Honors Garden of Earthly Delights

Tomato:
Frequently Asked Questions
plus Definitions and Growing Tips

Tomato Varieties Catalog
Pepper: Frequently Asked
Questions
Pepper Varieties Catalog

Maturity: Number of days until the plant starts producing green tomatoes, based on averages produced in controlled (greenhouse) conditions. Weather conditions have a great effect on the actual arrival of the tomatoes. Early season tomatoes tend to be small and are in the range of 65 days or under. Late season tomatoes tend to be large and are in the range of 80 days or over.

Habit: Indicates plant growth habit. Indeterminate: Large, viney plants (typical). Determinate: Bushy, more compact (atypical). Determinates can also be grown in pots that are at least 12" deep and 12" in diameter.

Leaf type: Potato leaf is a leaf that is large, teardrop shaped, and is dark green. Older varieties of tomotoes tend to have this leaf shape. Regular leaf is the leaf type that most tomato plants have today: medium green, small and ruffled. Rugose leaf is a leaf that is a bit of a cross between the two.

Which varities should I choose?
Taste was the #1 consideration for the varieties we offer.

We purchased the seed from Chuck Wyatt, an heirloom tomato grower from Maryland, who sells about 400 varieties. The varieties we choose are nearly never available from a supermarket . In most cases, the seeds of these heirloom tomatoes have been passed down from generation to generation within families and small rural communities, and never have been grown commercially.

Choosing a variety of types rather than just one type is the best way to go with tomatoes. Your culinary use of tomatoes is an indication of what types to choose. For example, to make fresh squeezed tomato juice, Brandywine, Mortgage Lifter, and Eva Purple Ball are all rather juicy tomatoes. If you like to cook with tomatoes, make sure you get at least one variety of the paste-type tomato plants (Martino's Roma, Amish Paste, and Opalka). Paste tomatoes hold up in cooking much better than slicing tomotes do, as they are meatier and have much less moisture than the other tomatoes. They make wonderful sauces! These heirloom paste tomatoes are usually about twice as large as a supermarket Roma (and the taste of a homegrown heirloom and a supermarket tomato is like the difference between a Rolls-Royce and a Yugo). Paste tomatoes are excellent for canning as well.

Another reasonable way to choose plants is by days to maturity. If you were to get four plants for example, pick an early, a couple of mid-season, and a late season tomato to ensure a regular output of tomatoes throughout the early summer and through the early fall.

Also tomato size is a consideration. A general rule is that as tomato size increases by the variety, production per plant goes down. You may want a few smaller fruited, productive tomato plants as well as a few that produce giant tomatoes.

How many tomato plants should I grow?
Three well-cared for plants per person in the household will provide about one tomato a day from late july through mid-september, with a glut of tomatoes usually the second and third week of august. With 3 plants per person, you have a few to give, but you won't have any to put up for the winter. Six plants per person will give you enough to put some tomatoes away for the winter, and quite a few to give to the neighbors. With one hundred plants you can make a nice income selling at farmer's markets.

When can I transplant my tomato seedling?
After you receive your plant, the safest (most conservative) early date to put your plant in the ground is May 10. Some people in our area will put their plants out as early as april 25th, but they will also use cold frames to keep the plants safe from frost danger. Tomato plants will die if there is a light frost. You should acclimate ("harden-off") your plants to the weather. Keep them outside but only in full sun the first day for about 2 hours, gradually increasing exposure to the sun over a week. If you plant them outside without acclimating, you risk losing the plant to shock, and early growth will certainly be stunted. Keep your plants a bit dryer than normal during this time.

How do I transplant my tomato seedling into the earth?
Work the soil where the plants will be set in. The soil should be loose, and richly amended with compost and/or well rotted manure (the composted manure found at garden shops in the 40 lb. bag is suitable). Plant the tomato up to its first leaves when setting in to the ground. Tomatoes need at least 7 hours of full sun per day, the more, the better. Mature plants (ones that begin to produce tomatoes) require 1 gallon of water (or an inch of rain) every 4-5 days. Fertilize once a month from the time plants are set out until the end of summer. It is preferrable to use a balanced natural, organic fertilizer.

Will I need to cage or stake my tomato plants?
The plants should be caged or staked. Plants should be spaced about 18"-24" apart. Staking and caging should be done when the plant is first set in the ground.If caged, leaves should be trained in (about twice weekly) until the plant surpasess the cage. Choose a cage that is at least 42" tall. Suckering is not necesserary if you cage tomatoes. Caging results in a plant that is quite productive but bears tomatoes on the smaller size.

In staking, the tomato is limited to a single main stalk and 6" or so of branches by suckering. The plant will need to be tied loosely (about twice weekly) with cloth strips in order to keep it in close to the stake. The stake should be just about 2-3" away from the plant when it is driven into the ground. Ideally stakes should be about 7' long and at least a half inch in diameter. Wood or iron are suitable materials for a tomato stake. The stake should be buried about 18 inches deep. Staking produces larger, yet fewer tomatoes. Staking also requires more work than caging.

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by James Goldschmidt
updated 21 February 2000