Published Date Written by Marianna Jones
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Tomatoes have been a garden staple for generations of gardeners and vegetable or fruit aficionados alike. Whether eaten raw, sprinkled with salt, green and fried, or pureed into a luscious sauce, tomatoes are a favorite for a myriad of reasons, one being, that with so many varieties, they are one of the easiest and prodigious veggies to grow, not to mention one of the most delicious. Tomatoes are also one of the best vegetables to eat for your health, offering many benefits.

No matter if you live in the dry, desert wastes, or in the snowcapped northern climes, there is a tomato variety for you! If you live in the cooler, shorter season climates, you'll want to choose an early ripening tomato, so you can get them off the vine and onto your table before the first frost. Some examples are: Stupice, Maria Dondera's Early, and Earlie Annie. Most cherry varieties also come in quite early. For those in the warmer, mid season areas, try: Abraham Lincoln, Red Brandywine, Dona, Eva Purple Ball, Peron Sprayless, and Marglobe. In the southwest and extended growing season areas, you can use: Any of the beefsteak varieties such as, Pink Brandywine, Mortgage Lifter, Aunt Ginny's Purple, or Cherokee Purple. Check with your local nursery for varieties specifically suited to your climate. The Garden Web online also offers a great group especially devoted to just tomatoes!

Starting from Seed
Tomatoes are easily nurtured from seed to seedling, to transplanted garden resident, with some preplanning and general tomato plant knowledge. You can start seeds in almost any sterile, well draining container, from peat pots, to small seedling six-packs, to cleaned yogurt containers or halved milk cartons. I like to use styrofoam egg cartons. You can start 12-18 different varieties in a very small space. You can also start them directly in the garden, but starting them indoors gives you a head start on the season, AND helps protect the vulnerable seedlings from disease, insects and weather damage until they are old enough to better withstand these elements on their own. Using, sterile, well-draining SOILESS starting mix, plant your seeds two or three to a hole, and prepare to weed one or two out if all three germinate. Water them just enough to keep the seeds damp, but do NOT over water once they begin to sprout. You can place your containers in a plastic bag to retain moisture and create a green house effect, but the plastic should not touch the soil surface and sometimes this allows mildew to form on the planting medium. As soon as you see seedlings emerging, remove the plastic.

Adequate light and warmth is essential for good growth and strong stems, so make sure to place your pots either under a grow light indoors, or in a window where they will get at least 6 to 8 hours of sun/lamp light daily. After your seedlings have developed at least two full sets of leaves, and are approximately 3 to 4 inches high, it's time to transplant to a larger pot. Remove the seedlings from their pots carefully, using a knife, and set them in their new pot. Gently tamp the soil around the seedlings and water. After about a week, fertilize lightly. Kelp and seaweed make excellent organic foods, as does diluted fish emulsion. When the plants have sturdy stems, healthy green foliage, and are approximately 6 to 10 inches tall, it's time to move them to the garden!

Hardening Your Transplants and Moving Them to Their Final Home
Hardening off prepares your pampered tomato plants for life outdoors. You begin by stopping fertilization, and reducing their water a few days before hardening off. Set the plants outside for few hours a day in indirect sunlight, like on a patio, exposing them to gentle breezes and cooler temperatures. Each day, increase the time by an hour or two, until you leave them out over night. Remember to still water them properly.

Into the Garden
Work the intended site for your tomatoes well, making sure they will be in a well-drained area of your garden. To get your plants off to a good start, after digging your hole, add a small amount of granular fertilizer, or if you prefer organic methods, manure or compost to the bottom of the hole. Be sure to soak your transplants before putting them into the garden, and it is always best to transplant on a cloudy or slightly overcast day.

Transplant the tomatoes up to their first true leaves, and bury the rest of the stem so it will put out roots to strengthen and further support the young plant. Back fill the whole with compost or potting soil, then water deeply. Be sure to space the plants 20 to 34 inches apart, depending on whether you stake them or intend to let them sprawl. Foliar feeding every two to three weeks with a mixture of kelp and fish emulsion is a fantastic plant booster, and also helps plants develop more disease tolerance.

From Planting to Table
Depending on your variety, you can have red, juicy prizes on your table in under 85 days. Once established, most tomato plants, barring disease, will continue to thrive and produce as long as they receive enough sunlight and adequate water, without a lot of toil and strain on the part of the gardener.

Tomato Growing Tips

1. Fertilize the adult plants once every 4 to 6 weeks, or according to package directions.

2. Watering at the roots or base of the plants instead of onto the leaves helps reduce the risk of disease and bacteria.

3. Water early in the day for the same reason.

4. Mulching helps retain moisture.

5. Use shade netting for growing tomatoes in the desert southwest or hot climates to avoid suncald on the fruits.

6. Check for tomato horn worms regularly, as they can decimate a plant in days.

7. Don't smoke in the garden - as it can infect plants with tobacco mosaic virus.

8. During heavy winds, cover young plants with milk cartons or pots

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Marianna's Heirlooms
1955 CCC RD.
Dickson TN. 37055.