Tomato Gardening Guru
Growing Killer Tomatoes
It’s a true story, and one to give a prospective gardener pause: the young couple decides to grow their own tomatoes, and when the summer is over, they manage to harvest a single fruit.
How did they do it, one wonders? Is tomato gardening so difficult that only the few, the botanically exalted, should try it? To judge from the number of books and articles on the subject, one would think it must be so. Indeed, the amount of information out there can be as intimidating as the prospect of a one-tomato harvest.
It’s easy to get bogged down in fine-tuned instructions on testing soil pH, the precise timing and placement of mulches, the selection of heirloom varieties and the rest of it. Actually, though, the basics are pretty — well, basic. If the couple had asked a friend to water their plants on the weekend they left town, all would have been well.
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If one-tomato harvests were common, growing tomatoes would be about as popular as wrestling grizzly bears. Instead, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, tomatoes are the most popular home-grown vegetable in the country. This would have to be because they are both delicious and easy to cultivate.
If you have even a moderately sunny spot (four to five hours of sunlight will do, though eight is best), you can dig in some compost, set out some tomato seedlings in the spring after the last frost, and put cages around them. Water them regularly, and chances are good you’ll get tons of tasty tomatoes (PDF). The rest is gravy — how to get more and bigger fruit, how to get fruit earlier or later, how to deal with pests and other problems, which varieties will do best in your area, how to start your own seedlings. Whole books are written about growing tomatoes, but you don’t have to read them before you start.
So if you’re an orderly person, or you enjoy planning a garden, by all means plan first and plant later. If, however, it’s May and you know you’re not going to do all that research ahead of time, you can try the Compost Now, Research Later approach (CNRL, patent pending), and at least you won’t have to wait a year for your first tomato. If you plant in May, you can learn enough in June to vastly increase your harvest in July.
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Eventually, whether in January or June or in little snippets throughout the year, it is a good idea to move beyond the compost/ cage stage. Knowledge about extending the growing season, pesticides, mulching, fertilizing and the rest will help you get the most out of your plants. There’s always the lure: the taste.
It’s astonishing how good a homegrown tomato tastes, especially compared to the insipid ones sold in most stores. Store bought tomatoes have improved over the past decade or so, but they simply can’t compare.
Tomatoes are not just good, they’re also good for you. A single cup of raw tomatoes provides over 50% of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C and almost 25% of the RDA of Vitamin A, as well as a host of other vitamins and nutrients, including iron, folic acid, potassium, calcium, bone-enhancing Vitamin K and even lycopene, the photosensitive chemical that gives tomatoes, strawberries, and carrots their distinctive colors. A number of studies suggest that lycopene helps prevent several types of cancer, including prostate cancer, and that it promotes good health in a number of other ways as well. At least one study, however, indicates that it’s the tomato itself, not the lycopene in isolation, that is so helpful and so healthful. (See Dietary Supplement May Not Lower Risk) In other words, keep eating those tomatoes.