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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Tomato talk

Before we talk tomatoes, I wanted to let you all in on something. I am now a moderator over on the boards at The Modern Homestead.

The federal government has sponsored research that has produced a tomato that is perfect in every respect, except that you can't eat it. We should make every effort to make sure this disease, often referred to as 'progress', doesn't spread.
~Andy Rooney

Mr Rooney knew it, but progress doesn't have to be all bad. Selective cross breeding of heritage tomatoes can also be considered progress, one that I feel comfortable eating.


Some of you have said some things to me that make me wonder if I am being too preachy. Yes, I think that you should plant heritage tomatoes rather then GMO's, but that doesn't mean I am going to look down on you if you buy your tomato plants from a popular store. The point is your trying your hand at something. And that's what I enjoy seeing. So run out, now is a great time in the Midwest to get those tomatoes plants into the ground
, and buy your tomato plants. Once you find that growing your own is enjoyable and taste so much better than store bought fruits, you'll be hooked and want to try different fruits. And nothing beats the flavors that come with the different types of heritage tomatoes.

Before you buy your plants, you need to take a moment to think about what you want them for. Snacking, slicing and dicing, canning whole, making ketchup? This is important because different tomatoes are better for certain things. Once you have that figured out, it is just a matter of reading the tags on the plants, most the time they will say what the produced fruits are best used for. Even the names will clue you in on what they should be used for. Roma's are my favorite for sauces.


Soil prepping will not take most of you 10 hours to do. I have a large
variety of tomato plants, because we need to have enough canned sauces, stewed and cut tomatoes to last a year. Most of you will only eat your tomatoes seasonally. One or two plants will be enough, so prepping soil will be simple. You will want lots of hummus in your soil, it needs to be porous and fairly light. If you, like me, have too much clay in your soil, add peat moss or compost to lighten it up. I live by the Garden Claw, have had it for years. This thing has out lasted all my potato forks, and I do suggest using one to break up and mix your ground soil with. If your soil is poor, it is important to feed them with compost.

Your location is also important, you do not want an area that is poorly drained, this will promote disease. You will also need full sun and an airy area.


Staking seems to be the most popular way to train the tomato plant. I trellis mine on field fences. Training your plants will produce larger fruits than allowing them to grow naturally. If training them, the plants should be about 2 feet apart. You w
ill need to drive a 5 foot stake into the ground next to the plant, tie a piece of soft yarn or cotton cloth tightly around the stake and loosely loop it around the stalk. This will help reduce any damage to the rapidly growing plant. Pinch off all but two of the stems, these will be the main stems. This will help keep your plants off the ground.

I cheated this year, and placed a weed barrier around my plants. And have filled the path with straw. If using straw to insulate or as weed barrier, you need to be warned that you will have a carpet of green on top of the straw. Not to worry. It grows only on the straw and will not compete with your plants for food and water. The green grass will die before reaching maturity.

If allowing your tomatoes to spread out naturally, you need to give them about 4 feet from each other. Here you will need to use straw or dried grass to keep the fruits from coming into contact with the ground.

Cutworms are your enemy. To help prevent them from damaging your crop, place a thinly messed wire or a paper cuff around the base of the stem.

Cut worm damge and weeds grown too close

You need to mulch around your plants well. This is important to help keep moisture in and weeds out. Be careful when weeding, you do not want to weed up against your stalks. Pulling the weeds that grow right against your plants can cause root damage.


Harvest is simple, most the time the fruit will pull away cleaning from the plant. Either eat or preserve your harvest.


I do hope that answers all your questions, if not, feel free to ask away. If you have a suggestion that makes tomatoes grow better/easier, please, I am always open to ideas.


11 comments:

Tim Appleton (Applehead) said...

educating, not preaching I love it. who is saying your preaching?

Phelan said...

no one is sayin have mistook for a round about way of saying I have been a little preachy.

And thank you.

Phelan said...

oh, my, now that is broken english, oops. :D

Cheryl said...

I've often wondered about the Garden Claw, they look like they'd be very handy for mixing things in. Thanks for mentioning that!

RAS said...

I don't think you've been preachy, phelan.

BTW, you can get heritage or heriloom tomatos from a popular store -even something like wal-mart. I bought 4 Roma plants from a store this year; I hadn't been intending to grow Roma but decided to try my hand at making sauce. I've also seen Amish Paste, Heritage, Homestand, all colors of Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, and a few other heirlooms for sale this year. The trick is to read the label. If they are hybrids, the law requires that they be labeled as hybrid, F1, or F2. (At least here.) Just a little tip for those who want to try growing their own but can't grow them from seed at this point!

-Rebecca, who now has 11 tomato plants and is wondering what to do if the harvest is good.

lisa said...

Informative post! BTW, I have never thought you came across as anything but helpful! I love my garden claw, too...they work great, and must be popular because I've never seen the price go down. When I used to garden in clay soil at my mom's, we used newspaper as mulch then covered it with straw for our tomatos...worked great, and was easy enough to till in the next spring. (As long as you don't use too many pages at once.)

Phelan said...

Cheryl, you are welcome.

RAS, thank you for mentioning that. I had brought that up in an article I wrote, but neglected to mention it here. The thing is, not all states require the GMO listing yet, and not all hybrids are bad.

If your harvest is good, let me know, or click on a recipe label, I have many different things to do with tomatoes.

Lisa, thank you. Guess I was being a little paranoid. Garden claws rock! I haven't done the newspaper mulch yet, I don't get newspapers regually enough. I also don't till under my straw, I pull it away and add new straw to the batch the next year. Just a little something to make my life some what easier.

RAS said...

Thanks Phelan. Actually, I miscounted. I have nine heirlooms that I started from seed, indeterminate ones at that. Then I bought the four Romas one of which turned out to be a double. So that's actually 14. And I completely forgot about the half dozen cherry tomato plants growing in pots on the porch.

I get my newspapers from the free stands (the local classfied circular and such) the day before they put out the new issue.

abbagirl74 said...

I would like to know about the 'thinly messed wire or a paper cuff around the base of the stem'.

I don't want any nasty worms.

Phelan said...

Great idea Ras!

AbbaG, what would you like to know about it?

Alison said...

Just found my way to your blog. Love it.

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