The Tomato is highly esteemed as a delicious food when cooked or eaten raw and as a source of juice. It is known to be a source of health protective vitamins and because of the ease with which it can be cultivated, it is one of the most popular of home vegetable-garden crops as well as a commercial crop of vast importance. With comparatively little care the Tomato yields well and produces, over a long season, a succession of delicious fruits. It exists in many different varieties, some having fruits not much larger than a currant, others having fruits that weigh a pound or more each. The fruits are usually red, but varieties with yellow fruits and with pink and white fruits are also grown. In height, the plants vary considerably according to variety.
Characteristically, the Tomato is a lover of sunshine and warm weather. It is grown as a tender annual and is one of the first plants to be damaged by fall frosts; even slight frost harms the tender foliage.
Tomato: A Favorite Garden Crop
The parent species of wild progenitors of the garden varieties of Tomato are two tender perennials that are natives of western South America, Lycopersicon esculentum and L. pimpinellifolium. When cultivated, as they sometimes are in botanical gardens and similar places, they are treated as annuals. The Tomato was introduced into gardens in Europe during the early part of the sixteenth century, but for a long time, its value as a food was not appreciated, perhaps because it belongs in the Nightshade family, the Solonaceae, and so shows a resemblance to many well-known plants that have poisonous characteristics. Before it was accepted as a food the Tomato was cultivated as a curiosity and as an ornamental.
Tomatoes were grown in Virginia by Thomas Jefferson in I781, but according to report they were almost totally unknown in America as an edible vegetable until after 1834, and it appears that another ten years passed be fore they began to attain any real popularity.
The popular name of the Tomato for a long time was Love Apple, and sometimes it was known as Gold Apple.
Although the Tomato is usually raised from seeds, it is very easily increased by means of cuttings. Side shoots removed from plants early in the season and planted in the sand in a cold frame root readily and may be used to give successive plants that will yield well late in the season.
In the South, the seeds may be sown directly out of doors in carefully prepared seedbeds and the young plants lifted from the beds and set directly in the garden. In the North, and wherever earlier plants are needed than can be obtained by sowing outdoors, the seeds are sown in a greenhouse 8-10 weeks before it is expected to transplant the young plants outdoors. Certified seed (seeds certified by governmental authorities as having been collected from plants free of seed-borne disease) only should be sown
When sowing indoors, prepare pots, pans, or flats (according to the number of seeds to be sown) by placing drainage material in their bottoms and filling them with a sifted, rather sandy soil mixture (loam, sand, and leaf mold, humus or peat moss in about equal proportions make a good mixture). Water the soil thoroughly with a fine spray and sow the seeds, spacing them about half an inch apart and covering them with soil to about a quarter of an inch.
Keep the newly sown seeds at a temperature of 60-70 degrees; shade them at first, but, as soon as the seedlings emerge from the soil, expose them to full sunshine. Maintain the soil in an evenly moist but not a constantly saturated condition and keep the plants growing in a greenhouse having a night temperature of 60-65 degrees and a daytime temperature of about 5-10 degrees higher.
When the young plants have developed their second pair of leaves (the first pair of regular tomato-leaf shape), transplant them to flats, spacing them 2-3 in. apart, or plant them individually in small pots. At this time use a soil consisting of equal parts of loam (topsoil), sand, and leaf mold, humus, or peat moss, with bone meal added at the rate of one pound to each bushel of the mixture. Keep the plants growing under the same conditions as before and, about two weeks before they are to be planted in the garden, gradually harden them and accustom them to outdoor conditions.
Soil and Location
Tomatoes thrive in any reasonably good garden soil that is well-drained. It should be deeply spaded or plowed well before the Tomatoes are planted and, if deficient in humus, it should be enriched by adding com post, leaf mold, peat moss, or commercial humus. Manure should be used, if at all, with caution, because excessive nitrogen tends to make the plants produce an overabundance of foliage at the expense of flowers and fruit. A dressing of a fertilizer that analyzes high in phosphate and potash and low in nitrogen may be beneficial; if the soil is fairly rich the addition of organic matter together with a dressing of superphosphate is likely to prove sufficient.
Tomatoes need full sunshine. The earliest crops are likely to be produced on south-facing slopes or in locations that are shaded by a wall or building. Later crops may be had from the flat or sloping ground without difficulty.
Plants for setting out should be sturdy and short-jointed (the leaves comparatively close together on the stems). Tall, weak plants with undersized, yellowish leaves, widely spaced on the stems, are not satisfactory. Wait until the weather is warm and settled before planting; nothing is gained if, after the plants are set out, the weather turns cold and the plants assume a blue or purplish coloring and cease to grow.
The space between plants should vary according to methods of training and cultivation and according to the variety (the more vigorous varieties need more room than others).
If the plants are to sprawl on the ground without staking, and mechanical cultivators are to be used to keep down weeds, as is the practice with commercial growers, the rows should be about 6 ft. apart, and 4 ft. should be allowed between the plants in the rows.
Amateur gardeners who raise only a few Tomato plants will find that it pays to support them off the ground rather than to let them grow without trimming. If this is done, the pro portion of clean, undamaged fruit harvested is higher. The plants may be tied to individual stakes or to a trellis. In the former case, a spacing of 2½-3½ ft. between rows and 2-2½ ft. be tween plants in the rows is sufficient; the closer spacings are adopted if the plants are to be pruned to one stem each, more space being given if each plant is to develop 2-3 stems. Rows of trellis may be spaced 4-6 ft. apart and the plants are grown against the trellis about 2½-3 ft. apart. Stakes for Tomatoes should be of good, sound wood at least 2 in. square and long enough to project from the ground 5 or 6 ft. when they are driven insufficiently far to fasten them securely. Trellises are usually made 4 or 5 ft. high.
When planting, the holes should be made large enough to accommodate the roots without crowding and the plants set deeper than they previously were (because Tomato plants root freely from the portions of the stems buried beneath the soil, they may be planted down to the first leaf). After they are planted, each plant should be well watered
Freedom from weeds ‘is important in the cultivation of Tomatoes. The ground in which they are planted either should be mulched or should be kept stirred to a depth of about 1 in. with a hoe or cultivator. Keeping the ground free of weeds with a hoe or cultivator in the early stages of growth and applying a mulch after the plants are well established and at the beginning of really hot, summer weather is the best practice.
Tying and Pruning
Plan ts that are grown on stake s and trellises will need- attention in the matter of tying at regular intervals throughout the summer. Do not tie stems so tightly that they are likely to be strangled by the ties as the stems grow and thicken. Use soft string or strips of old sheeting or other soft material for tying. Pruning, or the removal of unwanted shoots,
is an important task with Tomatoes trained to supports. Shoots that are to be removed should be taken off when they are quite small and, as Tomatoes grow fast during favorable weather, this work should receive attention at least once a week. Once the number of main shoots that are to be allowed to grow has been decided upon, no others should be allowed to develop, and all laterals or side shoots should be pinched out as soon as they are big enough to be taken hold of easily between the finger and thumb.
When the main shoots reach the tops of their supports, which should be when the summer is well advanced, and any further fruit set will not have time to develop and ripen (or even reach while still green a size of use for making chutney or other conserves), pinch out or cut off the tops of the main shoots; this tends to concentrate the energies of the plant in plumping up and ripening the fruits already set on the vines. When the lower fruits begin to ripen some growers cut away a portion of each of the lower leaves to make for better air circulation and to admit more sun to hasten to ripen. This should be done with caution, however, for if too much foliage is removed the fruits will not attain their largest size and the growth of the plants may be checked.
Watering Is Important.
For the best results, Tomato plants should never suffer from a lack of moisture at any time. Excessive dryness is very likely to cause a physiological disturbance called blossom-end rot, which shows as large blackened areas surrounding that end of the ripe fruit which is not attached to the stock. Cracking of the fruits is caused by the availability of ample supplies of moisture following a very dry period. The best way of avoiding this trouble is to make sure that the plants never suffer from dryness.
When the fruits are ripe they should be picked promptly and stored in a cool, dark place; under these conditions, they keep better than if left on the vines. In hot, damp weather the fruits will be firmer if they are picked slightly before they are fully ripe and are then allowed to ripen at room temperature in doors.
At the end of the season, all green fruits should be picked before hard frost. The greenest may be used for making conserves. Those approaching ripeness may be stored in shallow boxes or trays in a cool but frostproof shed, cellar, attic, or garage, where they will ripen gradually and provide usable fruits over a period of many weeks. Fruits ripened in this way lack the flavor and quality of those that are vine ripened, but, even so, are likely to be superior to Tomatoes shipped from long distances and sold in stores at that season. An alternative method is to pull up the entire vines just before a hard frost and suspend them from the ceiling of the storage place; the fruits then ripen on the vines and are, perhaps, of a little better quality than those picked green and ripened in trays or boxes.
A greenhouse in which a night temperature of 55-60 degrees is maintained, where the day temperature is a few degrees higher, and where there is full sunshine makes it possible to have fresh Tomatoes from November until the fruits from outdoor plants are available the following summer. The Tomato plants may be grown in large pots or in soil beds. Each plant should be restricted to a single stem by pinching out all side shoots when they are quite small. If grown in beds or benches, the plants may be spaced 12-15 in. apart; if the plants are potted, pots measuring 9-10 in. in diameter will be large enough for the final potting. The plants should be neatly tied to stakes or to wires or strings stretched tightly between supports.
For greenhouse culture it is usually wisest to select a variety especially recommended for that
To secure fall and early winter crops the seeds should be sown in July to have plants that will crop in late winter and spring the seeds should be sown in September or October.
In order to ensure a setting of fruit in green houses, it is necessary to pollinate the flowers or to treat them with one of the special hormone sprays which are sold for the purpose of causing Tomatoes to set fruit. Pollination is effected by gently shaking the plants during the middle of each warm, dry day at a time when the air in the greenhouse is fairly dry. An alternative method is to take a soft camel’s-hair brush and gently stroke it across each open flower each warm, bright day.
There are a large number of varieties of Tomatoes offered by seedsmen, and new ones are introduced yearly. Some are more suited for one section of North America than others, some are more adaptable for a particular purpose than others. The best commercial varieties are not necessarily the best for the home gardener, who does not have to consider problems connected with shipping and marketing. Certain varieties, indicated in catalogs, are resistant to wilt disease; only these should be attempted if the soil has grown wilt-infected Tomatoes previously.
Tomato varieties are divided into two chief groups, earlies and maincrops. The former are the only kinds suitable for planting outdoors in most of Canada and in the northernmost parts of the United States; these are used also to pro vide early crops elsewhere. Maincrop varieties come into bearing a little later than earlies and continue to produce well until frost.
Among early varieties, the following are recommended: Earliana, Fordhook Hybrid, John Baer, Manalee, Pritchard, Valiant and Victor. Good maincrop varieties include: Burpee Big boy, Burpee Hybrid, Homestead, Kopiah, Man alucie, Marglobe, Queens, Rutgers and Stokes dale. Among yellow-fruited varieties, Jubilee and Sunray are highly rated. Oxheart and Ponderosa are pink-fruited varieties that bear very large fruits. Small-fruited varieties that yield fruits suitable for garnishing as well as eating are Red Cherry, Red Pear, Yellow Pear and Yellow Plum.