Editor’s Note: One of the best things about summer is summer tomatoes. Juicy, delicious, and good for you, those vine ripe orbs are fabulous in salads, pastas, on sandwiches and pizza, or just eaten out of hand with a touch of salt. And you can’t really get that amazing tomatoey flavor unless you grow tomatoes yourself. The good news? It’s pretty easy.
Here we offer some tips from the garden experts at Bonny Plants that are sure to make your summer tomato growing successful.—BH, Editor
Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable in home gardens across America; most gardeners agree nothing tastes better than a home-grown tomato! Growing tomatoes by adding some to your garden plot or in containers on your deck or patio is a great way to ensure you have delicious, nutritious tomatoes this summer — without a trip to the grocery store.
And tomatoes are very nutritious. In addition to everyday nutrients like vitamins C and A, fiber, carbohydrates, potassium and iron, tomatoes are also a great sources of lycopene, an antioxidant thought to be associated with lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease and asthma.
Here’s what you need to know about growing tomatoes at home:
Get familiar with tomato terms. It’s important to understand common tomato terms, often seen on tomato plant tags and the basics of growing tomatoes…. the more you know the better you’ll grow. If you don’t know, for instance, what determinant and non-determinant mean, ask at your local nursery.
Sun, soil, food. To reap successful rewards you’ll need six to eight hours of sun per day, good quality soil and plant food, good drainage, plenty of water and room to grow. If you plant tomatoes each season, it’s a good idea to rotate the spot in the garden where you plant them.
Quality transplants. Use transplants, like Bonnie Plants, they’re faster than starting from seed and easier to grow. Bonnie’s transplants are offered in biodegradable pots and planted directly in-ground, preventing transplant shock and saving millions of pounds of plastic from landfills.
With literally hundreds of varieties to choose from— it’s possible to find a tomato that fits your taste, space and garden conditions.
Hot tomatoes. While tomatoes need to be watered just like any crop, some varieties are better at weathering heat. If a heat wave is likely in your area this spring or summer, choose a heat-set tomato variety that will bear fruit in high temperatures, such as Arkansas Traveler, Florida 91, Husky Red Cherry or Super Sweet 100.
Big or small. Tomatoes are classified as either indeterminate or determinate. Indeterminate varieties grow throughout the season and will bloom and produce fruit as long as the weather allows. The plants can become quite large.
Determinate plants grow to a certain size, produce fruit and then stop growing; they bear all their fruit at once, rather than throughout the season. They may produce fruit early in the season, mid-way through or toward the end of the growing season. Determinate tomatoes are great for smaller spaces like potted tomatoes on the deck.
If you like to can and make sauce, choose a determinate tomato. If you want fresh tomato for salads and sandwiches throughout summer, choose an indeterminate variety.
Try Heirlooms. People have been cultivating tomatoes for thousands of years, and bred a range of new varieties. Any tomato that’s been around for at least 50 years, and is not a hybrid, is called an “heirloom” tomato. Some heirloom tomato examples include Arkansas Traveler, Black Krim, Cherokee Purple, German Queen, and Mr. Stripey.
Resistant Hybrids. A tomato bred by plant breeders, crossing two existing tomato varieties, is called a Hybrid. Hybrids usually offer better disease resistance, higher yield, and other improved traits. Some hybrid examples include Bonnie Original, Big Boy, Summer Set, and Tami G.
Choose carefully. Picking tomato plants can be daunting, especially if you’ve never grown them before and are feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices available. Start by considering how you’ll use the tomatoes — in salads, for slicing or for cooking (as in making sauces). Different types are more conducive to different uses.
Visit Bonnie’s website for a Tomato Chooser that can help you sort through all the tomato varieties to find just what you want. Just check the traits you’re looking for and the chooser will tell you all the varieties that match your specifications.
Start with transplants. While you can start tomatoes from seeds, mature transplants make it easier to establish your tomato plants and produce a crop 6 weeks sooner than plants from seed.
Plant deeply. Prepare soil by loosening the ground in your plot, or adding a mixture of soil and organic material like compost to an appropriately sized container. Tomatoes are the only variety you plant deep! Dig a hole deep enough to bury two-thirds of the plant. Gently remove the plant from its container; or if the plant is in a biodegradable pot, remove the label, drench the pot, and peel off the bottom so plant roots are in direct contact with the soil. Then, bury two-thirds of the plant. Remember to feed your food plants, they’re hungry, and water thoroughly at the soil line, in early morning, and avoid wetting the leaves.
Bonnie Plants can be found at Home Depot, Walmart, Lowes and independent garden retailers, nationwide. www.bonnieplants.com