Gardening tips for tomatoes

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Gardening tips for tomatoes will help you grow healthy, delicious tomatoes

For some people the thought of a warm, ripe, juicy tomato plucked straight out of the garden and into the mouth is about as close to heaven as you can get. In fact, just thinking about a ripe, picked-off-the-vine garden tomato is capable of making one salivate.

Tomatoes are fruit not a vegetable but who cares? The tomato is the most commonly grown Ďvegetableí in the United States, with good reason. Theyíre delicious!

Here are some gardening tips for tomatoes that will be the envy of the neighborhood:

When you mow in the spring, save your lawn clippings and leaves, and toss them into the garden where you are going to plant your tomatoes.

Grow tomatoes near onions, garlic, marigolds, chive and carrots because they are excellent companion plants or rotate your tomato plants with crops such as beans, corn or lettuce that are unrelated. This helps interrupt the disease cycle that can destroy your crop of tomatoes.

Tomatoes can be grown from seed inside and later transplanted to your garden or you may prefer to purchase tomato plants from your local nursery.

When you are purchasing tomatoes, ask the garden store manager if the tomatoes are determinate or indeterminate. If you donít have much garden space, you want determinate tomatoes because these vines grow to a certain point and then stop growing. They are busy and compact. Sometimes determinate tomatoes are called bush tomatoes. On the other hand, an indeterminate tomato grows long vines that need to be staked for support and, obviously, more space is required.

Pick tomato plants that do not have speckling on, or yellowing of, the leaves. Look at the tag on the plant. There should be several letters on the tag that designate the diseases the plant is resistant to. For example: T - Tobacco mosaic virus, F - Fusarium wilt, N - Nematodes.

Consider planting some plum tomatoes which are ideal for using in tomato paste or sauce. Roma is a plum tomato. Cherry and grape tomatoes are small and can be popped right into your mouth. You can grow them in small containers or even in a window box. Cherry tomatoes are wonderful in salads.

Heirloom tomatoes are old strains that have been handed down from generation to generation and are often colors other than red, including yellow, purple, salmon pink, tangerine, Green Zebra, Green Grape and almost white (White Wonder Tomato).

Tomatoes are not shade plants. They like and require a lot of sun. They are not particular about the soil. However, ideal soil has a pH level between 5.5 and 6.8. The soil should be well drained and preferably rich in organic matter.

You can plant tomatoes when the temperature has reached 50 degrees F and stays there but the plant isnít going to bear fruit until the overnight temperature stays above 55 degrees F.

Tomatoes should be planted at least two feet and ideally even three feet apart in rows that are three feet apart.

Plant tomatoes on their sides and plant them deep. Once planted, only the top leaves should be showing above ground. If you want to fertilize, donít do it until the the plant has established itself and is in full flower. Use an organic fertilizer (5-5-5.) If the plant gets too much nitrogen you arenít going to have very many tomatoes; just a lot of greenery.

Tomatoes cages work well because the vines wrap around the wires of the cage, which keeps the tomatoes off of the ground, where they will rot.

Itís best to water tomatoes in the morning hours. This way the foliage has ample time to dry before the heat of mid day.

When the temperature exceeds 85 degrees F, you can pick partially green tomatoes and allow them to ripen inside.

Do not touch tomato plants after smoking. You can infect tomatoes with tobacco mosaic virus. Wash your hands!

A lot of people refrigerate their tomatoes after picking but they shouldnít. When you do that, you lose much of the flavor. Once you have picked your vine ripened tomato you have about three days in which to eat it. If you donít eat it, use it for tomato sauce or paste.

Tomatoes are good for you. Eating them actually reduces the risk of prostate cancer because they contain lycopene. Men who eat two or more servings of some variation of tomatoes each week lower their risk of prostate cancer by 35 percent. Lycopene also protects against breast-, cervical- and lung cancer, macular degeneration (blindness) and heart disease. Tomatoes are high in calcium, potassium, vitamin C and vitamin E.

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