TOMATOES & BASIL.JPG

Ripe tomatoes with basil.

The tomato is the most popular “vegetable” grown in the home garden.

Tomatoes were first grown in the Andes Mountains of Peru. They were taken to Europe as decoration, but nobody ate the fruit. Yes, they are actually considered a fruit and have a lot of vitamins. The Europeans thought that tomatoes would kill them if they ate them. Even 125 to 100 years ago, some still believed that tomatoes were poisonous.

Thomas Jefferson has been given credit for being the first American to grow tomatoes in the United States since they were not native to the Americas. Tomatoes are safe and delicious and one of the best and easiest plants to grow.

You can grow many different types of tomatoes in your garden. Garden-grown tomatoes are usually better than the ones you get in a store. Commercial farmers pick their tomatoes while they are green and they ripen in the crates as they are shipped.

I know its best to grow tomatoes outdoors in the ground. It is not always possible to do so they can be grown in containers and kept on a porch or patio.

In the planting zone that Pennsylvania is located in, the first day you should plant outdoors is May 15 or later. Before that date, frost may harm your plants so it will not grow. For other areas, check planting guides for when you can plant tomatoes in your zone. Plant small healthy plants in the cool of the day or after sunset to prevent shock.

You can try growing tomatoes indoors. It will make a lovely green plant even if you don’t get many or any tomatoes, a nice accent for the kitchen area.

When a tomato plant is small, water with a small amount of water. As the plant(s) let bigger and bigger, use more and more water. A full-grown plant can take a bucket of water. Pour water over roots slowly and allow the dirt to absorb the water. Water the roots directly and not the leaves. The rain will wash the leaves clean. The evening is the best time to water and not too often. Lots of vines with no tomatoes can be the result of overwatering.

If your plant is not producing tomatoes, allow the soil to dry out before beginning to water again. You need not water more often than every 4 to 7 days. If the plant is in a container, you will need to water according to the needs of the plant, about every other day. Roots of plants in terra cotta pots dry out much faster than plants in plastic or ceramic containers.

Tomato plants need to be tied to a stake or pole — even plants in pots or containers. Use stakes or pots approximately 36 inches longer or purchase tomato cages. The newer collapsible ones are just great when storing in the off-season. Place in the ground about 5 inches away from the plant. When using a cage, center the plant. These supports should be placed directly after planting. It may look strange – big support with such a little plant. This should be done as not to damage roots as they grow. There are some that believe in not staking but when the plant and tomatoes lying on the ground, worms and bugs will eat the tomatoes.

Remove suckers from the vines. Suckers are additional growth that is robbing the plant of vitamins. Removing suckers help strengthen the plant and helps produce a hearty tomato.

Vines develop a lot of yellow flowers — each flower turns into a tomato. When removing suckers make sure there are no yellow flowers on them.

TIPS: Add a little fertilizer to your tomato plants each week. A little each week is better than a lot every 3 weeks. Place the fertilizer around the plants on the ground. Mix fertilizer and water before using.

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Contact columnist Bette Banjack at banjack303.verizon.net. Search YouTube – with BetteBanjack as well as phoenixvillenews.com (search bar Banjack). She can also be found on Facebook.

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