You can’t get enough tomatoes

Published on June 9, 2011 by

Every year, a debate rages for the length of the growing season on how best to grow tomatoes.

Each gardener and farmer has a tomato method and swears by it, citing past successes. We hear arguments on whether to tie the tomatoes to stakes, grow them in wire cages, tie them flat to a fence, or just let them do their thing on the ground.

Some farmers get iron bars used in reinforcing concrete and pound them into the ground. The bars along with nylon twine support rows of tomatoes.

One guy I know creates a row of iron fence posts six-feet long and connects them with wire. He attaches twine to the wire and ties the plants to the twine for support to keep their fruit off the ground.

The truth is tomatoes are weeds. No matter how you grow them, you will get fruit. And, remember, tomatoes are tropical fruit, not vegetables. If we lived in a tropical area, we could forage for tomatoes and not have to grown them ourselves. In tropical places, such as Cuba or Mexico, the birds eat tomatoes from a garden or farm field and spread the seed, resulting in wild plants.

There is still a controversy about removing the “succors” or shoots that develop along the lower stem of a tomato plant as it grows. The idea behind succoring is to cause a plant to grow up a stake more readily and put its strength into the fruit, not into leaves and extra stems. But, the debate was resolved in a study which showed the shoots will help the plant continue to produce fruit until frost in early October, and the extra leaves shade the fruit from sun burn or scald. The excess leaves also help create sugar in the fruit during the height of the summer, enhancing its flavor. The study concluded removing the succors reduces the crop and the quality of the fruit. Some tomatoes, called determinate varieties, are designed to grow on the ground, rather than be staked. When they set fruit, the determinate types tend to stop growing a vine. Other tomatoes, called indeterminate, continue to grow a vine until the frost kills them. They grow best when they have support of some kind, but that does not mean you can’t let them grow on the ground. You’ll get a crop regardless.

Some Yankee-types look back to early colonial days when the tomatoes, thought to be poisonous by early European settlers, were introduced to their ancestors by American Indians. Sometime after the Revolutionary War when the new U.S. republic had been established and Thomas Jefferson was gardening, the tomato started to come into vogue as something good to eat.

The Indians were known for putting a herring, sardine or fish head under each tomato plant to provide nutrients and enhance growth. You can still do that. But, now, we can buy fish emulsion in a jug and dilute it for fertilizing the plants without having to go fishing or visiting the back door of a fish market. You can also dilute some seaweed concentrate in water and spray the plants with it to enhance growth or help them set fruit once they are in flower.

About 30 years ago, we only thought about growing a few big red tomatoes, maybe a yellow one and some cherry tomatoes.

Today, the types of tomatoes we can grow number in the thousands including many heirloom varieties of different colors and tastes, such as green with a yellow cast, orange with red stripes or deep purple brown. It is said the seeds for these tomatoes come from all over the world, Japan, Ukraine, the Georgia Republic, Italy, Spain, Lebanon, France, The reality is the tomato originated in Mexico and Central and South America, and migrated around the planet over time as a result of the great exploration post Christopher Columbus. The tomatoes have now returned to us from around the world, mutated in seven or more shades of the rainbow.

You probably planted your tomato plants already, but if you haven’t, you still have a couple weeks. Tomatoes planted in late May or even now will flower by the end of the month and begin yielding in late July or early August, especially cherry or grape types. It is good to plant tomatoes into mid-June to expend the harvest into the fall. We can never get enough tomatoes. They are the most desired products of a summer garden.