Jennifer E. Beaver
Around the beginning of April, people greet me not with “Hey, Jenny!” but with “What kind of tomato should I plant?” We’ll get to that in just a minute.
First, though, let’s address the issue of plant selection. All of us gravitate to the plant brimming with little yellow blossoms. After all, that would be the one that would deliver the goods quickly, right? In the short term, maybe. But if you want tomatoes all season, look for a sturdy, stocky plant without flowers. That plant is thinking. “Wow, I need to develop a healthy root system so I can produce tons of tomatoes!” Our little flower floozy, on the other hand, is living only for the moment.
Second, there’s the issue of planting conditions. Tomatoes love sun and heat. Low temperatures during spring and early summer may halt production. That means you may get blossoms, but no tomatoes until the weather warms up consistently. Last year, my tomato crop didn’t really kick in until August, when our days were reliably sunny and warm.
Remember to water at the base; no overhead watering, no sprinklers. Wet foliage can lead to disease– and tomatoes are subject to many. Put some clean straw or mulch beneath your plants to keep unhealthy spores from splashing up and assaulting the lower leaves.
Okay, now for the fun part– what tomato should you choose? It all depends on what you like to eat and how much patience you have. For a quick, abundant fix, you can’t beat cherry tomatoes. I plant at least one Sungold every year because the flavor is outstanding and it sports tremendous vigor and reliability. If you can’t make up your mind about what type of cherry tomato to grow, OSH has a three-pack featuring Black Pearl, Napa Grape and Sungold. Remember that the only thing small about these tomatoes are the fruits themselves– the vines are long and rangy.
For larger slicers, consider Momotaro, a Japanese hybrid with excellent flavor. You can find these at H&H Nursery in Lakewood. Many friends recommend Better Boy, a prolific producer that grows up to an inch a day. And it’s always fun to throw in at least one heirloom. Last year I tried Paul Robeson; he was interesting but won’t be a repeat date. (Sometimes the most intriguing things about heirlooms are the names!)
Perhaps I’ll experiment with Stupice, an early Czech variety. With an estimated 25,000 varieties of tomatoes to choose from, how can we miss?
Jennifer E. Beaver, a Wrigley resident, is a master gardener and author of Edible Gardening for California.