For the last few week, gardener have been thinking about the upcoming planting season. And when it comes to growing our own, tomatoes top the list. To help us succeed comes Craig LeHoullier’s Epic Tomatoes: How to Select & Grow the Best Varieties of All Time (Storey Publishing, $19.95). LeHoullier, the tomato advisor for Seed Savers Exchange, has trialed more than 1,200 tomato varieties through his 35 years of gardening.
I immediately checked out my favorite, Cherokee Purple, an heirloom that tastes like what we think a tomato should taste like, truly bursting with flavor. “Cherokee Purple exploded in our mouths in a symphony of flavors and nuances,” wrote LeHoullier of his and his wife, Sue’s first taste.
Then, I looked up Brandywine, the tomato that aroused our interest in heirlooms. Some years, production is great and some years, not so much. “It is still Brandywine that I think of when I ponder the perfect tomato-eating experience. An authentic Brandywine has an unmatched succulent texture that melts in your mouth. The flavor enlivens the taste buds, with all the favorable components of the best tomatoes – tartness, sweetness, fullness and complexity – in perfect balance,” he wrote.
Is your mouth watering? Fortunately, Brandywine, Cherokee Purple and many other heirlooms are available at local garden center. If you haven’t ever tried one, do so this year.
The book makes suggestions for handling common tomato disease and insect problems and gives tips on planting, harvesting and preserving, along with recommendations on 250 varieties. Although most of the book is dedicated to heirlooms, there are several comparison charts that include well known hybrids, such as Better Boy. LeHoullier lists prized tomato varieties by their color, such as green, striped or black.
If planning to start your tomatoes from seed indoors, follow the packet instructions. Usually the indoor seed-starting process tomato starts about six weeks before transplanting outdoors, which is mid May. Tomatoes are very sensitive to cold air and soil temperatures, so don’t rush their outdoor planting.
Grow tomatoes where they will get at least six hours of direct sun. Eight hours is even better. Tomatoes can be grown in the ground in well-drained soil or in a container. If growing in a pot, select a dwarf type, such as Patio, or a determinate variety, such as Celebrity. Determinates reach a certain height then stop growing. Indeterminate varieties grow until they are killed by frost. Plan on staking most tomato varieties.