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Yards to Paradise: Tomatoes in every yard


By Max Phelps

Almost everyone can grow tomatoes, and there are at least a handful of good reasons for doing so.
Just about everyone loves tomatoes, if not fresh in a salad or on a sandwich, then in the form of sauce on the pizza or added to a homemade soup or something. And, they are so easy to grow that a
5 year old can do it. So, let’s take a moment to consider some tomatoes in your
yard, garden, planter or flowerbed.
The fruits from a tomato plant (we called them vegetables when I was a child) are nutritious as well as delicious. And, they come in many shapes and sizes, with the plants also having great variability.
I’ve often planted seeds to raise my own plants, but unless you have a greenhouse or grow room, plants obtained from the farm store or local greenhouse will bear fruit sooner than starting from seeds. Then, for larger plantings, or for later or main plantings, or for a fall crop, growing more plants from seeds is the cheap way to go, and you can also have whichever variety you want rather than buying only the plants grown for commercial sales. (Buying left over, deeply discounted, overgrown plants in July is also a cheap option—and if you dig a big enough hole to bury most of the stems, they will recover and grow well for you most of the time.)
Some of my favorites are Early Girl which I buy plants of for the quickest ripe tomato usually. Then, yellow cherry or pear tomatoes, Chocolate cherry, Black Krim, Celebrity and Mr. Stripey are often on my list. Except for the Celebrity, I usually start the others from seeds. But, with literally hundreds of tomato varieties in some seed catalogs, you can try growing many hybrids and many heirloom varieties. The old standby for canning tomatoes has long been ‘Rutgers’. Roma and other Italian meaty types make the best sauce or paste. Perhaps you should visit a local farmers market or co-op and try several tomato varieties.
Not everyone wants a traditional garden, or rows of staked tomatoes in the landscape. But, there are dwarf determinate types for a flowerpot. And there are tall-growing indeterminate types such as many of the cherry tomatoes which work well on a trellis or lattice or even in the back of the flower bed. My elderly mother has some growing up the porch railings. They can be tied to any pole such as that supporting a bird feeder or birdhouse. Or, if you just let them grow on the ground like watermelons or squash, you’ll still harvest many juicy tomatoes for the table over the course of the summer.
Some useful information in closing: There are various tomato diseases, and some of the newer hybrids have multiple resistances. On the other hand, if you’re using potting soil in a raised bed…there should be no diseases, so you may plant any variety you like. Newly cleared woodlands are usually free of diseases, too.
Take note of how many days from seed to ripe fruit, or how many days from seedling to ripe fruit. If you’re in a hurry for early tomatoes, don’t plant the “big boy” types that take 80 to 100 days to ripen. Likewise, in the fall, these big guys probably won’t ripen (although you may enjoy fried green tomatoes from them, or could put them in a sunny window or with ripening apples or pears to
help them turn from green to ripe).
Universally loved, and so easy to grow, and with them coming in so many flavors and colors, why wouldn’t you want a tomato plant? It is fun to watch things grow, and all the more if it’s also fun to eat them.
It’s not too late to get started, as tomatoes love warm weather and sunny days. They also do OK in partial shade and cooler weather. Temperatures in the 90’s or 100’s can stop some varieties from setting fruit until fall-like temperatures or monsoon season sets in. I think I’m going to check on the tomato seeds I planted last week, and maybe even plant some more in little pots. I hope you’ll be inspired to produce a fresh ripe tomato in your yard before the year is gone. You’ll be delighted with the results.
The author is a landscaper. Comments welcome. Email: [email protected]