Choosy About Tomatoes

It may have been the year I stood over chili sauce for hours, boiling it down to the proper consistency. Or maybe the year I tried to make tomato juice out of good old solid ‘Beefsteaks.’

But somewhere along my many tomato years, I decided it would be wise to tailor tomatoes to my family’s taste – for tomatoes are as individual as people.

About TomatoesPin

Important Early Salads

Most important to us is the matter of early salads. They’re tastiest when served with that special sauce, a bit of casual bragging over the backyard fence, “Oh yes, we picked our first one today” (when today is at least a month ahead of most).

If you buy plants from the average dealer, you’ll get “just tomatoes. What kind? Why lady, I don’t know. 

But they’re a hybrid.” And I usually found they were nice lazy hybrids that took their own sweet time to get ripe. So now I buy seeds of F1 extra-early hybrids for early summer salads. Then I started them in mid-February. 

That’s roughly a month before local horticulturists start hotbed seeds and two months before the average date of our last killing frost.

This, of course, presupposes one bit of equipment. That’s a coolish sunny or fluorescent spot to keep plants growing on for three months before it’s safe to set them out. (Two and a half if you have plenty of cover handy in case Jack Frost decides to visit some night suddenly in early May.)

Fruit-Set Hormone

Then you’ll also need some fruit-set hormone, for you’ll have blossoming plants indoors long before the weather warms up, and the bees won’t know about it. 

So it will take a dash of do-it-yourself pollinating to bring on those early-to-ripen fruits. (Another advantage of F l extra-earlies is that once they are in the open garden, they’ll set fruit in chilly, damp weather when most varieties sulk until the sun shines.)

Using Sphagnum Seedbed

Being a lazy gardener, I use a seedbed of sphagnum moss over good growing soil. That eliminates one transplant. It eliminates damping off a loss, too.

Warning – don’t go overboard on these seeds. Twelve plants will do for even a station-wagon-sized family. Three plants will provide all the bragging material most families need.

These very earliest will naturally be on the small side. They’re early because they don’t spend their time swelling up indefinitely. They get busy and turn red – fast.

Frozen Tomatoes

So you want a larger size if you grow lots of tomatoes. Or freeze them. Many gardeners are still surprised that tomatoes can be frozen. But all you have to do is skin and stew them. They must be heated through. 

Then let them cool. (I usually let mine stand overnight when nights are cool.) Then pack them. These smaller tomatoes will take much more skinning than `Beefsteaks’ if you’re a canner.

Tomato Juice

Or maybe your family goes for tomato juice more than the cooked vegetable. That’s your cue to raise something juicier. ‘Rutgers’ is always a good choice if you are in doubt. Or if you want “conversation piece juice,” make it one of the orange varieties. 

Purdue University introduced in spring 1958 a new kind that’s extra rich in vitamin A and color. ‘Caro-Red’ is its name. You’ll likely find it on the general market this year.

Chili sauce, catsup, and pizza fans obviously can do with Iess juice than they usually have. For non-juicy tomatoes, there’s that Italian paste tomato ‘San Mariano.’ It’s even good for drying.

Raising Cherry Tomatoes

A friend who’s very sociable and always entertaining raises the little round cherry tomatoes. They’re so easy to eat out of hand (and luscious to look at in a blue-green glass howl). She finds her guests are fascinated by them and have often never seen them.

We especially like a slightly larger variety of these that seem to be listed in catalogs only as “sugar tomatoes.” They are truly sweet.

Children are easily enticed into surrounding a lot of Vitamin C when a bowl of these and their assorted cousins is handy.

Cousins include the little yellow pear and the yellow plum tomatoes. There’s also a tiny “currant tomato.” ‘Tiny Tim,’ another cherry type, is supposedly good to raise for window silt salad in winter, house-plant fashion.

White Tomatoes

I’ve heard gardeners with delicate digestions enthusiastically speak about the white tomato. They consider it non-acid and easy on the stomach.

You’ll want smooth, uniformly shaped fruit if you’re a salad eater rather than a cooked tomato fan. Remember that the larger they come, the more likely shapes will be, shall I say, interesting rather than uniform. `Marglobe’ is a good slicer.

Garden Fresh Tomatoes

If you’ve ever gone into your garden some fine, moist morning and found vines “drying up,” you’ll be wise to get wilt-resistant varieties, no matter what shape or color you prefer. ‘Rutgers’ and ‘Pritchard’ are both husky growers that do not succumb easily. 

Of course, if you move your tomato patch around yearly, you aren’t so likely to have a fusarium convention going on in the fresh spot.

I also garden on the theory that it pays with tomatoes as with fruit trees to gather tip-infected fruits in a special pail when I’m picking good ones.

44659 by Marguerite Smith