Enjoy Fresh Tomatoes All Year

Harvest a bounty of homegrown, fresh tomatoes all year with these five smart strategies and four special varieties.

| February/March 2007

Every day is a good day to eat homegrown tomatoes, so why not do all you can to make the dream of year-round fresh tomatoes come true? It’s easy to get a head start in spring if you use the right varieties and a few tricks. Then once the summer planting peaks, you can switch your attention to growing a fall crop that will finish ripening indoors after the first freeze. Plenty of light can keep a container-grown cherry tomato producing indoors through winter, which brings you back to spring.

Ready to get started? We’ll walk through the five basic steps with help from folks who share your passion for homegrown tomatoes.

1. Open the Season Early

At their five-acre organic farm in Davisburg, Mich., Diane and John Franklin have spent years in their quest to break and then hold the state record for the earliest ripe tomato. “We really push the envelope,” Diane says. With the help of a high tunnel (also known as a hoop house), their efforts pay off with ripe tomatoes in May, or in June using Wall O’ Water cloches in an open garden.

Though their last frost usually comes during the second half of May, the Franklins have found they can set out tomato seedlings in April if they use Wall O’ Waters and cold tolerant varieties. “We have ripe tomatoes when other people are just planting theirs, and a really good harvest starting in June rather than August,” Diane says. She suggests ‘Glacier,’‘Ida Gold’ and ‘Stupice’ for their cold tolerance, earliness and good flavor.

If you don’t like the idea of setting out seedlings in freezing weather, one alternative is to grow a few early plants indoors near a south-facing window, with supplemental light from fluorescents. Be sure to shift plants to larger containers as soon as roots begin to tickle their way through the pots’ drainage holes. Many gardeners adopt ‘Early Girl’ or ‘Sun Gold’ tomatoes as store-bought seedlings, grow them indoors until the first fruits dangle from the vine, and then set them out inside tomato cages wrapped with clear plastic during spring’s first warm spell.

2. Keep ’Em Coming in Summer

Summer is the time to experiment with new varieties that have caught your eye, but as part of your year-round tomato quest, do include at least one reliable indeterminate cherry tomato in your garden. (Indeterminate varieties produce vines and fruit until killed by frost; determinate bush types tend to set one big crop and then decline. Most heirloom and cherry tomatoes are indeterminates.) Small-fruited cherries often produce fruit despite stress from extremely hot or cold weather, and many varieties show good disease resistance. Your summer-grown indeterminates can serve as donor plants for rooted cuttings to start your winter crop (keep reading).

2/12/2010 12:08:08 PM

This is a good article and it describes using cuttings to grow more tomato plants. We have had great success growing more tomato plants by snapping off the suckers that grow between the main stem and true branches. Might have even learned this trick from another MEN article. Once the suckers get about six inches long we snap them off at their base on the main stem, and place them in a jar with muddy water in the sun. After about a week, we plant them in freshly tilled loose soil and keep wet for another week. The suckers grow very fast and provide lots of tomatoes.

3/3/2007 11:21:41 AM

Dear Mother Earth, I have been a subscriber to your magazine for about 9 months or so. The reason I subsribed was your excellent articles in the SF Chronicle. I love your magazine, but I won't be subsribing again. The article are great but I want to save some of them. I see you have made that impossible. I do not wish to purchase a disc when I have already purchased the magazine. Other magazines give codes to their subscribers that allow them to sign in and copy materials. I think if you want to maintain a readership, you should do the same. Meanwhile, I am trying to cut down on my paper trail. Thanks for some great tips. I will be typing out the articles I want to keep from now on. Gail Erb 2837 Millbridge Pl. San Ramon, CA 94583

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