Tried and True Ways to get the Tastiest Tomatoes
Farmer Tim’s planting guide for the season’s most celebrated “fruit”
What is the best tomato for our area?
Most tomatoes grow well in Pennsylvania. My favorite heirloom variety is Brandywine for flavor. It’s an ugly tomato, but the taste is phenomenal. If you want a good tomato for juicing or sauces and soups, the Brandywine tomato is the best. You will need to add some Roma tomatoes for thickness, but the Brandywine will give all of those foods a nice flavor. In hybrids, I like the Mountain Spring Variety. It is a hardy producer and it tastes good. I really like the pink bumblebee grape heirloom tomato for its flavor. But I also think it’s really beautiful. It’s mostly pink with green stripes.
What is the difference between “heirloom” and “hybrid” tomatoes?
People often confuse hybrid tomatoes with genetically modified plants or GMOs. Hybrids are not genetically modified. They are cross-pollinated, which simply means that different varieties of tomatoes have been planted in close proximity so that pollen from one variety can land on another tomato plant. Cross-pollination is done with a specific goal in mind. It can affect taste, shelf-life, visual appeal, or the ability to resist disease. The heirloom seeds are collected from the original plant that has not been cross-pollinated. They are called heirloom because they have been saved over time.
What is the difference between “indeterminate” and “determinate” tomatoes?
Indeterminate plants will continue to grow, to produce new nodes, and to fruit until the end of the season or until the plant gets a disease. So the end of the life cycle of the plant is not set in stone. The determinate tomato plant is a bush plant which means that it will only grow to a specific size. They stop growing when fruit sets on the terminal or top bud. hey ripen all their crop around the same two-week period.
What does “days to maturity” mean?
The days to maturity listed on the seed packet, or in the plant description in seed catalogs, refers to the number of days from planting your tomato seedlings in the garden to the date of the first mature fruit. For tomatoes, the days to maturity ranges from less than 50 days to more than 90 days, depending on the cultivar and type of tomato.
When do I plant my tomatoes?
I typically start my seeds in the greenhouse in mid to late March. I will condition my seedlings to the weather by setting out the seed trays in the sun during warm days in May. But I don’t put them in the ground until I know the threat of frost has passed. I found this to be around May 24. We’ve had frost as late as the 21st or 22nd. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. Don’t get anxious and plant them before the ground is ready. It’s easy to do because some stores will carry plants as early as April, but that is just too early.
How do I plant them?
You want to plant them in full sun. For me, I plant them the same way that I plant every crop. I put them in raised beds. But tomatoes will take an inch of compost that you can rake, hoe or till into the soil. You want to mulch your plant with straw or plastic mulch. Plastic mulch encourages growth because it will heat the soil. I use a biodegradable mulch on the farm, because I need so much of it. They no longer recycle plastic mulch because they would have to clean it. Next year, I may try a no-till planting.
What continuing care should I give the plants?
You want to stake and string your tomatoes because it’s easier to harvest them this way. But most importantly, doing this will keep them from getting diseases. Without it the rain splashes back onto the plant and spreads any blight or disease. The mulch helps to prevent this as well. The one thing you need to do to is to cut any yellow leaves or lesions off of the plant as soon as you see them. This will also prevent the disease or blight from spreading.
When should I harvest my tomatoes?
You want to pick an heirloom as soon as it starts to turn pink. They will ripen fast after that. But a hybrid tomato should remain on the plant until it’s red. Hybrids don’t split or over-ripen as easily as heirlooms.