How to Grow Tomatoes

MOTHER'S vegetable garden shares how to grow tomatoes, including the history and horticulture of the tomato, what, where, when and how to plant, pests, and how to harvest and store tomatoes.


| May/June 1987



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Tomatoes are among few types of produce that are delicious canned.


PHOTO: PHILIPPE-LOUIS HOUZE

MOTHER'S vegetable garden shares how to grow tomatoes. Our most popular garden crop was once the feared "cancer apple." 

How to Grow Tomatoes

"What! You don't like tomatoes?" That response—along with a feeling of pity for the man's misguided tastebuds—is the typical reaction one of our editors receives when he reveals his aversion to this all-time favorite vegetable. For the majority of us—especially those who garden—tomatoes are one of life's great treats. Along about January, we begin to feel sadly deprived of those rich, red, juicy, vine-ripened fruits that make the hard, tasteless, mealy-textured, store-bought versions seem like artificial food made in a plastic factory.

Tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum) have been known over the years as pomidoros (golden apples), as love apples (from an early botanical name, Poma amoris) and, when they were thought to be poisonous and disease-causing, as "cancer apples." Spanish priests, who were the earliest European tomato eaters, called them esculentum (edible). Even so, until 1820, when Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson ate the bright red fruit on the front steps of the Salem, New Jersey, courthouse to prove tomatoes weren't poisonous, this member of the nightshade family was usually grown in the U.S. as an ornamental.

In those days, however, tomatoes weren't anything like the luscious ones we enjoy today. A major improvement came in 1870 when Alexander Livingston of Ohio bred a plant he named "Paragon," which produced a round, smooth fruit much more succulent than its wild kin. Now, this tropical import (which gained its common name tomatl on its way through Mexico) comes in hundreds of varieties developed to suit various climates and needs and to resist a number of diseases.

Today we have yellow, red, orange and pink tomatoes that range from cherry size to the huge and tasty beefsteaks. There are tomatoes designed especially to be sliced, canned, juiced, stuffed or—for winter consumption—shipped.

What Varieties of Tomatoes to Plant

If you want to experiment with a wide variety of tomatoes, you'll just about have to grow your plants from seed. Most of the commercially grown transplants will be the popular, more disease-resistant hybrids, such as the Ultra Girl VFN Hybrid (early), Hastings' Hasty Boy VF Hybrid (early), the renowned Burpee's Big Boy, the even bettertasting, if smaller-fruited, Big Girl and Ball Seed Company's Better Boy. (The latter three will take 70 to 80 days—from transplants—to mature, while the earlybearing plants produce fruit in about 68 days.) Other short-season varieties are Cold Set, Fordhook Hybrid and Sub-Arctic. Marglobe and Rutgers are good main crop varieties, as are Earl May's large and firm Red Heart, Agway's tall and productive Roadside Red and the long-bearing Supersonic from Harris. Doublerich is extra-full of vitamin C and Caro-Red has a high content of vitamin A.





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