It’s probably no stretch to assert that the most popular vegetable to grow is the tomato. There must be literally tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of tomatoes grown at home across the US every year… in large and small backyard plots, on suburban decks and patios, on city balconies and rooftops. It’s probably because seeds and seedlings readily available, relatively easy to grow, and appeal to everyone from the amateur to the avid gardener.
But just growing them is not the point, is it? Tomatoes are great to eat in so many ways. You can find nearly 2,000 recipes on the internet from the cultures of countries around the world. A summer staple when fresh, tomatoes can be enjoyed year round through preserving by canning and freezing, in sauces from barbeque to spaghetti, as juice, even as homemade ketchup. It seems that the uses for tomatoes are only limited by the imagination.
Where to plant?
Tomatoes are just as versatile to garden and can be grown in containers, and in small and large garden plots depending on your available space and what you want your yield to be. The most important thing to know is that all tomatoes are vining plants that are generally grown upright and staked.
Staking tomato plants
As vines that can’t support themselves when grown upright, tomato plants need the support of cages and stakes. When grown upright your tomato plants will get tall and heavy so your support system should be sturdy. You can expect your tomato plant to grow to at least 3′ and some varieties may grow to 8′ or more. Tomato cages and sturdy stakes that keep your plants upright and that can be reused year after year are a sound investment that will help your tomatoes thrive. Stake as you plant and you won’t damage the roots later on. Attach plants to cages and stakes with soft cloth to protect stem growth, never use wire or string.
So, where to begin?
If you’re not growing from seeds, purchase plants from a reliable local nursery that sell seedlings best suited to your locale. Purchasing these seedlings may help reduce the problems that could spoil your tomato crop. You’ll find that different areas may be prone to different diseases and pests. To avoid problems, choose varieties bred to to resist the diseases common to your area. Many seedlings are labeled with the variety’s resistance in code. Your nursery can also advise you since some tomatoes do well in long, hot seasons while others are better suited to cooler climates.
What do I like to eat?
There are thousands of varieties of tomatoes. They vary in taste, use, and most importantly when to harvest. Tomatoes are often designated as “Short Season” or “Long Season”. If you have a short growing seasons you should look for varieties that mature between 55 and 70 days. If your growing season is long you’ll have a wider selection to choose from, but you’ll do best if you choose varieties that produce well in hot temperatures. The smaller cherry and grape-sized tomatoes are usually quick to mature and ripen. You might want to look for these popular varieties: Patio, Pixie. Tiny Tim, Red and Yellow Pear, Small Fry, Sweet 100, Glacier, Jet Star, Celebrity, Big Boy and Better Boy, Heatwave, Roma, Rutgers, Late Ace, Beefmaster, Mule Team, Brandywine, Purple Cherokee, Zapotec.
Determinate or indeterminate?
What are we talking about? Don’t worry, here’s a short answer. Determinate tomato plants mature and ripen all their fruit in a short time (usually about 2 weeks). Growing these makes sense if you want a large yield all at one time, like when making sauce or canning. You’ll still need cages or stakes; they grow to 4 or 5 feet tall. Consider Celebrity and Rutgers of this variety.
The majority of tomato varieties are indeterminate tomatoes and continue to grow throughout the season. Beefsteak, Big Boy, Brandywine and most cherry types are popular choices. Indeterminates can grow very large, from 6-10 feet, and require sturdy stakes and cages.