by The Park Wife
There is nothing tastier to me than a tomato sandwich on white bread with a little mayo. Add some bacon and lettuce and that is what my summer food memories are made of. And mercy, put some mozzarella and fresh basil with those sliced tomatoes, Heaven on Earth.
No matter which recipe you choose, growing the key ingredient yourself will definitely make it more memorable and to me, it even tastes better.
Tomatoes are the most popular crop for backyard gardens—about 90 percent of vegetable gardeners grow them. Even folks who don’t have vegetable gardens grow tomatoes. A half-dozen plants thriving in pots on a sunny deck can supply a family of four with a summer of good eating. Follow these gardening guidelines for your best crop yet.
There are countless varieties of tomatoes available, each of which differs from the others in taste, the size, shape and ripening time of the fruit, as well as in the plant’s disease resistance. The smallest of the slicing tomatoes are the size of a baseball while the largest, the size of a softball.
They also come in rainbow of hues~ yellow, red, pink, orange, or black. For yellows, try Lemon Boy which is sweet. Reds, try Better Boys or Celebrity. Pinks, I love the Arkansas Traveler (for so many reasons) and Watermelon Beefsteak. And blacks, my new favorites because of the amazing flavor, are Black Krim and Cherokee Purple.
Always start with healthy plants. When preparing to purchase plants, look for ones that are short and stocky (6 to 10 in. tall). Avoid plants with blossoms or fruit. You’ll pay more for plants in individual 4-in. pots, but they usually have larger root systems than those growing in cell packs. As a result, they will grow faster after transplanting.
Tomatoes love the sun. Remember rich soil will help nourish the plants, so take time to amend with organic matter and supplement with fertilizer.
To keep the vines off the ground, a never-ending battle in my garden, use wooden stakes or tomato cages. Don’t waste your money on cheap commercial cages; they’re too small, and they break apart easily and topple over. Instead, buy extra-large cages or make your own from concrete reinforcing wire or galvanized wire mesh.
Tomatoes aren’t one of those crops you can plant and forget. Check soil moisture and give plants 1 to 1 1/2 in. of water weekly, if not supplied by rain. Try not to splash water on leaves. About a month after planting—once the soil has really warmed up—apply a 3- to 4-in. layer of organic mulch, such as weed-free straw. If you mulch too soon, the soil will stay cool, delaying the harvest. If plants are staked, regularly pinch off the small suckers that sprout between the leafy branches and main stems. Don’t cut—a knife can spread disease.
Pick tomatoes when they are firm and fully colored. Taste one while it’s still warm from the sun and you’ll know why tomatoes rank No. 1 with home gardeners.
Let’s talk tomatoes. What are your growing questions? Are you growing any this summer? Do you have tips/lessons learned? What are your favorite recipes?
Stephanie, aka The Park Wife, is a tribe builder. She is the founder of Arkansas Women Bloggers (ARWB), an online community designed to gather, grow, and connect social media influencers in our state. Considered an old-timer in the blog world, since 2005 she has written what she hopes is a love letter to her children on her lifestyle blog, The Park Wife. Raised in the debutante world of Mississippi, she married a hunky park ranger and moved to Arkansas 15 years ago and has fallen in love with the state. She loves gardening, porch swings, a beautifully set table, a delicious meal surrounded by great conversations, their cabin in the woods and monograming everything that is not nailed down. She is a devoted wife and fun-loving, homeschool mom to two extraordinarily cool little gentlemen and is fortunate enough to live on one of Arkansas’s premier state parks.