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Ok, you don’t really have to plow up the grass– but it’s a shame to waste all our southern sunshine (and precious water) on something you can’t eat. Why not tap your inner farmer and grow a nice crop of tomatoes, too.
Tomatoes love our long, hot summers. They’re great for beginners, and can be grown in large pots on driveways, patios and balconies. Kids (who are instinctively wonderful gardeners) love to grow and eat them. And, as any native-born Southerner will tell you, if you have a home-grown tomato, mayonnaise, and two slices of bread, you have the makings of a wonderful meal.
If you want to grow your tomatoes from seed like I do, this is the week to start. I want my plants ready to set outside by our last average frost date (April 15th) but not too far along that they become weak and leggy inside under grow lights.
I start my tomatoes from seed because:
- It’s fun
- Hundreds of varieties to choose from. A great way to experiment and keep diversity in the plant world
- Lots of plants to share with friends and new gardeners (Why not spread the love?)
Check out previous posts on seed starting if you want to know more http://youshouldgrowthat.wordpress.com/2010/03/01/how-to-sow-seeds-a-latenight-pictorial/http://youshouldgrowthat.wordpress.com/2010/03/09/how-to-sow-seeds-part-two/,
Or plan to buy your tomato plants. Just wait until the danger of frost has passed (April 15th) before selecting and setting plants out.
Look for stocky seedlings with very green leaves and lots of disease resistance. You’ll know this by all the letters behind the variety name. VNF, for example, means resistance to some bad plant fungal things with long scary names. Here’s a link to a chart that explans it all–.http://www.totallytomato.com/sp.asp?c=69 I prefer to keep it simple and go with the longest string of letters I can find. I also like to grow tomato varieties with the word indeterminate on the label or seed pack. That means the plants produce though out the growing season. (Determinate plants tend to give me too many tomatoes in July and not enough the rest of the summer)
My favorite varieties are Goliath, Celebrity, Sweet Chelsea, and Viva Italia but I’m always trying new things.
I would love to grow old-fashioned or heirloom tomatoes (the ones that sell for $4.99 a pound at Whole Foods) but they have no disease resistance and never do well for me.
Instead I grow the modern hybrids for slicing (round, also called main crop) , cooking (plum) and eating off the vine (cherry and grape tomatoes)
For kids and my little sister I always grow extra cherry and grape tomatoes because they are the most productive plants. Last year, three of my young farmers reported their Jelly Bean Reds were still bearing little tomatoes well into October.
My sister loves the larger cherry, Sweet Chelsea. Plenty to eat, plenty to share. Really good on pasta. And like all home-grown tomatoes, so much better than store-bought.
So start farming. If you don’t have a vegetable bed, pick a sunny spot and improve your soil now. If you want to plant in a pot, make sure it’s large enough for a tomato plant–at least 14-16 inches across.
Earth Boxes are also wonderful for growing tomatoes. I have 3 and I love them. Here’s the link to find out more about these great little growing systems http://www.earthbox.com/index.php . They’re perfect for patio and driveway farmers.