Tomatoes are the most coveted summertime produce item at our local farmers’ markets here in the South. Everyone has their favorite summer dish. We love that first tomato sandwich; oven-roasted tomatoes tossed with fresh pasta, garlic and basil; or tomatoes straight up, just sliced and drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper. Our tomatoes started showing up around the end of June and will continue to produce through mid-August, though some farmers will keep picking all summer long.
Expect them a little later up North. The tomato has traveled the world, beginning its life in the wilds of South America. Spanish colonists introduced the fruit to Europe and Asia, where it was bred to be the large-fruited gem we know today. While beloved by most farms and many home gardeners, tomatoes are actually one of the more challenging crops to grow. You’d never believe how many labor hours we put into our tomato crop each year, but hopefully some of our tips will help you troubleshoot your crop. —Joe and Judith
Black Krim, German Johnson, Cuor di Bue, Jaune Flamme
Park Seed’s Whopper, Park Seed’s Beefy Boy, Sunkist
Johnny’s Selected Seeds, High Mowing Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange
Determinate vs. Indeterminate
Determinates produce one flush of flowers. Indeterminates produce several rounds of blooms.
What I’m Wearing
Some like them multi-lobed, others like them round and globe-like. However you take your tom, with 6,000 varieties of cultivated tomatoes, this amazing fruit comes in a dazzling array of shapes and colors, including green, purple, yellow, orange and classic red.
There’s just no matching the juicy succulence of a homegrown tomato with its perfect balance of sweet and acidic flavors and characteristic grassy notes.
How to Grow
- Start with young plants, or grow from seeds in cells in a warm, well-lit environment. We trick tomato seeds by putting the trays on heat mats.
- Tomatoes love compost, calcium and lots of micronutrients, so amend accordingly.
- Grow a mix of heirloom and hybrid varieties for a bountiful, diverse harvest.
- Plant your tomatoes in a well-drained location only after the last frost date has passed for your area.
- If disease is a regular problem — as it is on the farm — plant tomatoes 2-3 feet apart. Make sure to not overdo the nitrogen amendment.
- Trellis weekly as plant begins to grow vertically by giving it one string tie.
- Mulch plants heavily with wheat straw, hay or leaves.
- When harvesting, pull off stem tops to prevent puncturing fruit when stacking.
- Don’t forget to save seeds when you find a variety that works for your space!
Now it’s time to get cooking! If you’re getting your love apples from the farmers’ market, the editors at FN Dish recommend that before you start cooking, be sure to choose firm, noticeably fragrant and richly colored tomatoes that are free of blemishes. Store them at room temperature and use them within a few days. Go to FN Dish for a medley of tomato recipes, including a classic Roasted Tomato Caprese Salad from Ina Garten. And be sure to check out this spectacular Heirloom Tomato Pie recipe from Food Network Magazine, the perfect vehicle for your Black Krims!
In this Garden to Table feature, farmer-bloggers Judith Winfrey and Joe Reynolds offer their tips for
sowing, growing and harvesting. And then we kick it over to FN Dish for some delicious recipes using this seasonal produce.