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Easy-to-Grow Vegetables: Tomatoes

One delicious and popular garden vegetable that’s remarkably easy to grow is the tomato. Even if your thumb contains no shade of green whatsoever, you’ll be amazed at how easy it is to grow tomatoes!

Tomatoes require full sun. In other words, you need to plant them in a location that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight every day. And they should be planted in mid-spring, after the last frost date in your geographic area. Very generally speaking, that’s by mid- May in the U.S.

The best way to plant tomatoes is to choose young plants from your local garden store. Make sure the plants are not yellow or wilted. Choose larger plants instead of smaller plants. There are many varieties to choose from: Beefmaster, Big Beef, Pink Girl, Early Girl--the list goes on and on. Don’t be intimidated by the large selection. Just read the tags and choose which one sounds best to you. Your local garden store owner can tell you which varieties are easiest and yield the most and biggest fruit. (Yes, that’s correct--tomatoes are technically a fruit!) Two to four plants will yield a surprisingly ample supply for a family of four. You’ll have so many, you may even be tempted to sell them!

Dig a small hole with a hand-held trowel for each tomato plant that’s deep and wide enough to hold the unpotted plant. The holes should be about two feet apart. The plants will look dwarfed at that distance right now, but you’ll need that space as the plants grow larger. Now place each tomato plant in its hole. The dirt of the unpotted plants should be at the same height of the surrounding ground. Sprinkle a little dirt in the bottom of the hole if necessary to bring them up to the right height. Fill in around each plant with the dirt you dug up; also sprinkle some around the top. Then lightly pack the soil with your hands. Gardening gloves come in handy if you hate getting dirt under your fingernails.

Now you should water the plants until their soil appears well-saturated, but not flooded; you don’t want to wash away all the soft, freshly dug soil. Use a watering can, or a very light mist from a garden hose.

If you want to reduce time spent weeding, you can place some pine mulch around the plants. Otherwise, you should check the plants once a week to remove any weeds. This includes grass. Weeds will compete with the tomatoes for nutrients. There’s no need to use pesticide or herbicide, unless you really want your family to ingest potentially cancer-causing chemicals. Just pinch each weed near the soil and pull it upward to pull all the roots out of the ground. You can pretend it’s your boss’s head for therapeutic effect! Then just throw them into the compost heap. Weeding four plants will take less than 15 minutes each week.

You should water the plants every two or three days, especially when they’re young. Of course if it rains, you can adjust your watering schedule accordingly.

You’ll want to invest in some round tomato cages to hold the limbs of your tomato plants as they mature. The tomatoes will become heavy as they grow and ripen, and they require support to keep the entire plant from collapsing. Some people use stakes and bits of cloth or pantyhose to support the plants. But cylindrical cages are a lot easier. They’re metal, and they generally have three or four vertical legs with two or three circular bands. They cost $5 or less each. Buy one for each tomato plant. Just center them over the top of each plant, and push the vertical legs a few inches into the ground. As each plant matures, you can drape heavy fruit-laden limbs over the circular bands.

In a little over two months, you’ll have mouth-watering homegrown tomatoes! There’s nothing quite like a homegrown tomato. Those tomatoes at grocery stores are genetically engineered to withstand a 13-mph impact! That’s why they’re so hard--not to mention mealy, virtually colorless and practically flavorless. Homegrown tomatoes, on the other hand, are downright intoxicating. Slap a slab of homegrown tomato on a slice of bread with a little mayo, and you’re in heaven. And there are so many wonderful things you can do with tomatoes: make homemade salsa, make homemade pasta sauce, and add them to summer salads galore.

And tomatoes are rich in vitamins A and C. They’re also high in lycopene, which comes from their red pigment and has been shown to prevent cancer.

And homegrown tomatoes taste so good that your kids will completely forget that they’re healthy! Show them how to make the king of all sandwiches: slices of homegrown tomato, their choice of cheese and some mayo. Yum!

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