Homegrown Tomato Varieties and Growing Tips

John Vivian discusses the benefits of having a home garden, homegrown tomato varieties and helpful growing tips to produce flavorful tomatoes in your garden.

| August/September 2000


John Vivian shares information on homegrown tomato varieties and tomato growing tips.

"Only two things that money can't buy: That's true love and homegrown tomatoes."
Guy Clark

Our nomination for the most voluptuous experience in home gardening is to go out to the tomato patch on a sunny, warm summer afternoon (preferably in bare feet) and pick a living sun-ripened tomato. The sun-warmed, rounded shape with its satiny skin fills the hand while the glowing yellow-to-orange-to-red-to-purple color delights the eye and the spicy aroma intoxicates the senses. Eaten then and there out of hand or sliced into a salad in the kitchen, a tomato offers a blend of color, flavor and aroma that combines to offer the single best reason we know to keep a home garden.

It is that elusive, piquant aroma that truly differentiates such a homegrown fruit from store-bought. Only so long as a picked fruit remains at the plant's ideal growing temperature range of 65 degrees Fahrenheit to 85 degrees Fahrenheit in open, oxygen-rich air will it remain a living thing that sweetens its flesh and continues to ripen its seed rather than soften, sour and begin to decay.

Modern tomato breeders, growers and shippers have gone far in bringing a convincing approximation of fresh tomatoes to grocery shelves. Just a couple of decades ago, about all we could get were bred-to-be-cube-shaped, slab-sided winter tomatoes that were (and still are) field-grown in Mexico. They were picked while still green, semitoxic and tasteless, then packaged in plastic coffins, wrapped in cellophane shrouds, and gassed with an excess of ethylene gas fumes to redden their skins during their truck ride to northern markets.

Today's premium "Euro-style" greenhouse-grown fruit is left under gro-lites to turn color on the vine and picked along with stem-end green-leaved calyx, truss-stem and all in multiple-fruit clusters. This is all done to convince buyers that they are truly vine-fresh, though they are at least several days from the vine, their time spent in 70%-humidified, low-oxygen refrigeration.

The newest golfball-to-baseball-sized cluster-bearing fruit are bred to redden through to the core and develop a degree of sweetness and a soft internal texture. But since recent (mid-'90s) genetic engineering has improved shelf life, all of it is encased in tough enough skin (epidermis) and flesh (pericarp) to withstand shipping conditions that would turn an old-time vine-ripened garden variety to mush. In a period of several days to three weeks of suspended animation during refrigerated shipping (and a week to another month of store display), they lose the spark of life and the ability to truly ripen seed or flesh any further, along with nearly all of their natural fragrance.

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