Tomato Time!

    • Mother’s Day is the perfect time to give a gift of a living plant. Roses, lilacs, hanging fuchsias and ivy geraniums or even a delicate African Violet will be sure to please her.
    • Gladiolus make wonderful cut flowers throughout the summer. Plant some every two weeks for continuous blooms.
    • Plant the vegetable garden this month, but remember that late frosts can still nip tender young plants.
    • Colorful Gerberas with their large, daisy flowers are a standout in containers. Water them infrequently and give them plenty of sun for flowers all summer.
    • Wisterias are large, vigorous vines that are blooming right now with their long clusters of purple, pink or white fragrant flowers. Give them a strong arbor to climb on.

Delicious, Homegrown Tomatoes

There are still a few things in the world you cannot buy: one of them is the full flavor and juicy texture of a vine-ripened tomato. Perhaps this is why the tomato is the most widely grown vegetable in American gardens. There are varieties which will grow wherever there’s at least 6 or 8 hours of warm sunshine a day.

Admittedly, Willits isn’t the best tomato-growing area, but by choosing the right varieties for your situation, you can count on delicious, juicy tomatoes by late summer. We have a short growing season here because spring frosts can occur through May, and a killing frost usually arrives in October. In addition, the summer nights are generally cool, with temperatures often falling into the 40’s, which slows down the growth of warm-season crops like tomatoes and peppers.

For these reasons, short-season varieties like ‘Early Girl’, ‘Champion’, ‘Heartland’, ‘La Roma’, and ‘Oregon Spring’ are popular. You can always try a few of the longer-season varieties like ‘Beefsteak’, ‘Beefmaster’, ‘Brandywine’, ‘Cherokee Purple’, and ‘Giuseppi’s Big Boy’ if you have a good, warm spot for them.

Then there are the midseason favorites like ‘Ace 55’, ‘Better Boy’, ‘Big Beef’, ‘Celebrity’ and ‘Park’s Whopper’. Planting several different types will give you lots of delicious fruit for fresh-eating and canning.

Tomatoes are divided into two types. Determinate varieties grow on strong, stocky bushes that don’t need staking. All the fruits on a plant ripen at about the same time, making these good canning tomatoes. ‘Ace 55’, ‘Celebrity’, ‘Homestead’, ‘Heartland’, ‘La Roma’, ‘Patio’, and ‘Oregon Spring’ are determinate varieties.

Most tomatoes grow on vines, and these varieties are called indeterminate, which means that they would keep growing indefinitely, if frost didn’t kill them. They need strong stakes or cages to hold the plants up off the ground.

For variety, be sure to include yellow and orange tomatoes in your garden. Many of them are low in acid, which some people prefer, and all of them are colorful in salads. ‘Golden Jubilee’ is the standard, low-acid tomato. But try ‘Lemon Boy’ for its bright, lemon-yellow fruit and ‘Hillbilly’ or ‘Pineapple’ for a red-and-yellow slicer that is sweet and fruity.

“Cherry” tomatoes are nice in salads. Try ‘Yellow Pear’, an heirloom variety with small, pear-shaped fruit, and ‘Sun Gold’, a golden cherry-type with delicious flavor. ‘Black Cherry’ is sweet and rich-flavored, and ‘Juliet’ and ‘Jelly Bean’ have grape-shaped fruits with sweet flavor.

One of the most common tomato problems is “blossom end rot.” It leaves a hard, brown splotch on the bottom of the fruit. It is caused by sudden changes in soil moisture, or lack of calcium. Watch your watering practices and be sure to throw a handful of bone meal in the bottom of each hole at planting time.

Tomatoes are subject to two serious diseases: Verticillium wilt and Fusarium wilt. They cause the leaves to yellow and drop off from the bottom up. The best way to avoid problems is to “rotate your crops” by planting your tomatoes in a different part of the garden each year. If you have had trouble in the past, look for disease-resistant varieties, designated by the letters V and F after the variety name.

Try planting 3 or 4 different varieties of tomatoes this year. Plant mostly the “tried and true” varieties and then try something new. You just might find that perfect tomato this year.

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