Tomato redux

Jennifer E. Beaver

With Independence Day rapidly receding in the rear-view mirror, we’ve turned the corner on summer.
But don’t be sad. I have some good news.
You still have time for a second round of tomato planting!
With the warm days, warm nights and warm soil, it’s an even better time to plant than spring. Your plants will take off quickly and you’ll have plenty of time to toss those tasty flavor bombs into caprese, gazpacho, or a simple tomato-and-mayo sandwich.
Nearly all– 95 percent– of American gardeners plant at least one tomato. And it’s not hard to see why. Bred for shipping but not for flavor, the grocery store version is hard and tasteless. A homegrown tomato is so worth the effort. If you only grow one edible this year, make it a tomato.
But which one? Our area is perfect tomato-growing territory. We can choose from hundreds. My favorite is Sungold, a forgiving cherry type that keeps producing luscious, sweet fruit even when I forget to water it and don’t give it enough sun. Always grow a cherry tomato. It will make you happy after the bigger tomatoes let you down, falling victim to pests, disease or general malaise.
Other area favorites include taste-test winner “Carbon,” one of the darkest of the black tomatoes. This gets high marks for productivity overall but is currently sulking in my raised bed– not enough sun. Give big-fruited tomatoes like this at least eight hours of sun a day. Hybrid “Early Girl” may not sound as exciting as some of the heirlooms, yet it beat them in a blind taste. There are some tomato snobs who will only grow heirlooms. They’re missing out on some great taste!
“Green Zebra” has a snappy flavor with green-striped gold coloring. Mine succumbed to some type of creeping blight last year, but I enjoyed it while it lasted. If you’re lusting after a yellow tomato– absolutely gorgeous on a plate mixed with red tomatoes– try disease-resistant hybrid “Lemon Boy.” I grew one last year and was very happy with it. One of the most popular tomatoes in Japan, pink medium-size ‘Momotaro’ is taking California by storm with its balanced sweet/acid flavor. Mine is flourishing in a large pot, but I have yet to harvest any.
It’s a little late to start tomatoes from seed. For interesting tomato plants, try H&H Nursery in Lakewood and Armstrong Nursery in Long Beach.

Jennifer E. Beaver, a Wrigley resident, is a master gardener and author of Container Gardening for California and Edible Gardening for California.

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