Holy Lycopene, you guys. There are over 700 tomato cultivars available today. Overwhelming! Picking the healthiest plant is the most important choice of all. Here’s some tips while at the nursery or this weekend’s Tomatomania!
- Buy a plant with a strong center stalk. Avoid the Charlie Brown plant. Avoid plants that are broken or split.
- Don’t buy a plant that is too tall and lanky. Don’t overlooks smaller plants. 6-9″ is a great size.
- Buy a plant with just one seedling in the pot. You are only getting a deal with extra seedlings if you are confident you can separate them successfully.
- Buy a combination of indeterminate and determinate tomatoes. Indeterminate tomatoes grow over a long period of time. They tend to be viney and definitely need sturdy supports. They also benefit greatly from regular pruning. It is argued they have more flavor than determinates. Determinate tomatoes are smaller, bushier plants that produce a larger crop over a shorter period of time. They don’t have to be staked and they don’t have to be pruned after you remove the bottom non-producing branches. So you get more tomatoes with less work.
- Buy a combination of early season, mid-season and late season tomatoes. Some tomatoes produce early, some late. That’s what all the days indicate on my Guide to Heirloom Tomato Recommendations. Here’s how the labels translate: Very Early: 54 days or less, Early: 55-69 days, Mid-Season: 70-84 days, Late Season: 85 or more. These numbers take you from germination to production. It’s nice to have something producing all summer long.
- Buy a disease free tomato. No darkening or brown/black spots or streaks at the base of the plant where it meets the soil. No dark spots or white spots on the leaves.
- Buy a tomato NOT on the Monsanto-trademarked seedling name list.
- Don’t worry too much about organic but understand heirloom vs hybrid. The most important part of the organic process is how YOU treat your plants once they are home. If you are concerned about your plants being open-pollinated then you want to go with heirloom tomatoes. These plants are from a tomato variety from days gone by and are open-pollinated meaning you can collect the tomato seeds and replant them if you like. There’s nothing inherently wrong with hybrids either. Hybrids are a cross between two genetically different varieties that have been selected for certain desirable traits such as disease resistance or higher yields. Hybrid does not mean GMO and they can still be organic, but their seeds will not make a true replica of its mother. Choose a couple hybrids with disease-resistance in case blight hits your garden patch.
- Pick plants that meet your needs. Want to eat fresh, can, puree, salsa or sauce? Want low-acid, tart or sweet? Green, yellow, pink, red, purple or brown? There’s a tomato for that.
- Get both cherry and slicing tomatoes. Don’t be too drawn to varieties that promise very large fruits. The longer a fruit grows on a vine the more susceptible it is to disease, bugs or a larger pest. Cherry or smaller tomatoes are far easier to grow. Just harvest them often. Fruits left on the vine may split, wither or if not harvested at all, stop producing.
PRO-TIPS for Tomato Growing
Once you get those tomatoes home, plant them promptly in a high-quality soil with compost if you have it. Add a high-phosphorous fertilizer to your plants if they are starting to flower. Some peeps like to add a raw egg beneath the seedling for added calcium, or you can use some bone meal. As seen above, prune the bottom leaves and the lower 2-3 branches of the plant and then plant the tomato to the next leaf level. This may seem strange but this will give your tomato deep roots.
I encourage you to put a cage, ladder or stake on your tomato right away. Time flies when your having fun and wrangling an overgrown tomato plant can mean death…for the plant.
A new/old idea for this summer is to try “dry-farming.” After your tomatoes are established and starting to produce, severely cut back on your watering. This will force the plants to fruit and not make large water-logged fruits. Instead, you will get smaller fruits with more concentrated flavor. This won’t work out well if you have plants other than tomatoes growing in the same area as they may need more water. Also won’t work great in containers as they dry out quickly. If you plan your garden accordingly, it may be worth a try! Good luck!