

If you have small plants, plant them at normal depth. If your tomato plants are tall, plant them one half way into the ground. This method will result in a much better root system for the plant.

After planting, water in with a high phosphorous fertilizer solution such as 9-59-8. Follow dilution directions found on the fertilizer package. Place stakes near the plant, or use tomato cages for plant support. If you do not want to support the vines, then place straw on the ground around the plant. Developing tomatoes in contact with wet soil will tend to rot.

Plant your plants 3 to 5 feet apart. Tomato vines can get very large. I have seen them taller than 8 feet when supported properly.

Protect your new seedlings from cutworms by placing a collar around the plant after planting. Make sure that the color stands at least 1 to 2 inches above the soil surface.

After planting, fertilize every 2 to 4 weeks with a fertilizer such as 11-15-11, with micronutrients. Water as needed. Make sure the garden soil is allowed to dry out between waterings.

Inspect the tomato plants every other day or so for aphids and hornworms. Use thiodan to control these pests. Sevin will work well on hornworms, but will not touch aphids.

If you have had experience with blight on your tomatoes in the past, begin treating your new seedlings immediately after planting. Use daconil, a fungicide to prevent the disease from getting started. Use label directions when spraying with daconil.

When your tomatoes are ripe, pick them and store them in a cool dry place. Enjoy.