Store-bought tomatoes never taste as good as ones that are homegrown.
It is a combination of the just-picked taste and the different varieties available. Each tomato variety offers a very distinct taste that can be attributed to the amount of sugar and acid in the fruit. Growing conditions also have an impact of the flavour and texture.
If there is room in the garden, try different varieties of tomatoes. Heritage tomatoes often have a very full flavor. They also offer great visual appeal as they come in a number of colours and shades.
Tomatoes are a long season crop and must be planted out as bedding plants once all danger of frost has past. Even then, covering the plants at night will increase the plants’ ability to produce tomatoes. The flowers will not set tomatoes if the night temperature is too cold.
For tomato plants to thrive, they need plenty of sunlight, nutrients, water and heat. They do best in a south exposure where a building or fence traps sunlight, increasing the temperature.
As the fruit consists of water, an ample supply increases the fruit yield. Plants that are watered irregularly often develop blossom end rot, ruining the fruit. Avoid wetting the foliage as it will contribute to the development of mildew.
Tomatoes are grouped in two categories by how the plant grows: determinate and indeterminate.
Determinate plants are also called bush tomatoes. The plant will produce many stems from the bottom, and grow to a certain height, then stop. New growth will consist of new branches. Flowers followed by fruit will appear on all branches.
Cages, stakes and ties are required to keep the plants upright and off the ground.
Indeterminate varieties grow upward forever and can stay in production in a warm climate or greenhouse for a number of years. The central stem, along with three or four side shoots, should be left intact. All other side shoots need to be removed as they start to grow.
Indeterminate varieties grow tall and need to be staked accordingly, with a tall stake or tied to string that is suspended from a higher structure. As the plant grows, continue attaching it to the stake or wrap it around the string. A third alternative is to place it in a large cage.
Insects and wind pollinate tomatoes but it doesn’t hurt to give nature a hand. The flower is complete with both a pistil and stamen. Gently jiggling the plant will cause the stamen to touch the pistil and self-pollinate. According to scientists, the optimum time for pollination to occur is between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. There are products on the market to help pollinate tomatoes but they rarely produce better results that a slight shake.
Fertilize regularly to insure the plants have all the nutrients required to thrive. Look for a fertilizer that is high in potassium and potash. These are the second and third numbers in a fertilizer formula, and they are primarily responsible for the formation of flowers and fruit. Nitrogen, the first number, increases the amount of leaves formed. That is not something that is wanted in tomato production.
Most importantly, follow the instructions on the fertilizer package. It is designed to get the most out of the plants.
Everyone has room for at least one tomato in the garden. If there isn’t a garden, place a potted plant tomato on the deck or front step. Tumble tomatoes require little room and care while providing a multitude of small snacking tomatoes.
Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist who lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.