Monday, August 25, 2008

Growing Tomatoes

Most vegetable gardeners I know love growing tomatoes. They are relatively easy to grow in most areas of the U.S. as far as I know. You'll want to ask around locally and find out which varieties do best in your area. You'll want to pay attention to the number of days until harvest on the different varieties. Try to plant a few different varieties with different harvest days so can get some early tomatoes from some plants and keep on harvesting through summer and fall, depending on your local weather, from different plants that start producing later. Where I live in California, I'm often still picking tomatoes in November and December!

You can start tomatoes from seeds inside if you're eager to get started and want to save money. You can also do well by buying seedlings at your local nursery. Tomatoes need something to climb. You can buy (or make) wire cages or use stakes and tie up the tomatoes. The stakes are more work but much less expensive than cages.

If you're setting your tomatoes out early, you might consider sheltering them a bit from the cold. You can buy specialty items designed to do just that, which typically work quite well. You can also cut the bottoms off of plastic gallon milk jugs and remove the caps, then set these over your small plants. They act as mini greenhouses. If you get some nice sunny days, simply lift off the jugs. If you're using cages, you can wrap plastic around the cages to achieve the same effect.

You'll also do better if you mulch your tomatoes plants well. The mulch helps keep the weeds at bay and helps retain moisture. You can start with a few layers of newspaper an then cover those with straw, dried grass clippings, or other mulch.

When the first frost looks likely, pick all your green tomatoes and lay them in layers of newspapers in a cool, but not freezing, area. I use my garage. They will continue to ripe. They don't taste as good as the ones that have ripened on the vine, but they still taste better than anything I can find in the store!

You can, of course, can tomatoes or make your own salsa, ketchup, tomato sauce, and so forth. If you're in a hurry and have an extra freezer, simply wash and freeze whole tomatoes in a freezer bag. These are great for making stews, soups, and chili with later.