Anyone who has ever tasted home-grown tomatoes can appreciate the vastly superior flavor to those purchased at your local supermarket. As prices of the pale hued, nutritionally inferior, bland tasting store bought fruits continue to move skyward, I find myself longing for delicious, tasty sweet fruits from the garden. I thought I was being rather clever when I tried to grow some on my patio this summer, even starting the seeds indoors to offset the short growing season here in the Northwest. But alas, my cats’s insatiable appetite for tasty growing green things averted my attempts to produce delectible summer treats. So I’ve turned to Robin Wyll of www.Grow-Tomato-Sauce.com for advice on how to be victorious in the growing war next summer.
1) How did you get started growing tomatoes?
I’ve had a vegetable garden ever since I was a kid and I usually included a few tomato plants in it. I started growing tomatoes from seeds about 10 years ago, but the turning point for me was when I ran across an article in Organic Gardening Magazine about roasting tomatoes and making puree. I tried it with the slicing tomatoes in my garden and it was so simple and so tasty that I decided to grow sauce tomatoes the following year–that was about 7 years ago. Once I tasted roasted puree from those, I was hooked and it became a fun garden project for my family to grow as much sauce as we can! We grow 30 to 40 tomato sauce plants in our garden, that are started from seeds each spring in my laundry room.
2) We are approaching winter time. Is this the wrong time of year to think about gardening?
Not at all. Once everything freezes, I will put the vines in the compost bin and cover the beds with layers of coffee grounds and leaves and let the worms do my “rototilling” all winter. While that’s happening, I start planning–I go over my notes from this year and decide what tomato varieties I will grow next year, I study the seed catalogues and order my seeds in February along with anything else I need for seed starting.
3) I tend to do well with houseplants (despite the munching cats), but I know some people never try to grow their own food because they claim they don’t have a green thumb. Can anyone grow tomatoes?
If you have a sunny, warm location for a garden and you remember to water them consistently, you should be able to grow some tomatoes. However, I’ve found that things can go wrong but by trial and error, I’ve managed to find strategies for preventing those things the next season. I share all my pitfalls and strategies on my website.
4) Many people do grow tomatoes each year. What tips do you have for seasoned gardeners to improve their tomato crop?
Well, we’re not experts but we have come up with several strategies that seem to work well for us. One is that covering our plants with a plastic dome that can be opened or closed helps maximize our harvest through better pollination and helps prevent blight and fungal diseases by keeping the plants at a consistent temperature and the leaves protected from getting wet from rain. Another is spraying the plants and soil regularly with compost tea. I have more specific info and ideas on my website.
5) In urban areas, yards and lot sizes continue to shrink. How much room does a person need to grow tomatoes? What if they live in a condo or an apartment?
The space you have will determine the number of plants you can grow. They need to be spaced approximately 3 feet or so apart. Using plant supports, such as tomato cages, will allow you to grow more tomato plants in one place (1-1/2 to 2 feet apart). When I lived in an apartment, I grew tomatoes and other vegetables in pots on my deck.
6) I’ve noticed that freshly grown tomatoes taste so much better than those purchased at the grocery store. Why is that?
I’m not exactly sure of the science behind it but when you grow your own food, you can harvest it at the peak of ripened perfection when they taste the best. The fruit and vegetables at the grocery store must be picked prior to peak ripeness or they will rot by the time they get to the store. So instead of ripening naturally on the vine in the sun, they ripen in a heap in a truck or something like that. I’ve also recently learned that there is a big difference in flavor among various varieties of tomatoes. For example, we grew 9 different varieties of sauce tomatoes this year and when we held an informal family taste-test, we found that 3 of the varieties had incredible flavor and the rest tasted very bland comparatively.
7) One of the advantages of growing your own food is knowing what goes into (and on) your food. How can you ensure you get the largest yield of the highest nutritional value while avoiding chemicals and pesticides?
I found a link to a list of studies done around the world comparing the nutritional content of various fruits and vegetables grown organically vs. conventionally (with chemical fertilizers and pesticides) you can check it out at: http://www.ota.com/organic/benefits/nutrition.html.
My understanding is that chemical fertilizers and pesticides not only rob the food of nutrients but have also been linked to forms of cancer and auto-immune disorders. (Plus the composting that Robin does at the end of the season adds nutritionally to the plants).
8) Where can people reach you if they have more questions about growing the best tomatoes?
Carole Freeman is a nutrition student at Bastyr University. She coaches people on healthy lifestyle changes, specializing in weight loss and craving control. For more information, visit www.NutritionCoachOnline.com.