Community Greens

People of all colors discussing evergreen ideas.

Community Green Grows Tomatoes

America’s favorite garden vegetable is the tomato and there are hundreds of varieties from tiny currant, cherry, and grape tomatoes to huge beefsteaks. Some tomato varieties produce extra early, and some are developed for slicing, canning, juicing, or stuffing. Many are disease resistant and there are varieties for every climate.

Tomato plants are either determinate or indeterminate vines. Determinate varieties (called bush tomatoes) grow 1 to 3 feet and set fruit over a two-week period and then stop. Indeterminate tomatoes sprawl and can grow 6 to 20 feet. Indeterminate tomatoes keep growing and producing the entire season unless stopped by frost, disease, or lack of nutrients. You will have to prune indeterminate tomatoes, however, or they will put too much energy into vine production.

Planting
If you buy transplants, the soil should be warm (after early spring) before you plant. Transplant the seedlings on a cloudy day to lessen shock. Bury the stem horizontally in a shallow trench. Strip off the leaves along the part of the stem that will be buried. Cover the bottom of the trench with several inches of sifted compost mixed with a handful of bonemeal. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of Epsom salts into each trench, for magnesium, which promotes plant vitality and productivity. Try not to disturb the soil around seedling roots when you set them in the compost. Press the soil down firmly but gently to remove air pockets and water well.

Space the tomatoes 3 to 4 feet apart if you plan to let them sprawl. If you’re going to train them on stakes or cages and prune them, space the seedlings 2 feet apart. Install stakes or cages before planting. As the vines grow, tie them loosely to the stakes or cages with soft twine, strips of cloth or panty hose at 6-inch intervals.

Growing
Give the plants at least 1 inch of water a week. A deep soaking is better than several light waterings. Avoid wetting the leaves since wet foliage is more prone to disease. Initially cultivate then lay down a deep mulch to smother weeds and conserve moisture. A side-dressing of compost two or three times during the growing season, or a weekly dose of liquid seaweed or compost tea, will increase fruit production and plant health.

If you stake or cage your plants, prune them to encourage more fruit. Pruned tomatoes generally fruit 2 weeks earlier and take up less space. You only need your thumb and forefinger to snap off suckers, small shoots that sprout on the main stem, side stem and the base of each leaf. When the vine reaches the top of the stakes or cage, pinch back the tips to encourage more flowering and fruit.

Harvesting
When the tomatoes start fruiting, check the vines almost daily in order to harvest fruit at it’s the peak. Gently twist or cut off fruit, supporting the vine, to keep from damaging it. Ripe tomatoes refrigerate for several weeks, but taste declines. Ripen green tomatoes in a warm place out of direct sunlight or slowly ripen green tomatoes in newspaper in a cool, dark spot, checking frequently to make sure none rot.

Fried Green Tomatoes: Slice, lightly dip in egg, then flour or cornmeal and black pepper, and fry.

Community Green Grows Tomatoes

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