Friday, July 2, 2010

Here we are…it’s the beginning of July and people everywhere are preparing to celebrate the country’s birthday with fireworks and festivities. For some, though, the celebration has much more of a personal significance. This is not to downplay the importance and magnitude of the festivities honoring our freedom as a nation, it’s just that to the tomato grower, this is the time of year we’ve all been waiting for. July can’t come soon enough.

Patiently we waited for the days when the soil in our gardens was warm enough for planting. We carefully placed our tomato seedlings in the ground and nurtured them so they would grow tall and full and alive with flowers. Bright yellow flowers evolved into tiny green orbs and we’ve watched and waited as they’ve grown and matured into full size, beautifully colored, full-flavored love apples.

As we rejoice in the harvest of our tomato beauties we have to remember that the plants, themselves, still require our love and attention. As temperatures rise and the summer sun takes its’ toll, tomato growers need to reach into their basic knowledge of tomato plants to assure a successful season and continued harvest.

First and foremost, as tempting as it may be, don’t overwater your plants! A good rule to follow (and that which I follow with my 100+ plants) is this: take your cues from the plants. Check them in the morning. If they appear droopy before 10 am they need water. If you wait to check on them in the late afternoon when you return home from work, you will cause yourself to have heart failure. That’s really not the point of gardening, is it? Most of us are droopy late in the afternoon on hot summer days. But as the evening cools so do we and while we may have been droopy we get our second wind. The same is true with tomato plants. You may want to consider gently draping a sheet of shadecloth over the tomato cages to give the plants and ripening fruit a break from the scalding sun.

Keep an eye out for garden pests that want to enjoy your plants and fruit almost as much as you do. Holes in leaves tell you that some pest needs to be dealt with. Look at the underside of the chewed leaves. That’s where you’ll often find the culprit. Even worse, leaves completely chewed off are a sign of trouble…the dreaded tomato hornworm. Finding the hornworm on a tomato plant is tricky. They stretch out and camouflage and sometimes look like a curled leaf. When you find one, remove him with your hand or a pair of chopsticks. They wont hurt you and FYI, the horn is not on its’ head. What you do with the hornworm after you’ve removed it is personal choice – just make sure to get it away from your tomatoes!

Wondering when is the best time to harvest tomatoes? My preference is in the morning when the plants and fruit aren’t stressed. A slightly water deprived plant you a sweeter tomato so don’t harvest just after watering. The best time…24 – 48 hours after watering.

Now that you know how to grow incredible tomatoes the question becomes, what will you do with them? That, my friends, is another story…
Tonight was the first taste test of the season - the first of many, I'm sure. Tomatoes are just starting to ripen. Most of the larger varieties need a little more time so the tomatoes I tasted today were Black Plum, Sungold Cherry, Gold Nugget, Cherry Pink and Green Zebra. I would have liked to include the three beautiful and ripe Woodles Orange in the tasting but a rodent of an undetermined species got to them first.

Gold Nugget was a tasty little gem, bright and sweet but maybe not enough. Cherry Pink didn't have enough flavor but I think I tasted a little hint of bubble gum in the after taste. Maybe it was just wishful thinking. Black Plum was strong and tart, a little too much for me. Green Zebra is on it's way to being delicious. This is the first year I'm having success growing Green Zebra. I believe the mild weather has something to do with that. I'm looking forward to enjoying more of them. True to form, one of the few hybrids that I allow myself to grow, the consistently sweet, delicious and prolific Sungold Cherry wins today!