Homegrown Tomatoes in the Garden

Growing great homegrown tomatoes in the garden, including types of tomatoes to grow, tomato hybrids, type of soil and tomato planting advice.

| February/March 1996

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    The Early girl hybrid.
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    Sun Gold hybrids.
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    The Brandywine heirloom.
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    The amazing Sweet 100 hybrid.

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The Garden Planner Mini Manual: The last word on growing first-rate homegrown tomatoes in your garden. (See the tomato photos in the image gallery.)

Homegrown Tomatoes in the Garden

As anyone who has ever bitten into a summer morning's glistening tomato right off the vine can testify, "love apples" are the royalty of the vegetable kingdom. Rulers of all they survey. There are no other crops as magnificent and diverse, none available in such a kaleidoscope of different colors, shapes, sizes, and tastes. At last count, there were about 3,000 different varieties to choose from, and some experts place the figure higher still. A yellow tomato with the shape of a banana named Banana Legs; a green one that is almost identical to a green bell pepper and, not surprisingly, called Green Bell Pepper; the Great White, a sweet tasting white beefsteak; and Old Flame, a very flavorful, medium-size orange tomato with a red interior are just four examples of the amazing variation within the same species. Black tomatoes (well, they're almost black) are in vogue, and some of the best tasting tomatoes on planet Earth ripen green (yes, green!).

You no doubt have your favorite, that perfect fruit you stick with through every growing season, but restricting yourself to that one, however enticing, is ignoring a world of possibilities. I'd humbly like to encourage you to expand your horizons, just a bit. After years (and years) of growing hundreds of varieties, I have whittled down my list of favorites to the precious five that follow. Three are hybrid varieties, (forced crossing of two or more varieties to produce a different "hybrid"), and two are open-pollinated heirlooms (i.e., the ovary and the pollen that fertilized it are from the same plant).

By the way, try to ignore the shills of tomato growing who endlessly sell their miracle ripening techniques; the tomato is basically a very simple crop to grow. Unlike celery or corn, to name two, tomatoes can be harvested with minimal attention and little horticultural know-how. The only part of the equation that gets complicated is the particular climate of your garden. What has worked for me may not necessarily work wonders in your backyard, but I've tried to exclude from my short list those varieties that are prone to anxiety attacks in less-than-perfect growing conditions.

Before we get into the specific favorites, however, let's briefly create the "perfect tomato." Let's call it Mother Earth, a solid red, a nice size (10-14 ounces), symmetrically round, exceptionally tasty, impeccably shaped, and represents an artist's rendition of what a perfect tomato should look like. It is disease-free (not just disease-resistant), and it is not subject to disorders (e.g., cracking, uneven ripening, blemishes, etc.). No insect bothers this plant except beneficial ones, and it continues to grow vigorously and produce more fruit than anything imaginable. This description is not a fantasy, but a fairly accurate description of one of the most recent and amazing hybrids to grace my garden.

Big Beef Tomato 


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