Ah, the tomato. What a perfect specimen. Delicious, colorful, juicy and full of nutrients and antioxidants, tomatoes are the ideal crop for a home gardener. A single plant will bring you a bountiful harvest, and a few plants will give you enough fruit to make your own sauces and preserves. What's more, tomatoes come in a wide range of colors, flavors, sizes and growing habits. So don't just stick with the most popular varieties. Choose the tomato that suits your fancy, and treat it like the queen of your garden. It will more than repay you.
Choosing a Variety
When you're picking a tomato, you've got lots of things to consider:
Plant Type: Determinate, or bush, tomatoes stop growing at a certain point and can only be harvested once or twice. Vine tomatoes keep growing and producing until autumn frosts, and need a lot of space and support.
Heirloom vs. Hybrid: Hybrids have better disease resistance and will produce more tomatoes. Heirlooms have a much wider range of color and flavor. Try these 5 Great Varieties of Heirloom Tomatoes.
Size: This all comes down to how you want to use your tomatoes. For salads, choose a smaller breed; for cooking, pick a medium size. Large varieties will keep you going into autumn, but tend to be misshapen.
Color and Flavor: The most fun part! Red, yellow, purple, green, orange, even black, tomatoes come in a range of flavors from tart to sweet to smoky. Experiment with something new every year!
The best way to pick out a tomato variety is to go to the farmers market or nursery and talk to the growers. They'll know what works in your climate, and will probably have a healthy plant all ready for your garden.
Starting Tomato Plants
Tomatoes have one catch: They can be fussy. Really fussy. They need even light, heat and moisture, especially when they're very young. And they require a few months to get started, which means that most of us need to start our seeds indoors, or buy starts from a grower.
Once you've got young plants that are at least a few inches tall, you'll need to "harden them off" by bringing them outside for increasingly longer periods each day, and bringing them in before the sun and wind can damage them. Tomatoes will wilt a little in the heat and sun, but don't let them shrivel. Once they can stay outside all day without damage, and once all danger of frost has passed, you can finally plant your babies in the garden. Give them a cage or trellis to climb and continue to check them daily for dryness, wilting, disease and pests. Soon, they'll be thriving and producing pounds of fruit for your enjoyment!