Friday, March 31, 2006

A Bit about Tomatoes

One of the best parts of looking forward to the upcoming spring and gardening season is pondering what vegetables we will plant and how we will enjoy them after the harvest. Perhaps the easiest plant to grow in a vegetable garden, and also the most hearty and plentiful, is the tomato. Tomato plants are tough and if given only minimal care, they will still produce a good harvest. If tended carefully, gardeners will find themselves with an over-abundance of tomatoes; they will end up with a surplus and will be able to share with all their friends and neighbors, or even open a fruit and vegetable stand to make a bit of profit.

Always begin your tomato plants a good six weeks before the last frost in your area. That way, the plants will have grown tall and strong enough to be re-planted outdoors in your garden. Place the plants approximately two feet apart so that they can have ample room to grow up and out, and so you will still have room to maneuver between them as you care for them all summer.

Tomatoes should be planted in good soil, in full sunshine, and they should receive plenty of water daily. Check your tomato plants every day for signs of aphids or other pests, and use a mixture of soap and water to rid the leaves of the pests. One of the best ways to encourage growth in a tomato plant is to prune it regularly. To prune a tomato plant, simply cut off the branches that are not bearing fruit; even if the branch is lush, full of leaves, and looks very promising, snip it off and encourage only the branches that are bearing the fruit. This way, the fruit that is already growing will have all the nutrients and moisture going only to those branches. The fruit will be larger and more plentiful.

There are many different types of tomatoes. Many people enjoy the smaller variety, such as cherry or grape tomatoes, but many people are stumped when they realize how many varieties there actually are. There are the traditional red tomatoes of the smaller variety, such as red currants, sweat peas, and rosalitas; but there are also yellow tomatoes that can be equally as tasty as the red. These include sugar snacks and yellow currants, to name only two. The smaller tomatoes are good because they usually grow in large clusters of seven, eight, or even more. The harvest comes more quickly than the larger tomatoes, and gardeners usually find that there are always at least a few tomatoes on the vine for consumption every day after the first harvest.

The extra large tomatoes like better boys and beef steaks can grow to be nearly the size of a cantaloupe. While the smaller tomatoes can be eating in one bite or tossed into a salad, the larger tomatoes are useful for slicing up for hamburgers, sandwiches, and salads, or they can be chopped up into small pieces to be used on tacos or other types of entrees. Many people even enjoy the large tomatoes sliced on a plate with a bit of salt and salad dressing.

The medium sized tomatoes offer a large variety as well. Roma tomatoes are some of the sweetest, most flavorful tomatoes on the planet. The medium sized tomatoes are also available in various colors, including the traditional red, bright yellow, pale yellow and deep, cherry red. With such choices, tomatoes can hardly be thought of as simply a red fruit, anymore.

Once the small, six-inch tomato plants have been planted outside in the garden, they will grow quickly with plenty of sunshine and water. Often they will grow several inches each day and sometimes the harvest will begin within a month. Always try to harvest the tomatoes as soon as they are ripe and ready, so they will not fall off the vine and rot.

Whichever you choose to plant, consider planting a bit of variety in your garden this year. Experiment with more than one species of tomato and with more than one size. Even if you can only plant a few tomato plants, have fun and once the harvest comes in, enjoy!

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