The tastiest tomatoes of all aren’t found in the grocery store. The Brandywine and the Cherokee Purple, the Mortgage Lifter and the Ananas Noir, the Principe Borghese and the Tiffen Mennonite, all the wonderful heirloom varieties and the new hybrids are only found in a few specialty markets and thousands of backyard gardens. Make your summer complete by raising healthy tomato vines loaded with tasty, juicy tomatoes. Whether you want them for fresh eating or grilling, sauces, canning, drying, or freezing, there is a variety – or two or three or ten – just right for you.
Raising tomatoes isn’t difficult, but there are some tricks to getting big, healthy, disease-free vines.
CHOOSE THE VARIETIES
What tomato varieties should you choose? There are hundreds of varieties available, and the choices can be dazzling. You can usually limit your choices quickly if you think about what you want the tomatoes for. Sauces? You’ll want firm-fleshed plum tomatoes, also called sauce or Roma tomatoes, such as Principe Borghese. Competing with your neighbors for the first ripe tomatoes on the block? You’ll want to investigate ultra-early varieties such as the old-fashioned Stupice or the newer Beaverlodge. Biggest tomato at the State Fair? Try the hybrid Big Beef or the heirloom Old German. Tiny tomatoes for salads? Try the classic cherry tomatoes, or newer grape and currant tomatoes. Or check out he heirloom variety, Yellow Pear, which bears pear-shaped yellow fruits no more than 1 1/2 inches long. Slicing or grilling? Slicing or grilling? Most mid-season or heirlooms will fill the bill. Also note whether the variety is determinate or indeterminate. Determinate plants are bushy and suitable for containers and small gardens. Indeterminate plants grow tall and vine-like. They will need strong support and ample room.
Some specialty nurseries will grow heirloom variety tomato plants, but more often than not, you’ll have to grow your own if you want special varieties. Sow the seeds in sterile seed starting mix in 3 or 4 inch pots. A light sprinkling of cinnamon on the surface of the soil will help prevent damping-off disease. Put the pots in a warm place until the seed germinate, then put under strong grow-lights. If possible, keep the plants on the cool side, between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. This helps prevent them from becoming leggy. The time-honored method of growing seedlings in tin cans in a sunny windowsill doesn’t always yield satisfactory seedlings