Tomatoes are the royalty of the garden – and the kitchen. They’re the country’s most popular garden vegetable by a mile. This is probably because it’s almost impossible to duplicate the juicy sweetness of a home-grown tomato.
Tomato plants come in two sizes. Determinate varieties grow to a moderate height, produce a lot of fruit, and call it quits. Indeterminate varieties grow tall and keep on growing and producing tomatoes until they’re killed by frost or disease.
Tomato plants are easy to start from seed. Start them indoors, 6 to 8 weeks before you put them out into the garden. Under warm conditions indoors (70 degrees), the seeds will usually germinate in just a few days. Provide your tomato seedlings with 15 hours of bright light each day to keep them from getting leggy. You may need to transplant into larger pots if they grow very quickly. Tomatoes are hungry plants and they need to be fertilized frequently, starting as seedlings.
Heirloom tomatoes are all the rage for their rich flavors, diverse colors and interesting shapes. For the home gardener, there are several disadvantages to growing heirlooms: they are not usually as productive as modern hybrids, and they tend to be a little fussier about growing conditions. That said, why not try your hand at growing Cherokee Purple, Green Zebra, Brandywine or Mortgage Lifter!
Hybrid tomato varieties are tasty, reliable and productive. They have also been bred for resistance to a number of common tomato diseases. Unfortunately, you may find that even these disease resistant varieties eventually succumb to some of the same diseases that plague heirlooms. Most are fungal diseases that get established in the soil. It helps somewhat to mulch around your plants, and also to avoid growing tomatoes in the same place every year.
Always provide some sort of vertical support for your tomatoes. Letting them flop on the ground increases disease problems. Get your ladders or cages in place at planting time and make a habit of checking weekly to tie, prune or tuck-in wayward branches.