Is your dad a big fan of steak? Does he like them juicy, and a bit red in the middle? Well this is the perfect time of year to plant some steaks for dad - Beefsteak Tomatoes of course! If your dad has a green thumb, or simply just loves his tomatoes, a tomato plant might be a fantastic Father's Day gift.
Container or Garden?
Containers offer the convenience and flexibility to transfer if necessary. This route can be advantageous in extreme weather conditions and the ability to finely control water and soil conditions. One thing to keep in mind when choosing a container for a tomato plant, however, is the final size of the plant.
“I’ve seen tomato plants that can produce up to 20 lbs. of tomatoes." says Sam Bradford, manager of Wilson Farm's Garden Shop. "When a tomato plant produces that much fruit, it can become very top heavy. If you haven’t selected the right container, you run the risk of severe damage if the plant tips over.”
When transplanting a tomato plant to a container, choose one with good drainage. Holes in the bottom are a big help, and adding broken pottery or rocks in the bottom will also greatly improve drainage. Use a potting soil with lots of organic matter; not only will it help the plant grow big and strong but it will also impact the flavor, quality and size of the tomatoes. If using a peat moss potting mix, consider adding compost or cow manure to increase the plant's nutrition.
In the Garden
Much like a container garden, ground soil needs a high organic content. Cow manure or compost can lend a hand here. Also, choose the sunniest spot in the yard; tomato plants will be happiest in high levels of light.
Choosing a Variety
There are essentially three styles of tomatoes, although there are hundreds of known varieties.
Sauce Tomatoes - These tomatoes are more meaty, and have less juice. They are great in sauces, salsas and more. The Roma tomato is the favorite of local Wilson Farm chef, Jeff Peters.
“I like it [Roma] because it has a nice bright red color and the flavor is always consistent. It’s the perfect
choice for my marinara.” says Peters. Another good sauce tomato is the San Marzano.
Slicing Tomatoes - These are the perfect tomato for the B.L.T., sliced into wedges and added to a favorite salad, or is the perfect topping to that freshly grilled burger. Examples include New Girl, Green Zebra, Valencia, Brandywine, Yellow Brandywine, and the famous Beefsteak.
Cherry/Grape - These tomatoes have a vibrant sweet flavor and can simply be popped in the mouth to enjoy. They are also a great accompaniment in salads and so much more. Examples include: Matt’s Wild, Sungold and cherry tomatoes.
Tomatoes will thrive in as much sun as they can get. A full day of sun is a tomatoes’ best friend. They will grow in partial sun conditions, but won’t develop as quickly and the fruit may be smaller.
Tomatoes are renowned for their ability to pull nutrients from the soil. It gives them their unique flavor and taste. Compost, cow manure, and other fertilizers will definitely help tomatoes develop into the best they can be. It is also a good idea to choose a fertilizer with a high calcium content. A common problem with tomatoes is end rot, where the end turns black and rotten. This often results from low calcium levels in the soil.
Tomatoes should be watered deeply. That means giving them lots of water all at once and let them go a while in between watering. The ideal time of day to water is in the morning. Routinely watering in the evening keeps moisture on the plant and can encourage rot and draw insects.
Once tomatoes reach a height of approximately 2-3 feet, trim the lowest leaves. These leaves are the most susceptible to disease and receive the least amount of light. Removing these leaves can improve the overall health of the plant by lowering its risk to diseases and rot.
Prevention is the best defense.
One of the most dangerous disease that tomato’s face is tomato blight. In 2010, tomato blight was so severe that many farms lost their entire tomato crop. One of the major problems with tomato blight is that there is no warning. At the first sign of blight, it is already too late. At this point, the garden is likely to lose most, if not all, of its tomatoes. Jim Wilson of Wilson Farm uses all the information he can get his hands on to try and stay ahead of issues with blight.
“We work closely with the University of Massachusetts Extension Program to track the progress of problems such as tomato blight,” Wilson said. "In many cases, patterns arise and I’m able to pre-treat my tomatoes, so I don’t lose the whole crop.”
For more information on tomato blight through the University of Massachusetts, visit http://extension.umass.edu/. If plants are at increased risk from tomato blight, there are a number of pretreatments available at local garden centers.
The harvest time for the perfectly, ripe tomato may seem long, but is definitely worth the wait!