By GEORGE ING
For the Hood River News
You can grow good tomatoes but don’t plant them too soon!
Until I moved to Hood River, I had lived in cooler areas where it was difficult to grow tomatoes. Years ago, garden tomatoes were grown from seed. There have been dramatic changes, so much so that we do not really grow the plant; much of that is taken care of before we get it. We nurture it and harvest its production.
Nowadays almost all tomatoes are purchased by home gardeners as plants. Some may be large with either blooms or even small tomatoes attached. That means that if you purchase such a plant, you will be able to mature fruit even in a cooler area.
Secondly, the world of variety development has given us early season, quick-maturing tomatoes. We can thank the Oregon State University breeders for varieties such as Santiam, Siletz and Legend. All are dark green in color with thick foliage and are relatively small plants when mature thus can fit in a small place. Fruits are medium to large, are often russeted or scarred and may even have some cracks. But, boy are they good to eat! Sometimes the first ones ripen by July 1. As small bushes they do not have numerous fruits but the fruits ripen well into the summer.
For later varieties, it seems those with “Better, Beef or Boy” in their names do well. Plants grow large, demand support and can produce many fruits. Fruits mature and taste better if they have only minimum irrigation. While elongated or pear-shaped red or yellow varieties are interesting, I do not find their flavor to be as good.
When fall comes and green tomatoes remain, they can be harvested, vines and all, hung in a cool place and will usually ripen. I am thus able to eat tomatoes for lunch most years past mid-October.
An interesting aspect of gardening is that there is a “time.” Thus, peas do best if planted in late February. Conversely I plant corn about May 10 because earlier the soil is not warm enough and seeds may not emerge. Tomatoes are a warm weather crop and should not be planted, in my opinion, before May 1. And you should be ready to cover tomatoes at night until May 15. We keep a batch of old 4-gallon buckets handy for such.
Let the garden suppliers keep tomato plants until things are right. You are ensured good growth and delicious tomatoes.
Orchardist and general green thumb George Ing takes time from his growing interests to write “Side Roads” for the Hood River News once each month.