How To Grow Tomatoes With The Best Flavor

I truly relish my backyard garden every summer. In preparation, I’ve been studying up on how to grow tomatoes with the best flavor. Along the way, I had recently run across an article that shed some light on why you just can’t seem to get a good store-bought tomato that tastes like anything. Here Jon Bardin writes for The Los Angeles Times and describes a recent study published in the journal Science that actually got to the bottom of the flavor question on a genetic level of understanding.

How To Grow Tomatoes With The Best Flavor

The mass-produced tomatoes we buy at the grocery store tend to taste more like cardboard than fruit. Now researchers have discovered one reason why: a genetic mutation, common in store-bought tomatoes, that reduces the amount of sugar and other tasty compounds in the fruit.

For the last 70-odd years, tomato breeders have been selecting for fruits that are uniform in color. Consumers prefer those tomatoes over ones with splotches, and the uniformity makes it easier for producers to know when it’s time to harvest.

grow tomatoes

Grow tomatoes with the best flavor using heirloom varieties.

But the new study, published this week in Science, found that the mutation that leads to the uniform appearance of most store-bought tomatoes has an unintended consequence: It disrupts the production of a protein responsible for the fruit’s production of sugar.

Mass-produced tomato varieties carrying this genetic change are light green all over before they ripen. Tomatoes without the mutation — including heirloom and most small-farm tomatoes — have dark-green tops before they ripen. There is also a significant difference in flavor between the two types of tomatoes, but researchers had not previously known the two traits had the same root cause.

Please read the entire article here at latimes.com:

When scientists modified the basic tomato varieties years ago, they weren’t thinking about how to grow tomatoes with the best flavor, instead they were selecting them for the best visual appeal and with the ability to be shipped long distances and not be damaged,thereby minimizing economic loss from physical damage. That, my friends, does not make for a flavorful tomato experience, let me tell you. When a tomato can bounce off the road like a softball, I wouldn’t want to eat it on my BLT. So for me, until they tinker with it enough to get the taste back, I’ll just be growing my own every summer. That warm savory sweetness can’t be shipped thousands of miles, it’s got to be had locally.

If you found this article enlightening, useful, or just interesting, why not leave a comment and let me know what else you’d like to hear about.

The most noteworthy thing about gardeners is that they are always optimistic, always enterprising, and never satisfied. They always look forward to doing something better than they have ever done.      — Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962), English aristocrat, author, and gardener

Grow Tomatoes At Home

Grow Tomatoes at Home

I’ve decided this year to grow tomatoes differently than we usually do. When we first started our backyard vegetable garden about ten years ago, it was in a nice sunny location and I built it as a 6-inch raised bed vegetable garden to help with drainage and to improve the soil quality, especially considering we wanted to grow tomatoes. We grew two or three tomato plants and got a nice crop every year in late summer mostly. During the last few years our tomato crop really started to go downhill. My wife and I figured it was partly due to the fact that the trees around the garden grew and decreased the amount of sun they received. I pruned them down some, but it wasn’t really enough by itself.

Grow Tomatoes In A Sunny Location

This spring, I decided to get aggressive. First, we really amended the soil with our own compost, and added some lime to the soil where we would grow tomato plants. I also included some mixed-in tomato food there as well. But the other part of my plan included planting (from seed) four different tomato varieties. Also, this year I chose to grow tomatoes in a special raised bed container type of planter that I recently purchased in

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You can easily grow tomatoes in a raised bed garden at home.

March. This one would be located in a different part of the yard that always got sun most of the day. In addition, this planter has water reservoirs underneath that attach to filler tubes that let you monitor the water level. You can actually go away for over a week and they will keep your plants watered while you are gone.

You Can Easily Grow Tomatoes From Seed

I was able to grow the four seed types indoors over about a month, although they did get a little “leggy”. I simply took the best seedling from each type and planted it into the soil up to the seed leaves. This actually gave each seedling a really good head start on a good root system. That was about a month ago. Today, each plant is between 24″ to 36″ in height. I’ve done some foliar feedings, which my father swears by, but mostly my plants have been doing well on the original soil mix that I established for them when they were planted. While the tomato plants in the main garden bed were started at the same time from purchased plants, so they’re about a foot taller because they had a head start, I think that this gap is closing rapidly. I’ll include some pictures that show how I grow tomatoes and I’ll include some additional details of the setup in my next post. For now, have a look at this video for some more tips on how to grow tomatoes in your backyard veggie garden.

When Tomatoes Grow Up

Grow Tomatoes Up to the Sky

So you don’t have much space to grow tomatoes juicy and delicious that you so love. What if I told you that you didn’t need much space at all, and that in fact the sky’s the limit. That’s right! All you have to do is train your vegetable garden tomatoes to grow upright and vertical.

How to Grow Tomatoes Using a Trellis

Train and grow tomatoes by letting them grow up a string supported on a trellis framework. There are any number of ways to put together a framework for the string or wire you’ll need to let your grow tomato plants upward. Using galvanized steel conduit that’s threaded and can be put together using tee and 90 degree threaded fittings is as easy as going to the local hardware store. Either use 1/8 to 1/4 inch nylon twine or 12 gauge plastic coated wire (more expensive but lasts many years) attached to the top of the conduit and anchored to the ground using garden fabric stables. Anchor your tomato plants as they grow using tomato clips or pieces of cut-up pantyhose.

Grow Tomatoes in Small Spaces

You will have to use an indeterminant variety of plant to grow tomatoes continually upward since they will keep growing as long as they receive ample sunlight and water. This method will be easy to adapt to both large areas and very small growing areas such as a container or raised bed garden. To see exactly how you’d build one of these trellises, check out the video here.

Transplanting Your Tomatoes

Transplanting tomato plants into your vegetable garden from smaller pots doesn’t require too much effort, but you will want to dig a fairly deep hole, from 6 up to 12 inches deep. That’s because tomatoes are one of those more unusual plants having hairs along its entire stem that can form roots if submerged into the soil. So it follows that the deeper you bury the plant, the more robust the root system you will let the plant establish.

Now it goes without saying that your garden soil should be fluffy and adequately composted so the plants can establish themselves easily and have more than enough nutrients to draw upon for optimal growth. If you have a lot of clay in your soil remember to add some sand and a lot of organic material from compost and manure and peat to let it drain better.

If the young plant is very pot-bound, that is, has a lot of roots with nowhere to go, make sure you gently break them up and loosen them before placing it into the hole. Set the soil in around it firmly but not too tightly. What’s good for fence posts isn’t necessarily good for tomato plants.

Mound the dirt up around the plant’s base in a circle about 6-8 inches away from the stem. This helps to hold water near the tomato plant. I really liked the tomato cages he uses in the video here — concrete reinforcing cages with plastic conduit pounded into the ground as an anchor. Inexpensive AND slick. I’m going to try this myself in my garden. Check it out on the video here.

Growing More Tomatoes

After you’ve planted your tomato plants, what should you do to give them everything they need to produce the most abundant tomatoes? One simple and easy thing you can do for them is to eliminate the weeds around them.

Weeds compete for soil nutrients around your tomato plants that they need to thrive. Make sure to mulch around the plants very well to help keep the soil cool and to keep the weeds from establishing themselves. Hot bare soil lets weed seeds germinate more easily.

Using newspaper as a mulch underlay works extremely well because it holds in soil moisture, and it forms a really good organic barrier to weeds both in the soil that haven’t come up yet, and to weed seeds that might wander in. It also decomposes gradually as compost.

Place about 1-2 inches of bark or other mulch on top of the newspaper. Make sure that the newspapers you lay down are all around the plant right up to the stem. Water everything very well. The bark mulch will break down and help build your vegetable garden soil over time. See this video for tips and pointers.

Tomato Planting 101

Tomatoes are unique among almost all other vegetable garden plants. Besides actually producing a fruit, not a vegetable, they can grow by forming adventitious roots all along their stem. This allows them to be planted very deep. So deep in fact, that if it were any other plant you’d surely kill it. Planting tomatoes very deep enables them to establish extremely deep and developed roots that in turn will ensure a very healthy and productive plant able to produce plenty of large, juicy tomatoes.

Another important planting consideration is to have plenty of nutrients in your vegetable garden soil. Use compost and manure liberally. Make sure your soil also has plenty of calcium in it, and have a low threshold to add a calcium rich fertilizer or compost with plenty of egg shells in it. You can also use lime directly. Tomato plants love sweet (not acidic) soil.

As they grow, stake and support them well to give the plant plenty of room to grow and so it gets plenty of air and light. Remember to water plants early in the day, never late in the day because that’s a setup for powdery mildew to set in. aphids can be gotten rid of either using organic pesticides or with my favorite, ladybugs. Check out the video for even more information on this.

Large Scale Tomato Planting

This is an interesting video because it demonstrates large scale tomato planting using black plastic sheeting as sheet mulching. This is clearly not for your amateur beginning gardener, but it does show some alternative ways to prevent weed growth and also to warm up the soil to speed plant growth in the early stages. It’s advisable not to use black plastic in your garden, and stick to more conventional mulching methods. The other thing that’s really amazing is how deep into the ground you can actually stick tomato plants, simply because they will form roots from all those little hairs on their stem. This actually gives them a head start on a more developed root system earlier in the season than you’d expect. See the video here.

Staking Your Tomato Plants

Tomato plants, particularly the indeterminant variety, need physical support as they grow, especially once they start becoming top heavy with fruit. As your vegetable garden matures over the summer months, your tomato plants will continue to grow and expand their space. You will need to plan ahead in spring before they take off by making a support system that will let them remain upright as they grow larger.

For small garden applications either putting in a stake and using strips of nylon panty hose to tie the plant off to the stake, or simple tomato cages around each plant will support them well. In this video, there is a more ambitious attempt at raising a lot of tomato plants. Here, he uses tall steel posts and strings nylon or hemp string around each post in a line, then weaves the string through the row of plants. This is repeated as they get taller. Pretty ingenious, actually. Watch the video and see it for yourself.

Pruning Your Tomato Plants

You have to get to know your vegetable garden’s tomato plants so you’ll be better able to prune them for bigger, juicier tomatoes. Where the vertical main stem and the horizontal branches meet, there can grow these smaller branches at about a 45 degree angle that are called suckers.

This next part is very important. If you have a tomato plant that is an indeterminant, keep reading. If on the other hand it is the bushier determinant variety, read no further. Pruning off suckers is only important if you have the indeterminant variety, because these will keep growing as long as they get light and water and have physical support. If you don’t prune off the suckers, which is easy to do with just your fingers, the plant will put all its energy into foliage production and you won’t get nearly as many tomatoes as you would otherwise. See the video to learn how to do this.

Starting Your Tomatoes

Starting out tomatoes in your vegetable garden is very easy. You will need a sunny spot, the right soil, and adequate water. Have your soil tested to see if it’s alright for growing tomatoes either through a test kit you can buy yourself, or you can have it tested through your local agricultural extension service. You can find out where your nearest extension is located by going online.

Select the type of tomato variety you want to grow. Consider the flavor, the size, and the hardiness for your climate, as well as how long it takes to get to maturity. It’s nice to have several different varieties of tomatoes maturing at different times throughout the summer so you always have some to eat.

Whether you start from seeds or you transplant from seedlings, wait to place your young tomato plants into the ground until after the last chance of frost in your area has passed. Dig a shallow trench and place your plants about a foot apart. Don’t worry about planting them too deep. You can put them in the ground up to the first set of leaves. This is actually good for developing a deeper, stronger root system.

Water them daily for the first week, and after a week or two, set up stakes that eventually your plants will be tied to so they have support (indeterminant variety only). For less work, consider using tomato cages instead. Watch this video for more information on starting out your tomatoes.