Tasty Homegrown Tomatoes
Apr 20, 2014 | 1702 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
WHO DOESN’T associate a backyard garden with tasty tomatoes, lycopersicon esculentum. The perky plants at the stores come in two types: bushes and vines.

Bush or “determinate” tomatoes grow into annual shrubs about 4 feet tall, while vines or “indeterminate” tomatoes can hog 10’ of ground.

Stake up or cage your bush tomatoes so they don’t topple under their own weight, and trellis the vines. Roma (sauce tomatoes) and Celebrity (slicing) tomatoes like local soils, but other popular “determinate” varieties include Rutgers and Marglobe.

One rule of thumb says bush tomatoes ripen over a 2-week period then the plant dies. My North Texas experience whispers if “determinate” plants are in flower by April 15, and they get regular food and water they produce all summer and into the autumn. Bush tomatoes do fine in patio containers.

Temptation strikes when we see tomato plants with muscle-bound names like Beef Master or Big Boy. Whose head doesn’t turn at the sight of Early Girls? Do you crave cute cherry tomatoes? Do heirlooms catch your eye, then crook their pretty finger to come hither? These are all vining types, so if you are not inclined to create serious plant cages or trellises, or devote time to pruning suckers—those little branches that peep out of the fork between two main plant stems—stick with bush plants.

TOMATOES LIKE compost, but then name a plant that does not? Go easy with the compost, as too much makes more leaves than flowers which produce fruit. Mulch with diligence, but leave a couple of inches of clear space around the stem so water can get to the plant’s feet. Tomatoes like cool damp toes.

Tomatoes have a reputation for self-pollination, but for good measure, give the plants a shake when you visit. Call it crop insurance.

About a week after their green fades, tomatoes are ready to pick, and sun-ripened fruit is the stuff of tastebuds’ dreams.

LIGHT GREEN tomatoes will ripen indoors. They take about 2 weeks at room temperature if they do not get overheated, so keep them off that west windowsill. Wrap up pale green tomatoes in a layer of newspaper, and they will store in the fridge for about six weeks, then you have another two weeks to get them red at room temp. Remember dark green tomatoes generally do not ripen indoors.

If you notice nibbled plant leaves and stems, look around for black hornworm droppings. These Jabba the Hut caterpillars need to be pulled off their victims then tossed to a galaxy far away.

Declare war with a blender by dropping a couple of these thugs into 2 cups of water. Push the button then spray the gutsy product on your plants. The result will be bye-bye hornworms. They have more intelligence than meets the eye!

(Contact the writer at noellemhood@gmail.com)
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