9:00 to 5:30
The tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum) is a short-lived perennial that most of us treat as an annual. It originated in the Andean region of South America, and was later domesticated in Central America. During the early 16th century it was introduced to Europe, eventually spreading around the world where regional selections (cultivars) were developed.
The vine-like indeterminate cultivars require training and support, and can reach 10 feet or more. Low growing side shoots on these should be cut back to promote fruit production and to make the plants more accessible for grooming. At some point during late summer it might also be a good idea to tip them back in order to limit their height…or else you’ll need an orchard ladder for harvesting. Determinate cultivars were developed primarily for large scale field production and mechanical harvesting. However, their bushy form makes them ideal for small spaces and container growing.
Perhaps the most debatable subject among home tomato growers is when to plant. While there is no absolute answer, consider the following. Night temperatures below 50°F cause tissue damage, and result in an increase in flower abortion. Root growth at these lower temperatures ceases, but many pathogenic fungi thrive, resulting in a high rate of disease. The best selection of varieties in our area generally peaks sometime in May. Don’t let your friends and neighbors make you feel bad about not planting in April. By waiting until the sun is higher, and the soil is warmer, your plants get off to a better start. We find that by mid-summer, tomatoes planted in March or April are typically not any further along than those planted in May or June.
If you plant in the ground, remember that they need full sun to set flowers, and a warm location for ripening. Also it is important to rotate to a different planting location each year, over a three year cycle. Add compost or an organic Tomato & Vegetable food to the soil. Plant the seedlings deeply, covering 2 or 3 inches of stem. Visit your plants regularly, but don’t overwater. Generally a deep watering only once a week is plenty, and don’t worry about some wilting during the daytime heat.
So, is it worth growing your own? At the many produce and farmers markets around the Bay Area you’ll find a selection of organic, vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes by the end of August. But consider that a household of four can be well-supplied by four (only 4, not 12) tomato plants. We’d love to sell more, but the fact is that most of our customers buy too many plants each year. They become crowded, diseases spread, and they generally don’t perform well. Stick with one or two of your favorites and try a couple of new ones.