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Intrepid Urban Farmer: All About Tomatoes

"Love Apples".
 
That fanciful name for tomatoes is derived from the French “La Pomme d’Amour”, attributing aphrodisiacal powers to them! It is the perfect name for this centerpiece vegetable of the garden. Couple that with the fact that until some time in the nineteenth century tomatoes were considered to be poisonous, and you’re probably wondering, “where’s the snake in this story?” 
 
Well, I am a sinner. I love tomatoes. They are the main event in my garden. I put a lot of time and effort into tomatoes.
 
In my previous article, I talked about seed catalogues. Tomatoes are one of the main reasons I use catalogues to order and start seeds. As an experienced gardener, with many years in one spot, the inevitable problems crop up: blights, fusarium, and verticillium wilts. They all present challenges. The really good catalogues will point out  varieties that have resistance to these diseases. I take any help I can get. 
 
Unfortunately, most heirloom tomatoes do not usually have these built in helps. Bummer. I still plant an heirloom or two that I have to hand nurse all season long but it’s worth it. 
 
Don’t forget beginner’s luck! If you are just starting, you probably won’t have these problems. Enjoy it while it lasts!
 
Also, an interesting distinction is the difference between determinate and indeterminate plants. Determinate plants have a set growing cycle. They will basically produce two or three rounds of tomatoes and then they are pretty much done for the season. These plants do not continue to grow and take over the garden. You don’t have to prune them. This can be a real benefit if you have a lot more garden demanding your attention. 
 
Indeterminate plants continue to grow and produce tomatoes all season, until the first frost. If you are having only a couple of plants, I would go this route. There is a trade-
off, however. You get more tomatoes, but they take more work. It is a good idea to prune the plants throughout the growing season and even top them off when they spill over the tops of your cages if you use them. The determinate tomatoes are less work, but you get fewer tomatoes.
 
I have a combination of both, but mostly indeterminate varieties. I like to watch how each plant evolves over the season. This is how you learn. I know. I’m a tomato nerd.
 
I always plant several varieties: Beefsteak, plum, cherry and early, smaller types, hybrid or heirloom. This year, I have selected eight different varieties. Here are my selections:
 
1. Grandaddy Hybrid
 
I have raised this several years now. It is a beefsteak, determinate plant with verticillium and fusarium resistance. The first round of tomatoes are always the largest. One hit 1 1/2 pounds a couple of years back.
 
2. Costoluto Genovese
 
This is an heirloom Italian indeterminate variety that I got from Jefferson’s Monticello. It is not an especially desirable tomato and I’ll probably have to hand nurse it, but I couldn’t resist the provenance.
 
3. Burpee’s Steakhouse Hybrid
 
The world’s biggest beefsteak! How could I not try this tomato! Indeterminate plant.
 
4. Big Mama Hybrid
 
Italian plum style. Indeterminate, large and practically seedless. Perfect for sauces.
 
5. Big Boy Hybrid
 
1949 developed hybrid. Excellent tomato, high yields, great quality. I’ve planted this for several years and I’m never disappointed. Indeterminate
 
6. Rutgers
 
Heirloom with fusarium resistance! Smaller tomato with great, high acid flavor. This is a must-do tomato for me. Indeterminate.
 
7. Summer Girl
 
New early hybrid. Promising a first picking date of around July 7th! My calendar is marked. Indeterminate.
 
8. Sugary Hybrid
 
Super sweet, high-yielding cherry tomatoes. Semi-determinate? That’s a new one. I’ll have to watch and see what that means.!
 
Even if you go to the greenhouse and pick your plants, growing tomatoes is one of the great pleasures in life. Locally, we have many reputable greenhouses and shops that can provide quality plants and give you good advice.
 
Local suppliers I have personal experience with are Garden Grove Organics (701 Scott Blvd., Covington), Jackson Florist, (3124 Madison Ave., Latonia), and Worms’ Way (2460 Anderson Rd., Crescent Springs). They all carry good assortments, each a little different, and all are very helpful and accommodating. 
 
I hope each one of you will take the time to at least plug one plant in a pot and watch what happens. Any effort will be handsomely rewarded. It’s just not summer without 
fresh, home-grown tomatoes.
 
The River City News is proud to produce this new regular feature column, "The Intrepid Urban Farmer". Every couple weeks, our local expert will offer tips, stories, and more for the urban gardener. Questions for The Intrepid Urban Farmer? Email: [email protected]
 
Photo via Burpee.com