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Growing a better tomato

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I hated tomatoes most of my life because of a few bites of those bland winter tomatoes I sampled as a youngster. Because of this disdain, both of my grandmothers blamed the other side of the family for my lack of good taste. After college, I was shocked to learn that most people started gardening to grow tomatoes!  I did eventually come to my senses. I enjoy tomatoes now and understand why people want to grow their own.

Tomatoes are the most popular garden vegetable in Texas. One reason may be because we are so eager to plant them every spring that we put them in too early and have to buy more before the season actually starts. Wait to put your tomatoes out until all danger of frost has passed. Our average last frost is March 16, so if we are having an average year, you are good to go now. Like many of our other vegetable crops, tomatoes need full sun for at least six hours a day and a well-drained soil.    

Growing tomatoes from seed can be very rewarding and allows you to try less common varieties. For beginners and the less ambitious, I recommend going with transplants.  Buy transplants that are 6-8 inches tall and look green and healthy. Now is not the time to make sympathy purchases of ailing veggie plants.  Tomatoes should be planted a little deeper than they were growing in their container. They are able to grow roots from the stem which will make the plant sturdier and less leggy.

Read about the variety you are purchasing to make sure you are spacing the plants appropriately. Even cherry tomatoes make big plants. If you are going to cage your tomatoes, do it soon after you plant them, I assure you it’s much easier. 

Mulching tomatoes can help cut down on some disease issues and conserves water.  Tomatoes can be sensitive about consistent watering more than other crops and will need to be watered throughout the growing season unless we are getting regular rainfall.

But if you really want to know about tomatoes, come listen to Bill Adams who wrote “The Texas Tomato Lover’s Handbook” Monday, March 18.  This free lecture will be at 7 p.m. in the Black Box Theater of The MCL Grand in Lewisville, 100 North Charles St. 

There are also abundant online resources. Visit http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/ to find a crop guide, a tomato problem solver, Tomato 101 (an online class) and a publication by George Washington Carver on 115 ways to prepare a tomato for the table.  And our Master Gardener Help Desk is always happy to answer your tomato questions, 940.349.2892 or master.gardener@dentoncounty.com.

Janet Laminack, Denton County Extension Agent –Horticulture/Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, 940-349-2883, jelaminack@ag.tamu.edu

 

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