There is no comparison to fresh off the vine tomatoes. There are some, like Black Krim with that smoky slightly salty taste that I carry the freshly buttered toast out to them while others I like to toss into the kitchen sink salad that my family likes. I love the complex taste of them and the pungent scent of their leaves when you brush by. To me, tomatoes are summer.
My garden space is less than perfect. The best spot with excellent slope, heat, shelter and sun is…unfortunately, my driveway. After the tomato glut of 2006, when I had 22 very large pots of tomatoes…which I hand watered, all summer. I decided that 3 large pots of tomatoes is an acceptable number. Choosing the 3 is pretty agonizing and this year, I STILL don’t have any yet.
I thought I’d brush up on tomato care and feeding as the extent of my tomato care repertoire consists of water, fertilize when I remember and eat if I am lucky enough to get a crop. This year I am not going to leave it to luck because I want lots of good, tasty tomatoes on the three plants.
Planting and positioning – very important to choose a spot that you will get at least 6 hours of sun. More is better. Tomatoes are a tender plant and absorb a heckuva lot of water once they’ve got a crop on (where did you think the juiciness came from), so you want to have a fertile, deep, soil. When planting a new tomato, bury it deep. I usually plant it at least several inches deeper than the soil level of the pot. Those hairy stems all become roots when exposed to soil.
If you want your plants to live past a week you better have good drainage too. Because I plant mine in black plastic pots that I’ve recycled from the nursery, I use a slightly lighter mix than if I was planting them in the ground. I mix some sunshine #1 mix with some manure or Sea Soil or worm castings and if I am lucky enough, some of my compost. I use a good 2 inch layer of gravel and a circle of landscape fabric between the soil and the gravel to keep the soil from gumming up the drain holes.
Good air circulation will prevent all kinds of ills but a high wind area will make your watering job a lot harder to keep up with as the plants lose moisture through their leaves.
I do remember my Mom saying to plant them on an angle and I’ve read from other sources that you can plant them deeply…up to the first set of true leaves. At the same time you plant, position your stake or tomato cage. I cannot stress this enough. Learn from my mistakes, I’ve broken soooo many branches by trying to put the cage on after. The darn things grow FAST!
Indeterminate and determinate and how do I prune?
Determinate tomatoes are bush type plants. Their height is determined and they will grow to that height and start to produce. Indeterminate tomatoes are vine type tomatoes and some can actually grow to 9-10 feet if you support them, but I don’t even like picking my apples from a ladder so why would I pick tomatoes from one. Sheesh.
You actually don’t have to prune either but especially don’t prune or pinch back the bush or determinate varieties unless you need to because that will limit their production. The vining tomatoes or indeterminate ones can be pruned if you like, not necessary, but you certainly can pinch back side branches if they are outgrowing their space. I find if I go overboard with the pinching back, I get a lot of sunscald on my tomatoes and that really chaps my hide because I get all excited and count my tomatoes and imagine the BLT’s or the sauces and salads I’ll create and then BAM, one less tomato or one that is delegated to the sauce pile.
The tomato flowers have both male and female parts and are self fertile…however, this is different from self-pollinating. The best pollinator of tomatoes is the humble bumble bee. Not because you need the pollen to transfer from one flower to another but because the bee’s vibration when it lands on the tomato flowers causes the pollen to shake loose from the anther( male part of the flower) in the flower to land on the pistil (female part of the flower). Other insects can help this as can wind. You can also help by giving your plants a little (gentle) shake or tap when you walk by once they’re in flower.
Water deeply to encourage deep rooting but allow the soil to become somewhat dry to the touch at the surface of the soil in between watering. If you are planting these lovelies in a pot, you’ll be busy watering once a day in the heat of summer. Avoid watering the leaves but if you are less than perfect in your watering, at least water them in the morning rather than the evening so the leaves have time to dry out before evening.
Dry out you say? What about my tomatoes in the garden? What if it rains? Well, I like to have my tomatoes under a roof, period. If you have a plant or two in the garden, think about building them a little roof to keep them dry and to avoid losing the whole darn plant and all the fruit to blight almost overnight!! You can even go to the dollar store and get them one of those little plastic see through umbrellas or place a clear garbage bag over the tomato cage and roll it up in good weather and roll it back down when rain is called for.
There are some lovely home-made recipes on line as well as fertilizer teas. Have a go and experiment. I am a pretty lazy gardener and have found a good organic tomato fertilizer I like.There are a large number to choose from and I would just suggest you go with one that has micronutrients as well as the N-P-K ratio. Apply according to the directions.
This will take a bit of trial and error. Softer tomatoes like the afore mentioned Black Krim should be harvested a little on the firm side, though when I carry my buttered toast out to them I do pick a nice softy one. If you are not going to be using them right away, do pick firmish tomatoes. You’ll have to be your own taste tester for this question though, everyone has their faves…my Grandmother liked her fried tomatoes and she picked them green for that.
Photo Credit: www.rareseeds.com
Cool Tomato Varieties
Now I am going to have to choose three amongst this lot and these varieties are just the tip of the iceberg!! Yikes.
Blue Berries – 75 days. Indeterminate, small cherry type. A deep dark purple fruit with an intensely fruity and sweet taste.
Cherokee Purple – 80 days. A dusky purple pink very large tomato with a sweet, old time tomato flavour.
Berkeley Tie Dye – 70 days. Indeterminate. Deep burgundy red with bright green streaking. Great sweet tomato flavour.
Costoluto Genovese – 78 days. Indeterminate. Large lobed red fruit. Robust, tangy flavour fantastic in sauce and paste.
San Marzano - 80 days. Indeterminate. Cylindrical fruit. Dryer and less seedy and acidic. Strong and sweet considered the best canning tomato and the only one allowed on a True Neapolitan Pizza.
Black Krim – 80 days. Indeterminate. Actually almost brownish green when ripe. Large tomato with a smoky flavour with a hint of salt.
Sweet 100 – 70 days. Indeterminate. Long clusters of bright red cherry tomatoes hang from this plant. Cherry tomatoes have a bright, tangy, old fashioned tomato flavour. Highly productive.
Better Boy – 75 days. Indeterminate. Big luscious red tomato with the sultry sweet-tang of the classic old fashioned tomato flavour.
Black from Tula – 80 days. Indeterminate. Brownish red with a full bodied almost spicy flavour. Excellent.
Green Zebra – 75 days. Indeterminate. Light yellow overlaid with green striping. Bright, fruity, sweet and tangy.
Sun Sugar – 75 days. Indeterminate. Golden orange yellow cherry tomato. Full bodied, tangy and incredibly sweet. Highly productive.