Monday, March 29, 2010

Tomato Mania for the Novice Grower

Today, after a meeting, I was on my way home when a huge sign caught my eye. It said Tomato Mania today through Sunday. I thought to myself, tomatoes, hmmm! Last year, a few seedlings managed to fall out of my trash bag and plant themselves into the ground. Effortlessly, grape tomatoes grew and I was able to reap the benefits. I may have mad skills in the kitchen, but the garden is a different story.

As I was turning into the parking lot, I remembered the success of my volunteer tomato plants and the joy it brought me when the tomatoes turned bright red. Also the extra joy as I added them to my salad. It would be amazing to have an entire summer of sun ripened homegrown tomatoes. Not to mention the average price of one large heirloom tomato costs as much as one seedling.

I immediately decided to seek out the most knowledgeable person there and the one who was in charge, Scott Daigre, the owner and creator of Tomato Mania. Tomato Mania was created to offer anyone common to rare tomatoes. The success is so huge he takes it across the country.

10 Steps for the novice tomato grower

  1. Begin-Start planting after the last freeze.
  2. Soil- Make sure your soil is good and, if it isn’t, amend it with organic composts and build it up. You might even try placing a whole egg under the soil to add calcium. Most importantly, keep the soil balanced and don’t use chicken manure (nitrogen loaded), as it will off-balance it.
  3. Quantity- Grow three to five sturdy hybrids (the perfect amount to begin). Eight is a lot and maybe too many.
  4. Types-
    1. Cherry tomatoes are the toughest species with more give and are harder to kill.
    2. Middle of the road hybrids- Better Boy and Sweet Tangerine
    3. Three heirlooms- Jaune Flame, Gardeners Delight, German heirlooms
    4. Red cherry tomato Nyugu- chocolate insides
    5. Good Buys-pineapple, Kellogg’s breakfast, any reds, Noir de Crimee and Paul Robeson
  5. Plant- Cherry tomatoes can be planted in a pot, but most tomatoes should be planted in the ground. Choose either Indeterminate (keep growing up) or Determinate (grows and stops). Indicated by a D or an I on the tag. Take your space into consideration and choose accordingly.
  6. Steak- Hold the tomato plants up with steaks, cages or spread along a fence (favorite). The most important part is to give them air. Ties- something soft, “Stockings are what my grandmother used,” Daigre said.
  7. Water- Most people water too much. Test with a pencil by sticking into the ground and then remove it. If the bottom of the pencil is dry you need water, but if the bottom of the pencil is wet, then stop.
  8. Pesticides and Pest Control - Assess the situation. It’s best to check on your plants daily so you know what’s going on with them. Next, decide whether you can spray the bugs off with a hose, pick them by hand, use ladybugs or if you have to use a pesticide (organic is preferable).
  9. Harvest- Pick tomatoes when they’re soft and ripe. Bright in color, firm but soft to touch. Avoid picking when they’re not full color or before they are overly soft. When growing heirlooms, make sure you know their true color and as they change color you know when to pick them.
  10. Store- In the kitchen on a cool counter, avoid sunlight and the refrigerator. Best if stored blossom side down. Don’t wash them until you are ready to eat them.

After a long discussion, I packed up my six tomato plants and ladybugs and was on my way home. Before I could get too far, a bride and groom arrived to take part in all of the action.

“A bride and groom showing up for Tomato Mania, this is a first,” Daigre said.

I got home and unloaded my tomato plants, excited about the summer ahead and the possibility of homegrown tomatoes. I picked a perfect spot and planted my six different varieties as Daigre had instructed. Now, I just wait, water and see.

Thanks for all the help, Scott, and I wish you luck with Tomato Mania!

For more information about Tomato Mania, please check out their Web site.

Tomato Factoids:

Health Benefits of Tomatoes-

a. Aids digestion

b. Strengthens stomach

c. Diuretic

d. Energizing

e. And loaded with Vitamin C and Potassium

The Tomato originated from South America and Mexico.

Heirloom Tomatoes are tomatoes where seeds have been passed down from generation to generation. The heirloom tomato is usually an irregular shape, may have large brown cracks on the skin and comes in a rainbow of colors. They run anywhere from $1 to $6 a piece but worth every penny.

Hybridized Tomato seeds can’t be cultivated and were created to be disease resistant, heat tolerant, etc.

Tomatoes range in taste from sweet +3 to sour -3 and a perfect tomato is 0. Heinz Ketchup uses a 0 tomato so that they always know how to season it.

Yellow Tomatoes are not as acidic as red tomatoes.

On Wednesday, I will be sharing tomato recipes that would be great for Easter or Passover.

Happy Cooking!

Chef Mary

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