Um-um, good homegrown tomatoes

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“It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.” – Lewis Grizzard

Let’s talk tomatoes.

Who doesn’t associate a backyard-garden with tasty ‘maters, or if you must get technical, lycopersicon esculentum.

Those perky six-pack plants at the stores come in two basic types: bushes and vines.  Bush or “determinate” tomatoes grow into annual shrubs about four-feet-tall, while the vines of “indeterminate” tomatoes can hog a 10-foot space.

Stake up or cage your bush tomatoes, so they do not topple under their own weight.  Southern Denton County gardeners rave about Roma and Celebrity tomatoes, but other popular “determinate” varieties include Rutgers and Marglobe.

One rule-of-thumb says bush tomato fruits ripen en masse over a two-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 (as opposed to this season’s epic rain storm deluges)– they produce all summer and into the autumn.  Bush tomatoes also do fine in patio containers.  Mix slow-release fertilizer into the potting medium when you plant.

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 vine 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 at the fork between two main plant stems–stick with bush plants.

Did I mention tomatoes like compost?  Name a plant that doesn’t.

Go easy with the compost, as too much makes more leaves than the 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, but they don’t like to swim.

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

During a sunny season, 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 two weeks at room temperature, if they do not get overheated, so keep them off that west windowsill.

Wrap pale-green tomatoes in a page 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 do not ripen indoors.

If you notice nibbled plant leaves and stems, look around for the black droppings that are hornworm calling cards.

These fat green Jabba-the-Hut caterpillars need to be pulled off their victims, then tossed to a galaxy far, far away.

Declare war with a blender, by dropping a couple of these thugs into two-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!

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