Dig In

Flavor of Summer

By Patricia Bailey
Posted 7/12/18

I’ve been enjoying lettuces and fast growing arugula for weeks, but I am patiently waiting for the fruit of summer: the tomato (Solanum lycopersicum.)I think back to the winter days when I was …

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Dig In

Flavor of Summer

Posted

I’ve been enjoying lettuces and fast growing arugula for weeks, but I am patiently waiting for the fruit of summer: the tomato (Solanum lycopersicum.)

I think back to the winter days when I was pouring over my seed catalogs and taking serious study of the attributes, characteristics, growing habit and tasting notes of this fruit. I studied each description as intently as a horse better would choose the winning horse at the Kentucky Derby. Reading each line of colorful descriptors while savoring the flavor in my mind. Well, soon I will be savoring the flavor for real.

The tomato is the most widely grown vegetable in the American backyard. Yet, of all the native vegetables in America, it took the longest to win our acceptance.

Tomatoes were a staple in Central and South America as far back as 700 A.D. The conquistadors introduced it to Europe during the 1520’s and the French and Italians began cooking with it, but it wasn't until the 1800s that it made it onto the plates of colonial America. The myth of it being poisonous ran as rampant as its vines.

My kitchen garden is not complete unless I have several tomato varieties. I always choose indeterminate over determinate because I prefer their vining habit which can be staked, their yield is often greater and they tend to last well up to the first frost. During a very warm growing season one indeterminate plant can yield 10-15 pounds of ripened fruit!

After planting, I will stake one or two main stems. I continue to remove the side stems between each leaf and the main stem when they appear 1-2 inches long. They will snap off easily if you pull down sharply with your fingertips and pinch off. You do not need to remove all of these suckers as they are the plant's way of increasing your yield, however removing several of them will allow you to ensure the plant doesn’t grow out of control. You can root the suckers you removed in a glass of water and once new roots appear you can pot up or plant back in the garden.

To discourage any foliar diseases, I always ensure that leaves are not touching the ground. I also mulch with leaf mold or salt marsh hay piled three to five inches deep to keep roots cool and moist. I feed every 2-3 weeks with organic fertilizer. Fish emulsion or Tomato-tone are good options.

To prevent blossom end rot, add calcium (bone meal or crushed egg shells) to the base of the plant once a month. Always water at the base and never get water on the foliage. Also keep in mind that plants in containers will need to be watered more often.

Tomato plants love the heat. If you live where nights are cool, try planting your tomato plants against a wall or fence for added warmth.

Tomato plants are susceptible to a number of maladies and are heavy feeders. I devote much of my gardening time tending to them, offering support, tying, staking, watering, feeding and harvesting regularly. The reward for my effort is a bountiful celebration of the flavor of summer.

I couldn’t imagine my garden or kitchen without them.

Patricia Bailey is a Community Outreach Horticulturist. Having a deep appreciation for the quality of life a good garden can bring to those in need, she spearheads school programs, mentors young people and provides local charities with fresh organic vegetables.

Patricia Bailey

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