The popular tomato comes in a variety of colors

April 30, 2014

It is almost time to set out seedlings into the garden, and that means it is nearly tomato planting time. Tomatoes are, after all, America’s favorite garden vegetable, found in nine out of 10 gardens. And for good reason. In addition to the tomato’s place in salads, sandwiches and cooking, tomatoes are healthy. The tomato alkaloid “tomatine” heals many fungous disorders. The lycopene found in red tomatoes is an antioxidant that reduces the risk for prostate cancer in men and reduces heart disease. Tomatoes contain vitamins A, B and C, along with fiber, potassium, iron and phosphorus.

But mainly, garden-fresh tomatoes just taste so good.

Tomatoes come in red as well as many other colors. The huge Costoluto Genovese grows into a true red beefsteak; in yellow like the Beam’s Yellow Pear; orange as Kellogg’s Breakfast; deep purple-black of Cherokee Purple; and even mixed colors such as the Rainbow tomato. The Garden Peach tomato is a dull yellow with peach-like fuzz.

Like most fruits, and tomatoes are a fruit, plant tomatoes where they will get at least six hours of full sunlight. The more sunlight the better.

Dig in lots of organic fertilizer such as compost or aged manure. Cut off the lowest leaves on your plants and bury them deep, so that all but the top three or four inches of the plant are buried. By planting your tomato plants deeper they will send out roots all along the buried stems for a sturdier plant. You can even dig a shallow trench and set the tomato plants out on their side. The plants will straighten up as they reach for the sun. Water the plants thoroughly every three or four days during the first few weeks.

If you plant your tomatoes in containers they will need water every day during the heat of the summer. Potted tomato plants may need more fertilizer, so try a good liquid organic fertilizer every two weeks.

To prevent rotten fruit and allow air to circulate around the tomato plants, try staking them or enclose them in cages.

Be sure to let your tomatoes fully ripen. Just because they color up they mightn’t be fully ripe. Wait a day or two and test to see if the flesh is just a little soft.

You can inter-plant basil, beans, peas and parsley right along with the tomatoes. Flowers such as nasturtiums and marigolds do well as companion plants. Marigolds have the added benefit of protecting tomatoes from nematodes, tiny roundworms that attack tomato roots.

Try not to grow certain plants near your tomatoes. All of the members of the cabbage family will stunt the growth of tomato plants, so avoid broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, rutabaga and turnip. The corn ear worm is the same as the tomato fruit worm, so one will infect the other. Once dill plants mature, they slow down the growth of nearby tomatoes.

Always rotate your crops so you don’t plant eggplant, peppers or potatoes in the same garden spot that you grew tomatoes in or you can build up pests every year.

Tomato plant cuttings root very fast in water, so you can cut branches off and root them for more plants this year. If you grow heirloom tomatoes you can save seeds for next year.

Whether you grow your own plants from seed or buy ready-to-plant transplants, you really can’t go wrong with tomatoes in the garden. Or on your plate.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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