Ageless garden favorite

first_imgBy Marco T. FonsecaUniversity of GeorgiaThe Incas of Peru and Mayas of Mexico were growing tomatoes morethan 3,000 years ago. When Spanish conquistadors introduced themin Europe in the mid-16th Century, they caught on first in Italy.Can you imagine spaghetti now without tomato sauce?Tomatoes are popular worldwide now. In North America, though,early settlers regarded them as poisonous plants.It was centuries before they found favor here. In the early1900s, U.S. scientists were still trying to convince people oftheir safety and their value as a source of vitamins A and C.Tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum) are warm-season annualplants. They grow best when days are around 75 degrees and nightsabout 65. Most people consider the tomato a vegetable.Botanically, though, it’s a fruit.In your gardenCountless tomato cultivars are available now. New ones are beingadded every year. For your garden, select varieties based onearly to late fruiting, insect and disease resistance, fruitsize, color and flavor.In general, there are two types of tomato plants. Determinate, orbush tomato plants, stop growing once they flower. Mostcommercial varieties are determinate.Indeterminate plants keep growing until frost or disease getsthem. Many of the popular salad and cherry varieties, such as”Better Boy” or “Roma,” are indeterminate.Always choose cultivars with disease resistance. The label willindicate resistance with capital letters such as F (fusarium), V(verticillium), N (nematodes) and T (tobacco mosaic).The right stuffTomatoes require well-drained soils, full sun and good aircirculation around each plant and among plants. Don’t plant inlow areas or where water tends to stand after rain or watering.You can grow tomato plants from direct seed or transplants, butyou’ll likely be more successful with the latter.Choose healthy, vigorous transplants. After transplanting,immediately stake or cage the plants to avoid future injuries tobranches and root systems. Apply mulch, and pick weeds by hand aswell. Tomatoes are extremely sensitive to herbicide damage.Keeping the soil uniformly moist all season is a must forsuccessful tomato growing. Letting the moisture go back and forthfrom too wet to too dry will lead to fruit disorders, such ascracking and blossom-end rot, and more disease problems.Tomatoes are heavy feeders. They require a constant but notexcessive supply of nutrients. It’s best to base your fertilizerprogram on a soil test analysis. Any University of GeorgiaExtension Service county office can provide a soil test.Once they’re harvested, tomatoes may change color, but they won’timprove in nutrition or flavor. They can accomplish this onlywhile they’re still attached to the plant.So, pick your tomatoes just before you eat them. Truly vine-ripetomatoes will have the best taste and the bonus of a highercontent of vitamins A and C.(Marco Fonseca is a horticulturist with the University ofGeorgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)last_img

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