Tomatoes, Part 2

Larry G. Field
Thursday, August 1, 2019
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The next two size groups I would describe as large and giant. We grow Goliath from the large group. Some will reach the size of a me- dium orange and weigh one pound. They will always produce as we grow them. They produce large enough slices for any sandwich.

We have had very poor luck with the “giants.” These are advertised as 1.5, 2.0, 3.0 lbs or 4”, 5”, etc. We have grown many varieties of these and perhaps 33% of the years they grow to huge green tomatoes but remain that way all summer, they never mature to “ripe.” On these years there are not enough sustained high temperatures to trigger them to ripen. They are impressive when ripe but if one figures pounds of ripe tomatoes per season at 46 degrees north latitude, the medium, baseball sized like Early Girl will almost always outperform the gi- ants. The giants are great for covering a slice of bread when making sandwiches and some people have success with them. Try your luck if you wish to take the risk. If you have a green house for enhanced starting, they should produce. On the years that they do not ripen on the vines, pick before the first frost and allow them to ripen later in storage.

I would recommend that a beginning gardener grow one Early Girl and one Fourth of July as a first year trial. While growing them, com- pare to their’s and other descriptions in the seed catalogs to aid you in making future choices.

Tomatoes should be grown from bedding plants. Our growing season does not lend itself to growing from seed. We purchase large plants, I believe the “1 gallon” size, from “Nana’s Bloomers.” Many plants, like discussed in “Winter Squash,” will produce additional roots at the nodes if in contact with soil. Suppliers usually recommend that you plant tomatoes deep enough to cover part of the stem of the bedding plant. In some cases this requires a significant planting hole. To minimize hole depth, I lay the root ball on its side when planting.

I have mentioned that I contour our garden rows so that I have a “furrow” as a low planting point and a ridge between rows as a high point. I plant in the furrow. The ridge directs rain water, etc. to flow to the row of plants. With large bedding plant tomatoes, I dig a hole about 18 inches long to hold the root ball when laid on its side and to hold about 8 inches of the lower plant stem. The root ball end of the hole is deep enough to cover the root ball when laid on its side. Positioned at what was the top of the root ball the hole shallows so that the stem, in the center of the root ball, will lay on solid ground in the bottom of the hole, for protection. Also covered in the hole is about 8 inches of plant stalk. At the green plant end of the hole I curve the end of the hole so that the tomato plant stem can be curved upward supported by the curved hole, without breaking. I stake the green foliage in a vertical position and cover the root ball and lower stem. I position the root ball and lower stem so as to align with the furrow so that flowing water will cover it completely watering all roots that develop. The lower plant stalk will have branching limbs. I cut them cleanly off about 1” from the stalk so that they will heal and root rapidly when buried. The leaves/stems are cleanly removed to be replaced at that node by roots. As the plant develops, it will have a 14”-18” horizontal main root with many attached smaller roots, all beneath the watering furrow.

I generally plant as early in May as I receive a favorable 7-day forecast and two consecutive hot days with the in between night forecast to be a minimum of 40 degrees. This 36 hour period of warm temperatures gives the water wall a chance to warm and to warm the interior environment. Bedding plants are relatively expensive so don’t plant them unless you can sustain their livelihood.

I space tomatoes three feet, four might be better, but I am conserving space to make room for the many that I plant. Even on a year of processing tomatoes we can fit the crop into one row. We utilize tomatoes to process pints of salsa and quarts of tomatoes. We also place whole ripe washed tomatoes directly into gallon zip lock bags for freezing. If your pending cooking project doesn’t require a quart of tomatoes, you can briefly expose a frozen tomato to flowing warm water and the skin will neatly “slip” off.

After planting these bedding plants, I surround each with a “teepee” style cone shaped circle of dead willow limbs (green will sprout and grow!). These are the frames around which the water walls are immediately placed and filled (Before noon so they can sun warm). The willows used are long enough to stick out above the wall to work as a pail support in case cold weather arrives and the plants require covering. As the plants grow to water wall size, I soak the bases of the support sticks and pull the frame outward making a wider top opening for the plant to grow thru and above the water wall. The plants frequently have blossoms and small fruit before I remove the water walls. When the plants are well matured and all danger of frost has past, I remove the water walls and replace them with tomato frames. This change (and the placement of the teepee sticks) requires that care be exercised so as to not break the plant parts and careful positioning of the points of the tomato frames/racks so as to not pierce the underground plant stem. The plant limbs should be laid over the rings of the tomato frames for support.

Avoid bruising tomatoes while harvesting. One’s final harvest should come before the forecast first hard frost. Pick all, wash and air dry the tomatoes and place them in flats. Sort the tomatoes into the flats by maturity, the smallest hardest green tomatoes at one extreme and the totally large red ones at the other. Tomatoes will progressively spoil (and progressively ripen), but if monitored, and spoiling toma- toes are removed, you should have tomatoes until Dec. Recipes exist for processing green tomatoes into relishes and pickles. Large green tomatoes can be sliced and fried, normally coated with flour. As time passes, the tomatoes will dehydrate and become wrinkled; they may not have an appetizing appearance at this stage, but they will still be edible. You will have no trouble identifying the spoiling ones, leaking juice, mold, black soft areas around the stem site, etc., remove and discard as soon as sighted.

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