The Green Thumb: Bountiful backyard tomatoes within reach
by Heather Hamilton / For the Tracy Press
May 10, 2013 | 1613 views | 0 0 comments | 145 145 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A gardening magazine I subscribe to recently announced that, based on a survey it had conducted, tomatoes are the home gardener’s favorite crop. I would be amazed if that came as a surprise to anyone.

There is no comparison between a freshly-picked, grown-in-full-sun tomato and anything sold at a store.

I appreciate that stores are bringing in more choices, but they pale in comparison with what you can grow.

It is a great time to start tomatoes from seed or to plant starts from a nursery. When both the days and nights are warm, seeds can be sown directly into a prepared garden bed.

Preparations should include choosing a sunny location that has not recently had tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, strawberries or eggplant grown in it, and the soil should be amended with compost or a planting mix.

Choosing the variety of tomato you wish to grow can be a little daunting.

First decide which type — or types — you prefer: slicers (or globe), paste (or sauce) and cherry.

Frankly, any of them can work for just about any application — I’ve used all three kinds in salsa, and it always comes out great. But I don’t know if I would recommend slicing cherry tomatoes for sandwiches.

Once you know the type of tomato you wish to grow, you can choose the variety. There are two sets of categories to work with.

One is whether to grow open-pollinated plants, such as heirlooms, or hybrid plants. One basic difference is you can save the seed from the open-pollinated tomatoes to grow the same variety again next season. The advantage of hybrids is that they are likely to have been bred to be more resistant to some of the diseases that can afflict tomatoes. There are other differences, but those are the main two.

The other choice is determinate or indeterminate. Determinate tomato plants grow to a certain size and stop, setting all the fruit at approximately the same time. This behavior is great for the home canner or large-batch sauce-maker. An indeterminate plant produces fruit until it is killed by frost, which is best for most home gardeners who wish to harvest tomatoes all season. Indeterminate tomatoes greatly benefit from staking or caging.

Tomatoes require regular watering, usually 1 inch to 2 inches a week, delivered on a schedule. Irregular watering can lead to blossom-end rot, which is characterized by fruits that are brown-black on the bottom.

With a little preparation and a few careful choices, every home gardener can enjoy a bounty of sweet, richly-flavored tomatoes.

• The Green Thumb is a column by Tracy’s master gardeners. University of California-certified master gardeners are available to answer gardening questions from 9 a.m. to noon Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 953-6112 or mgsanjoaquin@ucdavis.edu. Questions for Heather Hamilton can be sent to ucmastergardener@gmail.com.
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