Summer is the sweetest season for the tomato lover. Tantalizing fruits fill the garden in every shape, size and color imaginable, from large black beefsteak tomatoes to tiny golden currant varieties. Easy to grow and offering a rich bounty, tomatoes have become a staple in our short season gardens.
Tomatoes are a hot weather crop and therefore must be started inside 8 to 10 weeks before the last frost, or purchased as transplants in early summer. When selecting transplants look for strong, healthy plants with bright green foliage, avoiding any with thin stems, yellowing foliage, or those already having blossoms or fruit.
Tomatoes love rich soil! Add a generous layer of compost or well-rotted manure to the bed prior to planting along with a handful of bonemeal. Tomatoes should be planted in a sunny, sheltered location in the garden, or in large pots on the deck.
When transplanting your tomatoes into the garden bury the stem up to the bottom set of leaves. The stem will produce roots all along its underground length and help to prevent excessive drying out in the summer’s heat. After planting thoroughly water with tepid, not cold water.
The key to growing healthy and delicious tomatoes is keeping the moisture consistent all season long. Tomatoes do not like wet feet, but they also do not like to be too dry. Do not allow them to wilt, as this indicates excessive stress on the plant and may cause injury to the fruit. A deep watering twice a week with one to one and a half inches of water is ideal for garden tomatoes, while container tomatoes will often require water on a daily basis.
When watering do not wet the leaves as this may promote the spread of blight. You can also mulch garden tomatoes with straw to help prevent blight. Tomatoes are heavy feeders and should be fertilized with an organic water-soluble fertilizer every two to three weeks.
Most varieties of tomatoes need some type of support in order to achieve optimum growth and maximum fruiting. Supporting the plants also decreases the risk of disease as the foliage is not lying directly upon the soil. Cages and stakes are the most common supporting methods and should be placed in the garden at the same time as planting to avoid any root damage.
Once the fruits have formed and begin to ripen, stop watering garden tomatoes and decrease the amount of water given to pot tomatoes. Excessive water may cause maturing fruits to split, delay ripening or lower flavour quality.
With such a wide variety of tomato transplants available, try something new this year. Our favourites include Sungold, Cherokee Purple, Brandywine and Costoluto. Good sources for transplants include your local garden centre and farmers markets.
Sungold - This exceptionally sweet, golden orange cherry tomato never makes it to our kitchen as they always get eaten right off the vine! The large clusters of delicious fruit are borne on indeterminate vines that bear continuously throughout the season.
Cherokee Purple - Considered one of the best tasting heirloom tomatoes, Cherokee Purple is a late maturing plant with large purple-burgundy fruits. The tomatoes are outstanding - fruity and sweet.
Brandywine - One of the most popular heirloom tomatoes, Brandywine bears large pinkish-red fruits that can weigh over 1 pound!
Niki Jabbour is the author of the award winning book, The Year Round Vegetable Gardener (2012 American Horticultural Society Book Award) and the host of The Weekend Gardener radio show that airs every Sunday from 11 to 1 pm on News 95.7 FM. For more info, please visit www.nikijabbour.com or follow her on twitter at @NikiJabbour.