We've heard of gateway drugs and Gateway to the West, but how about gateway to garden? I submit that the fruit we call a vegetable, the tomato, is the gateway to garden. I think more gardeners got the bug (pun intended) by growing tomatoes than any other plant.
Tomatoes originated in South America and were domesticated in Mexico. Tomatoes are pretty easy to grow, and most people like to eat them and swear that homegrown tastes better than store-bought. In addition to eating them fresh, you can also can them for soups and pasta throughout the year. You can dry them for many recipes or just for a snack, enjoy them fresh on a sandwich, in gazpacho, or just a slice on a plate with salt and maybe pepper. Some folks swear by fried green tomatoes. If you haven't tried tomatoes with basil and balsamic vinegar, you are missing another way to savor them.
Tomatoes come is all sizes, from tiny cherry tomatoes to several pound beefsteak types and shapes from round, pear, pepper and egg. They can be red, pink, orange, yellow, purple and almost black. Some are even green when they are ripe. Tastes vary from quite acidic to very sweet. There is a tomato for almost everyone.
If you want to try growing tomatoes, it's not too late. Here are a few things to know about growing tomatoes.
There are determinate tomatoes that produce fruit all at the same time and then stop. These are popular with canners. The Roma type tomato is an example of a determinate tomato. Indeterminate tomatoes continue to grow until frost or disease or something else kills them. They continue to produce fruit until they die. You don't need a lot of space. You can grow them in a container. They need lots of sun, at least six hours daily.
You can buy hybrid tomatoes or heirloom varieties. Heirloom varieties are open pollinated and many people save the seeds year after year. Heirloom varieties have been around for years. Hybrid are crosses of two or more types of tomatoes and are bred for different qualities, from early producing, taste or shipping. Hybrids are less disease prone and recommended for beginners.
When reading the label on plants bought commercially, they usually have a series of letters after the name such as AB, F, V, which stands for resistance to diseases such as Early ((Alternaria) Blight, Fusarium Wilt and Verticillium Wilt respectively. There are about 15 diseases that can attack tomatoes, but most are rare.
For more information on transplanting and care of tomatoes, go to www.ohioline.osu.edu Fact Sheet HYG 1624 (or search "growing tomatoes") for complete and up-to-date instructions. Go to www.growingagreenerworld.com Episode #803 for an interesting video on growing tomatoes.
Things to do in the garden:
The gardening season is well under way, and we can be overwhelmed with all there is to do. Take the time to enjoy this leafy month. Gardening is a process to be enjoyed.
First, if you haven't started a garden, it is not too late. When choosing plants, choose strong vigorous green ones. Avoid the yellowish leggy specimens. Plants of tomato, peppers, eggplant are the best bet for early June planting. Some plants that can be planted from seed in early June are: green beans (successive plantings to mid-June can extend the harvest), beets, carrots, Swiss chard, corn (depending on the variety), cucumber, lettuce, lima beans, muskmelon, winter and summer squash.
To avoid the wilting of cucumber and melon vines, cover the new plants with row cover material until the plants flower. Then remove the cover so that the pollinators can do their work.
Mulch vegetables in mid-month after the soil has warmed up. At the same time, you can fertilize all vegetables, corn two times, this month. Weed and thin planted crops. Crowding plants more than is recommended usually results in all the plants doing poorly. Water deeply (not a little each day) one inch per week all summer. It is best to apply the water to the base of the plants rather than on the foliage. If you must use a sprinkler, water very early in the day so the foliage can dry before nightfall. Wet foliage overnight can encourage fungal diseases to develop.
Remove seed heads from perennials. Don't allow fancy hybrids to ripen and self-sow, as their offspring will not come true. Dead head flowers for more blooms. Iris can be divided and replanted after blooming. You can pinch back mums for bushier growth once they are four to six inches tall. Continue to pinch back until mid-July. If your daffodils didn't bloom well, it could be because they are now growing in the shade of trees or shrubs which were small when the bulbs were planted. Or perhaps the daffodils are too crowded. Once the foliage turns yellow you can dig up the bulbs and divide and/or move them.
Fruit trees often shed small fruits in early summer called June Drop. Thin apples to one per cluster and one fruit every four to eight inches. This will cause bigger fruit. Pick up all fallen fruit whether caused by nature or man. Only compost fallen fruit if you have a "hot" heap. Otherwise dispose of the diseased fruit in the trash.
If you notice a "volunteer" tomato plant germinating in your garden, resist the temptation to let it grow. You can't be sure what variety it is. Yank it out or transplant it. Good gardeners, like good farmers, rotate their crops. By allowing a volunteer to grow in last year's tomato area, you are allowing disease to accumulate in that spot. Mulch under tomatoes keeps the soil from splashing up on the fruits, during those occasional downpours. Soil on the fruits promotes disease. If you don't stake, trellis or cage your tomatoes and just let them sprawl on the ground.