Growing Tomatoes: A Collection of Expert Advice

By Staff
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Most gardeners put growing tomatoes at the very top of their gardening must-do lists thanks to the incomparable flavors of this easy-to-grow crop. Even if you don’t have a garden plot, you can easily grow a few tomatoes in self-watering 5-gallon buckets, or enjoy cherry tomatoes grown in a hanging basket. So why is this crop so popular with so many gardeners? Here’s how Amy Goldman explains it in her remarkable book, The Heirloom Tomato:

“I have learned that heirloom tomatoes, ripened on the vine in full sun, are the most delicious tomatoes of all.  People long for more natural beauty, more flavor, and better nutrition on their dinner plates. Tomato land in America is dominated by commercial F1 hybrids with only their unyielding flesh to recommend them to the consumer. These hybrid tomatoes, bred to be grown in high plant densities and harvested mechanically, are a tool of industry and the market economy. Hybrids reduce biodiversity and prevent farmers and gardeners from saving seed to regrow. Heirloom tomatoes are the natural alternative: capable of breeding true from seed (unlike F1 hybrids) and designed to be homegrown.”

The links below provide expert advice on everything you need to know about growing tomatoes, including:

5 Reasons You Should Be Growing Tomatoes

Or on a lighter note, here are five reasons to grow your own ‘maters, from You Bet Your Garden Guide to Growing Great Tomatoes, by the ever-amusing Mike McGrath:

1. There is honestly nothing you can compare to the taste of a fresh, vine-ripened tomato, plucked at the perfect peak of sweetness and eaten warm and sugary, tart and juicy, right there in the garden as you make a big mess all over your shirt.

2. If you actually get good at this (and you can — I grow great tomatoes just about very season, and I barely have opposable thumbs), you’ll have access to the ultimate summertime bragging right: “Oh, and would you like a slice of fresh tomato on that? Let me go out and pick a nice one for you.”

3. If you get really good at it, you can go for the gold: Having ripe, red tomatoes conspicuously hanging on your plants days before that pain-in-the-butt gardener down the block who’s been showing off for years.

4. And then nirvana: Knocking on that gardener’s door with a bag of ripe tomatoes while his first love apples are still green and saying, “Here — I noticed your plants don’t seem to be doing very well this year, and we had more than we can eat for weeks now …”

5. Start your own tomatoes from seed, and you can grow (and share and savor and really brag about) wonderful varieties that you just can’t find already started for you at the garden center, much less in the supermarket, such as ‘Tigerella,’ ‘Brandywine,’ ‘Big Rainbow’ and ‘Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter.’

On Growing Tomatoes

Growing Tomatoes
This article provides a simple breakdown of when to plant, how to plant, and how to prevent tomato pests and diseases so you can harvest your healthiest tomato crop. Learn about storage and seed saving, too, plus get a list of great tomato varieties to try in every type: cherry, slicers and paste.

Enjoy Fresh Tomatoes All Year
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? This article explains how easy it is 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 tomato crop that will finish ripening indoors after the first freeze. Finally, we explain how to keep a container-grown cherry tomato producing indoors through winter, which brings you back to spring.

Grow and Sell Heirloom Tomatoes
Meet Pat Kennedy, aka the ‘Tomato Lady,’ and learn about her unique bootstrap business growing and selling heirloom tomato plants.

Grow Great-Tasting Tomatoes
This article by organic gardening expert Barbara Pleasant reports on choosing and growing tomatoes for maximum flavor.

Winter Tomatoes
Learn how you can enjoy better-than-supermarket tomato flavor all winter long by growing cherry tomatoes in large bright south windows.

Container Cultivation
You don’t have to have land to have a garden full of healthy food. Container gardens can exist in just about any spot that gets good sun, such as a patio, deck or balcony. In fact, some say that a container garden is easier to maintain than a conventional garden. The garden can be moved indoors when bad weather threatens, you can bring it up to your level, minimizing physical strain, and you can better control the garden’s soil quality and exposure to pests or diseases. Of the two types of containers, traditional and self-watering, you will find that self-watering models require less time and effort, and provide you with an abundance of healthy fruits and veggies.

Container Gardening With Vegetables and Herbs
If you don’t have a good garden spot in your yard, why not grow some vegetables and herbs using container gardening?

Flawed Fruit: The Not-So-Rosy Reality of Industrial Tomato Farming in America
In this excerpt from his book Tomatoland, award-winning food journalist Barry Estabrook takes to the tomato trail, tracing the fruit from its wild origins in Peru to its modern-day incarnation in the $5 billion tomato industry based in Florida. Estabrook’s shocking findings on the behind-the-scenes world of tomato production in America show the high price we pay as a society when we disregard sustainability in our food system.

Advice on Best Tomato Varieties

America’s Favorite Tomatoes
This lineup of America’s 20 favorite tomatoes will fill your growing season with an array of colors and fabulous flavors. Discover tangy green varieties, learn about perfect paste tomatoes and find out which varieties are among tomato experts’ best kept secrets.

Best-Tasting Tomatoes: 56 Heirloom Tomatoes Rated Excellent for Flavor
Amy Goldman has done gardeners an unprecedented service with her remarkable research presented in her book, The Heirloom Tomato: From Garden to Table. Here is her list of the best-tasting heirloom tomato varieties.

The Best Tomatoes to Grow Where You Live
We surveyed 2,000 gardeners to find out which tomatoes grew best in their backyards. Here are their answers, region by region:

The Best Tomatoes to Grow in the Southwest 

The Best Tomatoes to Grow in the Northwest

The Best Tomatoes to Grow in the Northeast

The Best Tomatoes to Grow in the North Central and Rockies

The Best Tomatoes to Grow in the Midwest

The Best Tomatoes to Grow in the Mid-Atlantic

The Best Tomatoes to Grow in the Interior South

The Best Tomatoes to Grow on the Gulf Coast

‘Abraham Lincoln’ Tomatoes
There are a lot of exceptional heirloom tomatoes out there, but ‘Abraham Lincoln’ consistently produces huge crops of extra large, meaty fruit, and resists foliage diseases, making it ideal for organic growers. It has a wonderful summery tomato flavor, and it produces heavily right up to the first killing frost. It has proved itself to be one of the great tomato classics that happily survived the big shift to hybrids during the 1940s.

Sources for Tomato Plants by Mail

Mail-Order Heirloom Tomato Plants
Start your tomato garden with heirloom tomato plants shipped straight to your door. You can explore the wonderful world of great-tasting heirloom tomatoes by purchasing tomato seedlings from one of these 17 mail-order companies.

Tomato Diseases and Pests

Bottom Rot
Why do the bottoms of tomatoes rot while the fruits are still on the vine? Read the answer and how to prevent this problem here.

Preventive Pruning for Tomato Early Blight
Early blight is one disease that almost always shows up when you are growing tomatoes. Here’s how you can minimize this common problem.

Nab Tomato Worms at Night
Here’s a technique to reduce damage from the hornworms that sometimes feed on tomatoes.

Beat Tomato Diseases With Tomato Grafting
In some regions growing tomatoes is difficult due to persistent soilborne diseases.  You can overcome this challenge by grafting your favorite tomato varieties onto disease-resistant rootstock, as explained in this article.

Tomato Grafts Create Cool, Two-Headed Plants
Tomato grafting has emerged as one good way to provide soilborne disease resistance to susceptible heirloom varieties. After you learn how to do single grafts on tomatoes, it’s not that difficult to graft two different varieties onto one rootstock.

Use Cages for Growing Your Best Tomatoes Ever

The Three Best Homemade Tomato Cages
If you’re hoping for a bumper tomato harvest this year, you’ll need some sturdy tomato cages to support your plants. Unfortunately, most store-bought tomato cages are too flimsy and too small for the job. But gardeners take heart! Building your own tomato cages is easy. Take a look at these four terrific plans — at least one will work perfectly for you and your garden!

Woody’s Folding Tomato Cages
Anyone can build these simple, sturdy, wooden tomato cages! Woody’s folding tomato cages work great and are easy to store away come winter.

Using Wire Mesh in the Garden
Tidy trellises, sturdy cages for growing tomatoes, even mini greenhouses–here’s how inexpensive wire mesh will make your gardening easier. The wire towers can support full-size tomato plants, and you can make season-extending covers for the cages.

Our Indestructible Tomato Cage
Recycled, easy-to-build, storable and easy-watering, these tomato cages will last season after season.

Vertical Gardening Techniques for Maximum Returns
You can grow bigger, better cukes, beans, tomatoes and cantaloupes with simple, sturdy trellises.

How to Save Tomato Seeds

Grow Your Own Seeds
How to save seeds from you garden to experience the ultimate in self reliance and select the best vegetable varieties for your local conditions.

Tips from Garden Bloggers

Gardeners from across the country share their knowledge about and passion for growing, preserving and cooking with tomatoes.

My Top 5 Favorite Seed Companies
Here are five great companies to buy seeds from.

Learning How to Grow Tomatoes
Sue Parker shares her grandmother’s secrets for growing great tomatoes.

The Hoophouse Tomato: Start Seeds in January! 
Having early tomatoes is a new goal of mine going into the first spring with my hoophouse. Join me and follow my blog to see if my strategies work.

Making Sun-Dried Tomatoes in a Solar Food Dehydrator 
After spending several years drying food in an electric food dehydrator, I built a SunWorks solar food dehydrator to try and create truly sun-dried tomatoes.

Gorgeous Heirloom Tomato Photos 
Check out the best photos of MOTHER EARTH NEWS Editor-in-Chief Cheryl Long’s harvest of heirloom tomatoes this summer.

Peeling Tomatoes
Find out how to peel tomatoes more quickly and with less mess

What to Do With Green Tomatoes 
Don’t waste your green tomatoes! Pull them off the vine before the frost comes and ripen them indoors.

Preserving Tomatoes and Apples With a Homemade Solar Food Dryer 
A homemade solar food dryer allows you to dry tomatoes and apples for delicious and nutritious winter snacks and addition to your meals.

Gardening in Small Spaces: My Topsy Turvy Tomato Planter
I’ve learned that gardening in small spaces can be challenging, but I’ve had great success with a Topsy Turvy tomato planter this year.

Beat Tomato Diseases With Tomato Grafting 
Consider grafting your favorite tomato varieties onto disease-resistant rootstock to foil soilborne diseases.

Gardening Resources

Garden Seed and Plant Finder
Lets you quickly search the online catalogs of more than 500 mail order seed companies.

Organic Garden Products
This finder searches the websites of about 30 mail order companies that carry the best selections of organic insecticides, tools and other products.

MOTHER EARTH NEWS Vegetable Garden Planner
With the help of our interactive online Vegetable Garden Planner, you can quickly get the data you need to design your best garden ever

Tomato Recipes

Tomato Jam
Try something really unusual on your toast or English muffin: Tomato jam. And it tastes really, really good!

Terrific Tomato Soup and Other Tomato Recipes 
A guide to canning tomatoes and edible applications, including tomato juice, sauces, soup, catsup, bouillon, freezing, pickles and how to beat a canning jar shortage.

The Perfect Tomato Sandwich
Tomato sandwiches are about as basic as you can get, but every one of them is satisfying and grounding.  Here’s one way to make them.

Spicy Flame-Grilled Tomato Bloody Mary Recipe 
Made with delicious flame-grilled tomatoes, these Bloody Marys are so good you’ll want to host a weekend brunch straight away! The recipe is adaptable to suit your tastes and locally available ingredients.

Litchi Tomato 
This rare fruit offers a combination of tomato and sour cherry flavors. The Litchi tomato, also known as the Morelle de Balbis, adds zest to many dishes. Heirloom vegetable expert William Woys Weaver explains how to grow it, where to get seeds, and offers a  recipe for Hot and Spicy Litchi Tomato Chutney.

Roasted Green Tomatoes 
How to roast green tomatoes to be eaten alone or to boost the flavor of other recipes.

Photo by Fotolia/evgenyb