Tomato Tips

It’s fresh produce growing season for most of the Western Hemisphere right now, and even the most reluctant gardener is willing to put out a few patio pots to grow tomatoes.  How come?  For starters, those pale, watered down supermarket tomatoes are bred for longevity, not flavor.  Second, tomatoes are easy to grow organically and conventionally produced tomatoes do have pesticide residue.  No tomato tastes as good as fresh locally-grown tomatoes .  Whether you’re growing 15 varieties of heirloom tomato plants in your back yard or buying a bushel from the local farmer’s market, here are some tips for growing and preserving those sweet summertime fruits.

For starters, this news report explains that the secret to tasty tomatoes is actually in the soil. Bigger tomatoes aren’t better, but tomatoes grown in rich, composted, and loose soil are always delicious.  When you plant your tomato seedlings, bury them all the way to the top few leaves.  This helps tomatoes develop roots all along their stems.

After your ground heats up, mulch your plants to help prevent dirt from splashing up on the plants when you water and to help conserve water.  When your plants reach 3 feet, remove the bottom leaves from the bottom foot of the stem.  These are the leaves most susceptible to fungus disease.  Another way to keep fungus diseases at bay is to spray the plants weekly with compost teas.  “Root rot” is another common problem in Enviro Girl’s neck of the woods.  Last summer was really wet and tomatoes were scarce — except for tomatoes growing in raised beds or pots.  Tomatoes like water, but not too much.

On that note, you should water well when your plants are growing, but once the fruit begins to ripen, less water helps the plant concentrate sugars.  Enviro Girl actually waters every other day to force all of her garden plants to develop deeper roots.

Finally, those suckers that grow in the crotch of two branches are unproductive, so pinch them off.  Unless, however, you’re growing bush tomatoes, then do NOT prune!

Once those tomatoes start ripening, you’ll probably eat the first dozen or so in sandwiches, drizzled with salt and olive oil, or tossed in salads.  It’s easy to preserve the sweet taste of those homegrown tomatoes for winter stews, casseroles, sauces, and soups.  Enviro Girl gets a big pot of water boiling and then drops in as many ripe tomatoes as the pot will hold.  As the skins crack, she pulls out the tomatoes (and she mixes up every variety of tomato when she does this) with a slotted spoon and sets them in a dish to cool.  Once they’re cool enough to handle, Enviro Girl peels away the skins and tosses the blanched tomatoes into freezer containers.  This process takes much less time than canning tomatoes, but the results are the same — all winter Enviro Girl has frozen tomatoes to use in any cooked dish — even salsa!

What tomato tips do you have for fellow gardeners/cooks?

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