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Some Like It Hot: Tomato Terms, Types and Tips

Monday Jun 17, 2013

Temperatures are rising, and while that may force those of us faint-of-heart indoors for the dog days of summer, it's a tomato's dream come true. Many tomato varieties can ride the heat wave with you, setting fruit even as the temperature rises. Gardening expert Joan Casanova offers some basic terms, tips, types and a list of heat-set tomato varieties that like it hot:

Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable in home gardens across America. It's important to understand common tomato terms, often seen on tomato plant tags and the basics of growing tomatoes... the more you know the better you'll grow. Now through mid-July, you can plant extra tomatoes for later harvests in fall, often right up to frost dates if you protect them overnight or harvest them green and ripen them indoors.

Tomatoes need the right combination of good soil, water and heat. Use transplants - they're faster than starting from seed and easier to grow. Transplants offered in biodegradable pots are planted directly in-ground, preventing transplant shock and saving millions of pounds of plastic from landfills. Find a sunny location (at least 6 hours of sun) with good drainage, and if you plant tomatoes each season, it's a good idea to rotate the spot in the garden where you plant them.

Tomato plants are classified as either indeterminate or determinate. Indeterminate plants grow all season, continuing to bloom and produce fruit as long as weather conditions are favorable. Determinate plants are the compact bush type - they grow to a certain size, set fruit, and stop growing, bearing fruit all at once. This type of tomato is perfect for a homemade tomato sauce.

Tomatoes are often designated by the terms early, middle and late, which refer to when the fruit will be ready to harvest. Early season tomatoes are the first to ripen, late season are the last to ripen and middle season types fall somewhere in between. Planting some of each type is a good strategy for enjoying ripe tomatoes throughout the summer.

What’s Your Type?

Heirloom tomato - Any tomato that is at least fifty years old and is not a hybrid, like "Mortgage Lifter." This heirloom tomato got its name because a mechanic in West Virginia who developed the variety made so much money selling the seeds he paid off his mortgage.

Hybrid tomato - A tomato bred by crossing varieties. Hybrids offer better disease resistance, higher yield, and other improved traits.

Now it’s time to pick your plants: While tomato lovers have a seemingly endless list of varieties to plant in their gardens, tomatoes fall into three basic categories: small salad (cherry) tomatoes, slicing tomatoes and thick-walled tomatoes ideal for making sauces.

Bonnie’s Plants offers a "Tomato Chooser" on its website, where you can sort through tomato varieties. If temperatures are rising in your area, choose a heat-set tomato variety that’s able to set fruit in high temperatures compared to many other varieties.

Planting Tomatoes Step-by-Step

1. Prepare your plot
Loosen the ground to create a welcoming bed for roots to grow. You can add three or four inches of compost or other organic matter, especially in clay or sandy soils. Then dig a hole that is as deep as the plant is tall because you are going to bury two-thirds of the plant.

2. Slip plant from pot if in plastic
Gently remove the plant by slipping the plastic container from the root-ball. Don’t tug on the plant stem; this can sever it from the roots. If the roots are growing out of holes in the bottom of the pot, tear or cut them away and squeeze and twist the pot as necessary to work it from the roots. If your plant is in a biodegradable pot, just tear off the bottom of the pot to make sure that roots are in instant contact with the soil.

3. Bury two-thirds of the plant
Set the plant in the hole deeply enough so that two-thirds of it is buried. Roots will sprout all along the buried stem to make a stronger plant. You can pinch off the lower leaves if you prefer, but it is not necessary.

4. Don’t forget to fertilize
Mix fertilizer into the soil that you will put back into the hole. It is best to fertilize according to recommendations from a soil test, but if you don’t have that, use a natural timed-release fertilizer, which doesn’t leach... or use an organic fertilizer at the rate recommended on the label. When you’re done, two-thirds of the entire plant will be buried; only the top of the tomato plant remains above ground.

5. Water
Water thoroughly at soil line. This is very important to help settle the soil and start the plant.

6. Maintain your mulch
Mulch with pine needles, straw, or compost to help keep moisture in the soil and prevent weeds. Mulch should be two to three inches deep for effective weed control.

Plant tomatoes that work for you - a homegrown tomato is always more delicious than any store-bought tomato because you’ll be (literally) enjoying the fruits of your labor.

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