For most gardeners, frost has finished off this season's tomatoes. As the days get shorter and colder heading toward the winter solstice, the taste of a homegrown tomato plucked fresh and ripe from the garden is just a memory until next summer. To help alleviate some of the symptoms of this seasonal tomato withdrawal, now is a good time to review how your tomato crop did this past summer and begin planning for next year's delectable choices.
There are so many different kinds of tomatoes available these days that your biggest challenge may be trying to find space for all the ones you'd like to try! If fresh eating is paramount, large, beefsteak types are great for slicing. Small cherry and grape tomatoes are perfect for snacking or tossing into a salad. Meaty paste-type varieties cook up into delicious sauces for canning or freezing.
Red may be the first color that pops to mind when you think of a tomato, but there are many other colors to choose from. You can grow a feast for your eyes as well as your taste buds with a rainbow harvest of yellow, pink, purple, orange, even striped fruits. Combining colorful tomato varieties in salads or sliced on a plate adds an extra dimension to your summer dishes.
Here are just a few of many delicious and colorful tomato varieties we carry.
'Tomande' (68 days) - New indeterminate variety produces fruits somewhat smaller than beefsteak with great taste and texture.
'Patio' (70 days) - A determinate hybrid for the home gardener to grow in pots or limited garden space.
'Margo' (72 days) - This determinate variety is perfect for both the kitchen and garden, reaching only about 30 inches tall.
'Homestead 24' (80 days) - Red, firm, meaty tomatoes are medium large and free from cracking. Determinate vines set fruit well in hot weather.
'Roma VF' (78 days) - This determinate Italian pear type is used extensively for paste and puree processing.
'Celebrity'(70 days) - The large fruits of this hybrid, semi-determinate tomato are firm and very flavorful.
Determinate, Indeterminate, or In-Between
Depending on the variety, the growth habit of a tomato plant will fall into one of three categories -- determinate, indeterminate, or semi-determinate.
Indeterminate plants continue to grow taller and set fruits throughout the season, stopping only when frost finishes them off. Many of the tasty heirloom varieties fall into this category. The continued fruit set makes them ideal for gardeners who want a regular supply of fresh tomatoes for the table. Vigorous determinate vines do best if they are pruned to select from one to four stems. The fewer the stems, the larger the fruits will be. These large vines needs sturdy supports that will accommodate their continued growth until frost.
Determinate vines grow to a particular height, usually under 4 feet, then set their fruits within a relatively short period. If you need a large supply of tomatoes at one time for canning or freezing, these are the ones for you. Determinate varieties also generally ripen the earliest, making them a good choice for gardeners in short-season parts of the country. These types of tomatoes need no pruning. Supports for determinate vines can be lower than those for determinate vines.
Semi-determinate varieties fall between these two types. Like determinate tomatoes, they grow only to a certain height, often a little taller than determinate varieties. But like indeterdeterminate varieties, they continue to produce new fruits all season long. They need little pruning, except to remove all but the one or two suckers that form below the first flower cluster.
With the exception of those vines grown in hanging planters, all tomato vines benefit from some type of support to keep them upright. Tomatoes that are allowed to sprawl on the ground are more prone to disease problems as disease-causing spores will easily splash up from the soil on to foliage and fruit. Horizontal growing also encourages lots of branching, so the vine is more likely to end up with more shaded and unproductive leaves and produce many small fruits on its tangle of stems. So keeping plants off the ground is key, but there are many ways of providing this support.
Stakes: Tall, sturdy stakes work well to support indeterminate varieties with one to four stems. Eight foot tall stakes provide sufficient height for supporting indeterminate vines after they are anchored at least a foot in the ground. If you are staking determinate plants, 5-6 foot tall stakes will do. Be sure to get your stakes in place at planting time or very soon after to avoid damaging roots later on. If you are planning to select multiple stems on your plants, set up one stake for each stem.
Cages: These work especially well for determinate and semi-determinate varieties. Cages should be at least 4 feet tall and 18 inches wide; even larger and wider if you plan to cage vigorous indeterminate vines. Be sure to secure the cage to two stakes driven into the ground on either side of the cage to prevent it from toppling over as the vine grows and gets heavy. And make sure that openings in the cage wire are at least 6 inches square so that you can reach in to harvest your tomatoes. The cages and the stakes that will support them should be put in place at planting time to avoid damaging the plants' roots later on.
Trellis: There are lots of possible designs for supporting tomato vines with a trellis or fence that work well for both indeterminate and determinate varieties. One simple setup is to sink sturdy posts into the ground at 5 foot intervals and staple support wire to the posts. Use either three to four wires running horizontally about a foot apart, starting a foot off the ground, or 6-inch wire mesh. Plant your tomatoes in a staggered pattern 3-4 feet apart on either side of the trellis and weave the stems through the wires as they grow.
When you are tying tomato stems to their supports, be sure to use a soft material that won't damage the stem tissue, such as pieces of old panty hose, strips of soft cloth, or thick, soft twine. Especially when tying up the succulent, newest growth, wrap the ties in a figure-eight to lessen the chances of the stem rubbing against the ties and getting injured.
National Garden Bureau, as part of its mission as a non-profit organization to increase the use of flowers and plants, has created the ″Growing for Futures″ program to raise funds to build one therapeutic garden per year to help those who can benefit from a professional horticulture therapy program.
The first garden that will be the beneficiary of the 2014 fundraising is the Growing Solutions Farm in Chicago, Illinois, a 1.5 acre urban garden oasis where young adults with autism can develop skills and resumes that will lead to future success in the work place. The vocational and key learning opportunities the garden program offers will help young autistic adults build happy, well-adjusted, productive lives.
The goal of National Garden Bureau's campaign is to raise $30,000 in three phases, along with an additional $20,000 in donated supplies from horticulture industry suppliers. To date, the campaign has raised nearly $15,000 in cash and product donations to provide young adults in this program with more raised beds, educational opportunities, tools and plants. The entire program can meet its vision when a total of $50,000 is raised.
You can help get this wonderful project off the ground by donating to the campaign and asking your friends and family to donate or become involved. To donate or learn more, go to National Garden Bureau.