Enough winter, already! Let’s grow some tomatoes. Big beefsteaks, or tiny cherry and grape varieties, whichever makes your mouth water with delight. If your’re planning on growing from seed, this is the time to start. Valentine’s Day is approaching, and they don’t call the tomato a ‘love apple’ for nothing. Statistics show that after a generation or two of declines in home vegetable gardening, numbers of people planting vegetables are on the rise again, so get on board the tomato wagon and join the crowd. If you’re one of the folks who hasn’t stopped growing your own, you know that the fresh, fully-ripened flavor is a taste experience you just can’t get from the grocery store. Drop a comment here about what you’ve done that can help other growers. If you’re a new or returning home gardener, read on for some advice and direction.
First you’ll need to decide what kind of tomatoes you’re going to grow, and if you want to start from seed and raise seedlings indoors, or wait and purchase already started plants later. Heirlooms or hybrids? For eating fresh sliced or whole cherry tomatoes, canning or cooking? Tomatoes can be grown in a rainbow of colors: near-white, deep purple, yellow, orange and yes, the traditional red. You’ll also need some trays and peat-pots for sprouting the seeds, which will germinate and grow into seedlings for transplanting. And then, where will you grow your plants? In ground, raised bed, containers, patio pots or even in straw bales, it’s easy to put a plant in soil. The hard part? Just deciding to do it!
Where can you buy tomato seeds? Garden stores locally, as well as mail-order catalogues and also seed exchanges carry an assortment. Last year, I even found a great variety pack of cherry tomato seeds on eBay! I’ve listed a few of my favorite catalogs for you, but would love to hear from you about where you’ve found yours, and what kind you grow. Bill Best, who has long been advocating people grow heirloom tomatoes, offers some expert advice in his article Heirloom Tomatoes. TomatoFest’s list of Top Ten choices for 2009 also offers some background information.
Tomatoes are sensitive to cold, so you’ll need to wait until late May to put out transplants That means that actually planting the seeds in trays indoors should be done about mid-March. If you have beds with row covers, a bit earlier would work for you. I raise my tomatoes in raised beds behind my hone, where they’ll get lots of sun and are easy to weed and water. I learned a method of tying them up to strong stakes from BIll Henkle last year, called the Florida Weave, which weaves support string in and out between plants, with support stakes as anchors. The Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, and your county extension agent can help you with advice and information. Yes, extension agents are still around, but working with updated information, and new on-line publications as well as on-line advice at GardenData, which is part of the new eXtension information system. Check it out!
But more about this later. For now, start gathering information, because this is the summer to learn how to find the best tomatoes of 2009, right in your own backyard. No matter if you’re young, old or somewhere inbetween, tomatoes can be within your reach. Check back for more information as the season progresses, and let me know what’s growing on.