Tomatoes are a gardening favorite. Their plump red or yellow fruit have found their way into the kitchen and into a variety of recipes. They are used in salads, soups, stews, and sauces. Tomatoes can be canned or sun-dried. Tomatoes are a warm weather crop. They need plenty of sunlight and fertile soil to develop and produce at their best. Tomato seeds and seedlings or “slips” are available in many varieties.
No matter which variety you choose, it is important to start by conditioning the soil where you plan to grow your crop.
Tomatoes like rich, well-drained soil so start by mixing rich organic matter into the soil. You can use a combination of compost and dried manure to lighten the soil and provide a steady supply of nutrients.
Till the soil and mixture to a depth of about eight inches. This will enable the roots of the plants to expand and develop properly.
If you intend to start your plants from seeds, you can get the seed packets from your local garden store or through mail order.
The advantage of starting tomatoes from seeds is that you will have a wider variety from which to choose. Plant seeds a half inch deep in small pots containing a rich, moist potting soil mixture.
Cover seeds with a half inch of soil. Tomato seedlings or “slips” are available from the local garden store, usually in early spring. Seedlings are better suited for areas where the weather is cooler in spring.
Transplant seedlings outdoors when they are about six inches tall and the outside soil temperature is at least fifty degrees Fahrenheit.
Tomatoes need lots of sunlight. When the conditions are right for transplanting, plant seedlings three inches deep in a hole with enough room for the roots. Cover the roots with soil and water lightly.
Tomato plants can grow up to three feet tall — depending on the variety — and need to be supported. Place a wire cage around the plants just after transplanting or add wooden stakes next to the plants.
As the plants grow, weave the limbs through the wire cage so that the fruit will grow outside the cage. With stakes, simply loop a string around the plants and secure.
Add mulch around the plants with straw to preserve water. Keep the soil moist around the plants but do not over water. Harvest the tomatoes when they are the desired size. You can allow the tomatoes to ripen on the plant or you can harvest them when they are firm but mostly green and just starting to ripen.
Fried green tomatoes are a Southern favorite. You can use the tomatoes fresh off the plant; peel and store them in your freezer, or dry them for later use. Tomatoes are the main ingredient in many recipes such as tomato sauce for meatloaf and spaghetti.
Tomatoes are high in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, potassium and iron. Nutrient-rich tomatoes also contain phosphorus, calcium, and thiamin. Tomatoes are delicious, nutritious and easy to grow. With a little care, you should have a plentiful harvest.