Courtesy of Manhasset Public Library
In the Garden
The tomato plant (Solanum lycopersicum) is native to Western South America and Central America and was not commonly cultivated in the United States until 1835.
Health Benefits: Tomatoes are nutritious and low in calories. They contain vitamins C , K, A, iron, fiber, potassium, and antioxidants.
Varieties: There are many varieties of tomatoes which include early, mid, and late seasons. There are cherries, plums, romas, beefsteaks, and currants. Reds, pinks, oranges, yellows, whites, and purple/blacks. Indeterminate tomato varieties grow and produce fruit all season. Vines can grow up to 8 ft. Determinate varieties are bred for compact plants, about 2-4 ft. and ripen all their fruit around the same time.
Site: Full sun, at least 6-8 hours per day, well-drained, slightly acidic soil with a PH of 6.2-6.8. Rotate planting beds yearly. Choose a garden site that did not grow tomatoes or their family members last season. Plants in the same family often are susceptible to similar pests and diseases. Rotating helps reduce the build-up of pathogens. Bury plants deep up to the second set of leaves from the bottom of plant. Remove bottom branches and leaves that touch the soil. This helps prevent disease by improving air flow, reducing soil splash, and removing hiding spot for pests.
From Seed: Start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost date in spring. Transplant seedlings after last spring frost when soil has warmed. Before planting, dig 1 ft. deep and mix in aged manure or compost. Harden off seedlings by setting them outside in shade a few hours the first day, gradually increasing the amount each day and to include some direct sunlight.
Containers: Choose a large pot with drainage holes and a good potting mix with added organic matter. Plant 1 plant per pot and keep soil evenly watered as containers dry out more quickly.
Fertilize: Use a complete fertilizer such as 5-10-5, 5-10-10. Do not apply high nitrogen fertilizers as they will encourage foliage growth but delay flowering and fruiting.
Staking: Place stakes or cages around plants at the time of planting to avoid damaging roots later.
Companion Planting: Most gardeners swear by companion planting. Luckily tomatoes are a good companion to a majority of many garden vegetables. Some companions can help the health and vigor, others improve the flavor, and still others to deter pests and diseases. Good companions for tomatoes are: asparagus, basil, beans, marigolds, carrots, celery, chives, cosmos, cucumber, garlic, lemon balm, lettuce, mint, nasturtium, onion, parsley, peas, sage, and squash. Bad companions are: cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, collards, cauliflower, kale, turnips, corn, fennel, eggplant, peppers, and potatoes.
Season’s Care: Water deeply for development of a strong root system. The best time is early morning to retain good moisture through the hot day. Consistent watering is important to avoid fruit from cracking. Water at soil level to deter fungal diseases. Mulching can also help maintain moisture, control weeds, and to prevent soil splash when watering. If you’re not mulching, carefully cultivate soil shallowly to remove weeds. Pruning suckers is believed to encourage the energy in producing bigger fruit. Start pruning when plants are 1-2 ft. tall, not smaller than this. In between side shoots and the main stem will be sucker shoots. Pinch off the sucker when small in early morning on a dry day. This is so the wound can heal and reduce chance of infection.
Harvesting: Fruit that is fully ripened on the vine is much more flavorful than fruits that are picked early and then allowed to ripen. Although many cherry tomatoes have a tendency to crack if they remain on the plant, so they should be picked at the peak of redness or even slightly before. If any drop off before ripening, place in a paper bag to ripen. Do not place on a sunny windowsill
Storing: Never refrigerate tomatoes, this spoils the flavor. Store at room temperature and not in direct sunlight.
Recommendations: “Organic Gardener” and “Food Gardening” magazines on Manhasset Library’s RB digital. Check out Alan Titchmarsh’s many YouTube videos on gardening.