Delicious, Homegrown Tomatoes

    • Petunias can be planted now. Their bright flowers will bloom all summer in hot, sunny locations and they will take a light frost.
    • Plant summer-flowering bulbs now. Glads, dahlias, callas, cannas and lilies will bloom this summer if planted soon.
    • Fertilize established roses now and begin spraying them for insect and disease problems. Neem oil is a very effective, less toxic spray that works against both insects and diseases.
    • Enjoy the bright yellow colors of goldfinches outside your window by putting up thistle feeders for them.
    • When you plant your tomatoes, put a handful of bone meal in the bottom of the hole to help prevent blossom-end rot on the fruit later 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 that is why the tomato is the most widely grown vegetable in American gardens.

Mendocino County has many different climate zones. Inland we have areas like the Willits valley where 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. We have a short growing season here because spring frosts can occur through May, and a killing frost usually arrives in October.

Ukiah is a different story with warmer summer nights and a longer growing season. By choosing the right varieties for your local climate, you can count on delicious, juicy tomatoes this summer.

Short-season varieties like ‘Early Girl,’ ‘Champion,’ ‘Heartland,’ ‘La Roma,’ and ‘Oregon Spring’ are popular in the Willits area. 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. ‘Green Zebra’ is a small green-striped fruit with a tangy flavor.

“Cherry” tomatoes are nice in salads. Try ‘Yellow Pear,’ with small, pear-shaped fruit, and ‘Sungold,’ a bright apricot-orange with tropical flavor. ‘Black Cherry’ is sweet and rich-flavored, and ‘Jelly Bean’ has grape-shaped fruits with sweet flavor. ‘Large Red Cherry’ and ‘Chadwick’s Cherry’ are large cherry tomatoes and ‘Supersweet 100’ bears large clusters of small, sweet red fruit that are disease resistant.

Good paste tomatoes are seedless (or nearly so), meaty, and on the dry side. Look for ‘Roma,’ ‘La Roma,’ ‘San Marzano,’ or ‘Myona’ for sauces and sun-drying.

Many of these varieties are considered heirlooms: open-pollinated varieties that are over 50 years old. These include ‘Black Cherry,’ ‘Brandywine,’ ‘Chadwick’s Cherry,’ ‘Cherokee Purple,’ ‘Giuseppi’s Big Boy,’ ‘Hillbilly,’ ‘Mortgage Lifter,’ ‘Pineapple’ and ‘Yellow Pear.’

Tomatoes are such an important ingredient in so many types of cooking. Don’t be without your home-grown favorites this summer.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.