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Tomato adventures start in February.

America's all-time favorite homegrown vegetable, the traditional red tomato has new competition for space in the garden. Specialty seed catalogs now offer an increasing array of unusual colors and shapes to tempt the taste buds-cheerful new orange and yellow hybrids and oldtime heirloom favorites in hues of green, gold, orange, pink, white, yellow, and multicolored stripes. What makes these colorful tomatoes special? Not only are they fun to grow and experiment with in the garden; they also bring excitement to the kitchen and dinner table with both their attractive colors and their range of flavors. Tossed into the salad bowl, small-fruited 'Yellow Plum' or orange 'Sundrop' adds liveliness to the mixture of greens. As substitutes for red tomatoes in hot or cold soups, large orange 'Persimmon' or orange-yellow 'Mandarin Cross' are amazingly showy. For pasta, 'White Beauty', 'Persimmon', and 'Ponderheart' can make beautiful white, orange, and pinkish red sauces. In salsa, the tartness of 'Evergreen' and striped 'Green Zebra' enhances flavor. Sliced and drizzled with vinaigrette, multicolored Pineapple' and Pink Grapefruit' are definite show stoppers. One of the newest tomato introductions, Yellow Stuffer', has created a whole new category of tomato. Shaped like a bell pepper, it has a hollow center and firm skin that make it perfect for stuffing. Not all tomatoes are best eaten fresh. Some have much better flavor when cooked or mixed with other ingredients. For recipes using colorful tomatoes, see page 72 of the August 1990 Sunset. Try several varieties to find a flavor that suits your taste buds As with red tomatoes, flavors and textures vary significantly among these varieties. Experimenting is the best way to find one that suits your tastes and cooking needs, and produces well in your climate. Key words to look for in catalog descriptions are mild, low acid, sweet, full-flavored, juicy, and meaty. "Mild" generally means a tomato that tastes less acidic. Some catalogs incorrectly refer to gold, orange, and yellow tomatoes as having a lower acid content than red tomatoes. Many of them actually are higher in acid, but the acid taste is masked by a high sugar content, which also makes the tomatoes taste sweeter. Full-flavored typically means strong tomato taste. Plucked straight from the vine, sweet, juicy tomatoes like 'Banana Legs', 'Gold Nugget', 'Green Grape', and 'Yellow Marble' have good flavor. Full-flavored varieties-such as 'Evergreen', 'Jubilee', 'Lemon Boy', 'Mandarin Cross', 'Persimmon', 'Pineapple', 'Ponderheart', and 'White Beauty'-are tasty either sliced fresh or used in cooking. The flavor of large meaty types-such as ' Mexican Ribbed', 'Ponderosa Pink', and 'Ponderosa Yellow'-often improves when cooked. Keep in mind that climate and cultural conditions (water, fertilizer, soil type) greatly affect flavor and production. Tomatoes thrive in heat (except extreme heat, above 95', which causes blossom drop) and generally have a higher sugar content when grown in warm. climates. To get good production in cool climates and desert areas, choose short- or midseason varieties (55 to 80 days to harvest). Overwatering can also affect flavor, resulting in bland and watery-tasting tomatoes. The trick is to irrigate only enough to keep plants healthy, once the fruit start changing color on the vine. Frequency will vary depending on soil type and climate (check soil moisture in the root zone). Don't overfertilize plants either. Too much nitrogen causes tomato plants to grow fast, producing an abundance of foliage and less fruit. Start seeds now so seedlings will be ready for spring planting Most of the special varieties shown here and on page 77 must be grown from seed, since nurseries generally only sell seedlings of standard red varieties (nurseries may carry a yellow cherry or plum-type). About 8 to 10 weeks before danger of frost is past, sow seeds in flats, divided trays, or small pots using a light, porous peat starting mix (standard potting soils usually are too heavy). Sow several seeds in each container or thinly in rows. Set containers on a hotwater heater or use a heating coil to keep starting mix between 75[deg.] and 90[deg.]; tomato seeds germinate poorly in cold soil. Keep the soil moist. After germination, set plants in an area that gets bright light with 601 to 701 temperatures. When true leaves develop (see picture on page 76), snip or thin out weakest plants. To develop strong, stocky seedlings, transplant to 4-inch pots. For good root development, water only enough to keep the root zone from drying out (keep soil surface on the dry side). Fertilize weekly with half-strength liquid fertilizer high in nitrogen and phosphorous. To harden off plants, set outdoors two weeks before transplanting into the ground (protect from frost). Set them in partial shade at first, then slowly acclimate to full sun. For healthy fruit, choose a site in full sun with well-drained soil Before you put seedlings into the ground, turn soil over to a depth of 12 to 18 inches; mix in plenty of organic matter (I part organic matter to 2 parts soil) and a fertilizer high in phosphorus and potassium, such as 5-10-10. To warm the soil and give plants a boost, lay black plastic across the beds and plant as shown on page 76. Set determinate (low-growing, bushy) varieties about 2 feet apart, indeterminate (sprawling, vine-like) types 3 feet apart. If nighttime temperatures drop below 45[deg.], cover plants with floating row covers, plastic tunnels, water-filled tepees, or plastic milk jugs (remove jugs during the day). Keep the soil evenly moist but not wet during the growing season. Fluctuations in moisture can cause blossom drop and blossom-end rot-a sunken, leathery discoloration on the blossom end of the fruit. Once plants are well established, water deeply and less frequently to encourage deep rooting (check soil moisture by digging with a trowel). Plants may need water only once a week or less in cool climates, oftener in hot climates or if they're in sandy soil. Select the right plant support Many of the varieties mentioned here are indeterminate tomatoes, which grow 6 to 8 feet tall or more, requiring strong support and at least some pruning; all stages of tomatoes may be on the vine at once, and harvest lasts several months. In warmer climates, the easiest way to support large plants is with a 5- to 6-foot-high and 2-foot-diameter wire cage made of 6-inch-mesb concrete reinforcing wire or galvanized wire mesh. Caged tomatoes need little pruning, which is best in hot climates so foliage protects the fruit from sunburn. When plants are young, push flopping branches back inside the cage. If older plants get too bushy, you can prune off some of the branches hanging outside. To slow vertical growth, pinch back growing tips. In cool climates, you may want to stake tomatoes and prune them to one or two stems. This way energy goes into fruit production rather than foliage. Use an 8foot-tall, 2-inch-thick stake sunk into the ground about a foot. Secure the main stem to the stake with soft plant ties; pinch off side shoots as they develop. Determinate varieties grow only 3 to 5 feet tall. Plants stop growing when fruit set; harvest time is short, since all of the fruit develop and ripen about the same time. Plants need only 3- to 4-foot-tall stakes or cages for support. Keep tomatoes healthy Few of the tomato varieties we list have been bred for resistance to common maladies like verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt, and nematodes (labeled VFN); these cause yellowing, stunting, and sometimes death. If you've had trouble in the past, don't replant in the same area. To prevent tobacco mosaic virus, don't smoke around plants and wash hands thoroughly before handling them. Green tomato hornworms are one of the plant's biggest foes, devouring foliage and fruit and eventually growing up to 4 inches long. Spray at the first sign of damage with Bacillus thuringiensis (BT). Control large worms by hand-picking. Another serious pest in much of California is russet mite. Leaves turn an oily brown, curl, and drop. At the first sign of damage, spray the undersides of leaves where whitish yellow mites hide with sulfur; repeat every two weeks. Where to get specialty seeds Most of the varieties listed here are only available through catalogs. Three specialty heirloom varieties, 'Banana Legs', 'Green Zebra', and 'Ponderbeart' must be obtained through Seed Savers Exchange (see below). All sources sell red tomatoes, too. Catalogs are free unless noted. Ornamental Edibles, 3622 Weedin Court, San Jose 95132. Catalog $1. Sells 10 varieties, including several heirlooms. Seed Savers Exchange, R.R. 3, Box 239, Decorah, Iowa 52101. Preserves heirloom varieties. Membership $25 (includes four quarterly newsletters, one of which is a seed list with more than 1,200 tomatoes and thousands of other vegetables). Seeds Blum, Idaho City Stage, Boise 83706. Catalog $3. Sells 15 varieties, specializing in heirlooms. Tomato Growers Supply Company, Box 2237, Fort Myers, Fla. 33902. Sells over 25 varieties, including many heirloom types. Key words to look for in catalog descriptions are mild, low acid, sweet, full-flavored, juicy, and meaty. "Mild" generally means a tomato that tastes less acidic. Some catalogs incorrectly refer to gold, orange, and yellow tomatoes as having a lower acid content than red tomatoes. Many of them actually are higher in acid, but the acid taste is masked by a high sugar content, which also makes the tomatoes taste sweeter. Full-flavored typically means strong tomato taste. Plucked straight from the vine, sweet, juicy tomatoes like 'Banana Legs', 'Gold Nugget', 'Green Grape', and 'Yellow Marble' have good flavor. Full-flavored varieties-such as 'Evergreen', 'Jubilee', 'Lemon Boy', 'Mandarin Cross', 'Persimmon', 'Pineapple', 'Ponderheart', and 'White Beauty' are tasty either sliced fresh or used in cooking. The flavor of large meaty types such as 'Mexican Ribbed', 'Ponderosa Pink', and 'Ponderosa Yellow'-often improves when cooked. Keep in mind that climate and cultural conditions (water, fertilizer, soil type) greatly affect flavor and production. Tomatoes thrive in heat (except extreme heat, above 95[deg.], which causes blossom drop) and generally have a higher sugar content when grown in warm. climates. To get good production in cool climates and desert areas, choose short- or midseason varieties (55 to 80 days to harvest). Overwatering can also affect flavor, resulting in bland and watery-tasting tomatoes. The trick is to irrigate only enough to keep plants healthy, once the fruit start changing color on the vine. Frequency will vary depending on soil type and climate (check soil moisture in the root zone). Don't overfertilize plants either. Too much nitrogen causes tomato plants to grow fast, producing an abundance of foliage and less fruit. Start seeds now so seedlings will be ready for spring planting Most of the special varieties shown here and on page 77 must be grown from seed, since nurseries generally only sell seedlings of standard red varieties (nurseries may carry a yellow cherry or plum-type). About 8 to 10 weeks before danger of frost is past, sow seeds in flats, divided trays, or small pots using a light, porous peat starting mix (standard potting soils usually are too heavy). Sow several seeds in each container or thinly in rows. Set containers on a hot-water heater or use a heating coil to keep starting mix between 75' and 90'; tomato seeds germinate poorly in cold soil. Keep the soil moist. After germination, set plants in an area that gets bright light with 601 to 701 temperatures. When true leaves develop (see picture on page 76), snip or thin out weakest plants. To develop strong, stocky seedlings, transplant to 4-inch pots. For good root development, water only enough to keep the root zone from drying out (keep soil surface on the dry side). Fertilize weekly with half-strength liquid fertilizer high in nitrogen and phosphorous. To harden off plants, set outdoors two weeks before transplanting into the ground (protect from frost). Set them in partial shade at first, then slowly acclimate to full sun. For healthy fruit, choose a site in full sun with well-drained soil Before you put seedlings into the ground, turn soil over to a depth of 12 to 18 inches; mix in plenty of organic matter (1 part organic matter to 2 parts soil) and a fertilizer high in phosphorus and potassium, such as 5-10-10. To warm the soil and give plants a boost, lay black plastic across the beds and plant as shown on page 76. Set determinate (low-growing, bushy) varieties about 2 feet apart, indeterminate (sprawling, vine-like) types 3 feet apart. If nighttime temperatures drop below 45[deg.], cover plants with floating row covers, plastic tunnels, water-filled tepees, or plastic milk jugs (remove jugs during the day). Keep the soil evenly moist but not wet during the growing season. Fluctuations in moisture can cause blossom drop and blossom-end rot-a sunken, leathery discoloration on the blossom end of the fruit. Once plants are well established, water deeply and less frequently to encourage deep rooting (check soil moisture by digging with a trowel). Plants may need water only once a week or less in cool climates, oftener in hot climates or if they're in sandy soil. Select the right plant support Many of the varieties mentioned here are indeterminate tomatoes, which grow 6 to 8 feet tall or more, requiring strong support and at least some pruning; all stages of tomatoes may be on the vine at once, and harvest lasts several months. In warmer climates, the easiest way to support large plants is with a 5- to 6-foot-high and 2-foot-diameter wire cage made of 6-inch-mesh concrete reinforcing wire or galvanized wire mesh. Caged tomatoes need little pruning, which is best in hot climates so foliage protects the fruit from sunburn. When plants are young, push flopping branches back inside the cage. If older plants get too bushy, you can prune off some of the branches hanging outside. To slow vertical growth, pinch back growing tips. In cool climates, you may want to stake tomatoes and prune them to one or two stems. This way energy goes into fruit production rather than foliage. Use an 8foot-tall, 2-inch-thick stake sunk into the ground about a foot. Secure the main stem to the stake with soft plant ties; pinch off side shoots as they develop. Determinate varieties grow only 3 to 5 feet tall. Plants stop growing when fruit set; harvest time is short, since all of the fruit develop and ripen about the same time. Plants need only 3- to 4-foot-tall stakes or cages for support. Keep tomatoes healthy Few of the tomato varieties we list have been bred for resistance to common maladies like verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt, and nematodes (labeled VFN); these cause yellowing, stunting, and sometimes death. If you've had trouble in the past, don't replant in the same area. To prevent tobacco mosaic virus, don't smoke around plants and wash hands thoroughly before handling them. Green tomato hornworms are one of the plant's biggest foes, devouring foliage and fruit and eventually growing up to 4 inches long. Spray at the first sign of damage with Bacillus thuringiensis (BT). Control large worms by hand-picking. Another serious pest in much of California is russet mite. Leaves turn an oily brown, curl, and drop. At the first sign of damage, spray the undersides of leaves where whitish yellow mites hide with sulfur; repeat every two weeks. Where to get specialty seeds Most of the varieties listed here are only available through catalogs. Three specialty heirloom varieties, 'Banana Legs', 'Green Zebra', and 'Ponderheart' must be obtained through Seed Savers Exchange (see below). All sources sell red tomatoes, too. Catalogs are free unless noted. Ornamental Edibles, 3622 Weedin Court, San Jose 95132. Catalog $1. Sells 10 varieties, including several heirlooms. Seed Savers Exchange, R.R. 3, Box 239, Decorah, Iowa 52101. Preserves heirloom varieties. Membership $25 (includes four quarterly newsletters, one of which is a seed list with more than 1,200 tomatoes and thousands of other vegetables). Seeds Blum, Idaho City Stage, Boise 83706. Catalog 3. Sells 15 varieties, specializing in heirlooms. Tomato Growers Supply Company, Box 2237, Fort Myers, Fla. 33902. Sells over 25 varieties, including many heirloom types.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunset
Date:Feb 1, 1991
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