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GARDEN FANATIC:It’s time to plant those tomatoes

“Look, we’re all the same ... in the library he’s paying his taxes, in the yard he’s raising tomatoes...” -- Arthur Miller

“The fact (is) that you can’t buy a decent tomato anymore.” -- Calvin Trillin

“Tobacco is a dirty weed,” the song goes … however, it perversely adds the admission, “I like it, I like it!” Fortunately, tobacco has some very likable and edible relatives, including the ubiquitous tomato.

A culinary delight for centuries in the Americas, the tomato has been recognized as a useful vegetable for less than two hundred years. Europeans resisted eating this South American native because of the association that many of its Nightshade family relatives are poisonous.

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Now is the time to plant tomatoes; the rainy and cold season has given way to spring. Most gardeners start tomatoes with transplants, which are available at your favorite nursery now.

Best Laguna varieties include Early Girl and Celebrity. If you are growing in containers, select Patio, a compact grower. Beef Steak and Better Boy, planted in your tomato patch, are good choices for large fruit. Super 100 is a fine cherry tomato, Lemon Boy produces yellow fruit and La Roma is planted for tomato paste.

Purchase plants that are bushy, not leggy. Although beckoning with the promise of early harvest, avoid plants already in bloom or bearing fruit; they may not transplant well.

Plant tomatoes deep, as roots will develop where the soil touches the stem … this makes for a stronger plant. Pinch off the bottom leaves and reserve a minimum of three pair at the top. Finally, choose a location that receives at least six hours of sunlight.

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Tomatoes appreciate well-prepared soil, so begin by using plenty of planter’s mix to ensure good soil structure and add a few ounces of 5-2-1 Gro-power and gypsite per plant. This initial fertilizer application will be sufficient for the plant until it sets fruit, then it will be time to reapply the Gro-power.

Feed once a month while the fruit develops and then discontinue once they near maturity.

Tomatoes require regular watering after the fruit has set, about two inches a week.

You can stimulate earlier fruit production by placing the plant under a little water stress early, but be careful not to over do it.

As harvest time approaches, you should cut back on watering to get less watery fruit and increase flavor.

Left to its own design, a tomato plant likes to sprawl. Most home growers prefer to save space by staking their tomatoes two feet apart. Another option is to plant tomatoes in cages, allowing them to grow upright over the structure.

Count on a yield of 20 to 40 tomatoes per plant, depending on conditions and care.

Most of the diseases and problems associated with tomato root systems are in the past, thanks to the introduction of disease-resistant plants. Hornworms must still be dealt with, either by hand-picking or eliminated by BT, Bacillus thuringiensis. The occasional aphids are easily managed using an insecticidal soap.

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Sunken black areas at the distal part of the fruit are caused by not maintaining uniform soil moisture after fruit has set, and/or a deficiency in calcium. This problem is called blossom-end rot and cannot be controlled with a pesticide.

A white scald on the cheek of the fruit indicates sunburn and is prevented through good cultural practices.

I hold a true culinary affection for the tomato because it can be served in so many ways. You see, it is used in submarine sandwiches, club sandwiches, BLTs, Sloppy Joes and Catharine’s green salads.

It’s the ingredient that makes Bloody Marys, chicken Marengo, gazpacho, manicotti and lasagna so delicious.

And how would you make marinara sauce, ketchup, chili sauce and salsa without the tomato?

Without this versatile vegetable, one couldn’t possibly eat a pizza, huevos rancheros, shish kebab, guacamole, ratatouille, Spanish rice or Manhattan clam chowder.

See you next time.


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  • STEVE KAWARATANI can be reached at (949) 497.2438, or e-mail to plantman2@mac.com.

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