Tend­ing Toma­toes

Modern Pioneer - - Con­tents - By Ja­son Houser

Grow a bounty and fill your pantry with de­li­cious foods

Grow a bounty and fill your pantry with de­li­cious food

As a per­son who loves to be self­suf­fi­cient, I’m sat­is­fied when I can pro­vide meals from food I’ve hunted, caught, raised or har­vested. I pro­vide many meals of fish and wild game for my fam­ily, and al­most all those dishes are ac­com­pa­nied by veg­eta­bles I’ve grown in my garden. Some of those veg­eta­bles are even the main in­gre­di­ent of the main course, es­pe­cially when toma­toes are in sea­son.

Toma­toes are used in many dishes such as pas­tas, soups, chili and more. One tomato plant, when prop­erly cared for, will yield large quan­ti­ties of fruit (toma­toes are tech­ni­cally fruits, not veg­eta­bles) that can ei­ther be eaten im­me­di­ately or pre­served for later use. Whether it’s a ripe tomato slice on a bologna sand­wich or home­made pizza sauce, toma­toes of­fer the imag­i­na­tive gar­dener count­less choices.

I’m go­ing to help you learn some gar­den­ing tips that’ll yield more toma­toes than you ever thought pos­si­ble. Then, I’ll give you some great ideas on how to use them.

Bol­ster Your Gar­den­ing Skills

It’s best to grow toma­toes in fer­tile, deeply worked and well-drained soil in full sun­light. To make sure you have ev­ery­thing you need, add plenty of good com­post or well-rot­ted ma­nure into each plant­ing hole. Toma­toes like warm soil and don’t tol­er­ate frost, so wait for warm spring days and soil tem­per­a­tures above 60°F to plant.

In warmer cli­mates, mulch your toma­toes thickly after the soil has warmed thor­oughly. If you need to raise your soil tem­per­a­ture, sim­ply lay down black plas­tic a few days prior to plant­ing. Just be sure to re­move the plas­tic be­fore plant­ing.

If you’ve ex­pe­ri­enced prob­lems with grow­ing toma­toes in the past, choose dis­easere­sis­tant va­ri­eties when pos­si­ble. When buy­ing seedlings, look for young, healthy plants with thick stems. Don’t buy tomato plants that ap­pear tall and spindly, or that have leaves that look spot­ted, pur­plish or yel­low. Also, look for in­sect dam­age be­fore pur­chas­ing.

Be­gin set­ting out seedlings two weeks after the last ex­pected spring frost, or do it ear­lier if you in­tend to cover them with row cov­ers or cloches to help re­tain heat. You can con­tinue to set plants out un­til 12 to 14 days be­fore the first fall frost. In short­sea­son ar­eas, if you choose to use seeds, sow in­doors six to eight weeks be­fore you set them out. In cli­mates with a long sea­son, you can direct-sow the seeds.

Spac­ing de­pends upon whether you plan to stake, cage or al­low the plants to sprawl. Just al­low enough space be­tween the plants for good, even sun­light broad­cast and air cir­cu­la­tion. When ty­ing the vines to any form of trel­lis, use soft cloth strips—not wire or string—to avoid dam­ag­ing the plant. When plant­ing seedlings, plant them on their sides, or very deep, and wa­ter well.

Toma­toes are very easy to grow in con­tain­ers. Just make sure the con­tainer is in a warm, sunny lo­ca­tion. You can stake, cage, trel­lis or sim­ply al­low the plants to sprawl by plant­ing in large hang­ing bas­kets.

Fer­til­iza­tion will en­sure a good tomato crop all grow­ing sea­son. Make sure the soil al­ready has lots of good com­post and or­ganic mat­ter worked in. Lightly broad­cast some 10-10-10 fer­til­izer over the area, till in, and then sow seeds or plant trans­plants.

When the plants be­gin to flower, side-dress with 1 ta­ble­spoon per plant of 5-10-10, or one large hand­ful of good com­post, which gen­er­ally equals the same. Sprin­kle around the base of the plant, but not up against the stem, and wa­ter in. Un­der­stand that too much ni­tro­gen will re­sult in more fo­liage growth, but fewer fruits, so go easy. An­other good op­tion is food spe­cially for­mu­lated for tomato health. This food ei­ther comes in a pow­der or stick form, and can be found in many nurs­eries and farm stores.

“Many tomato va­ri­eties won’t pro­duce fruit when tem­per­a­tures are be­low 50°F or above 90°F.”

Fruit Pro­duc­tion

Toma­toes will be ma­ture in 90 to 140 days from seed. It takes 60 to 90 days for seedlings to ma­ture, de­pend­ing upon the cul­ti­var.

Many tomato va­ri­eties won’t pro­duce fruit when tem­per­a­tures are be­low 50°F or above 90°F. If you live in such a cli­mate, try grow­ing spe­cial cold- or heat-tol­er­ant va­ri­eties. You can also try grow­ing smaller-fruited, in­de­ter­mi­nate cul­ti­vars like cherry toma­toes, be­cause they flower con­tin­u­ously and there­fore of­fer more

chances of suc­cess­fully pro­duc­ing fruit. In cool cli­mates, choose early va­ri­eties, which ma­ture quickly and tol­er­ate cooler con­di­tions.

Toma­toes are ripe when they’re fully col­ored, but firm. Never store toma­toes in the re­frig­er­a­tor, be­cause cool tem­per­a­tures cause them to lose fla­vor and tex­ture.

Uses Be­yond Fresh Toma­toes

When you have more toma­toes than you know what to do with, it’s best to can them so you can en­joy your har­vest all win­ter long. There are so many things you can do with toma­toes rather than just can them whole. Tomato salsa, juice, paste, sauce, pasta sauce, pizza sauce, and even Bloody Mary mix are just a few of the can­ning op­tions.

Kits are avail­able for pur­chase that sim­plify the mak­ing of salsa, pizza sauce, ketchup and more. All of the spices are in one packet. All you must do is pre­pare the toma­toes—usu­ally by boil­ing, then re­mov­ing the skins—and then fol­low the easy steps on the pack­age to achieve the fin­ished prod­uct.

I use these pack­ets when I’m short on time. They’re in­ex­pen­sive, and the re­sults are of­ten just as good as if I fol­lowed a recipe. Recipes for com­mon tomato-based sta­ples aren’t dif­fi­cult to fol­low, but they usu­ally re­quire more in­gre­di­ents.


This is my pre­ferred salsa. It yields 5 to 6 pints, and it’s a sim­ple recipe that my fam­ily loves.


5 pounds toma­toes 3 green bell pep­pers, diced 8 stalks cel­ery, chopped 3 onions, chopped 8 jalapeño pep­pers, seeded and minced 4 gar­lic cloves, minced 4 4-ounce cans diced green chilies 3 ta­ble­spoons salt 2 ta­ble­spoons finely chopped fresh oregano 1 ta­ble­spoon ground black pep­per 2 ta­ble­spoons white su­gar 3 ta­ble­spoons fresh cilantro, chopped


1 Place a steamer rack in the bottom of large, 16-quart stock­pot or can­ning pot. Place new or clean ma­son jars on the rack. Fill the jars with wa­ter, and fill the pot with just enough wa­ter to come to the top of the jars. Heat wa­ter to a sim­mer. Sim­mer for 10 min­utes to keep the jars warm while you pre­pare the salsa. 2 The toma­toes must be peeled, and blanch­ing them is the eas­i­est way to ac­com­plish this. To

blanch, score the ends of the toma­toes and place them in boil­ing wa­ter for a minute. Re­move the toma­toes from wa­ter and let cool to the touch. Re­move and dis­card the peels. Cut away any cores if you haven’t al­ready done so. Chop the toma­toes, tak­ing care to save any juices that seep out.

3 Start­ing with 5 pounds of toma­toes, you should end up with about 8 cups of chopped toma­toes and juices. You must use at least 7 cups of the toma­toes for this recipe. Drain the wa­ter from the pot, and re­turn chopped toma­toes to pot.

4 In 2 quarts of boil­ing, salted wa­ter, add chopped bell pep­pers, cel­ery, onions, jalapeños, gar­lic and green chilies, and cook un­til all in­gre­di­ents are ten­der. Drain and add veg­eta­bles to toma­toes.

5 Add salt, oregano, black pep­per, su­gar and cilantro. Sim­mer gen­tly for 15 min­utes.

6 While the salsa is cook­ing, place the jar lids in a bowl and cover with boil­ing wa­ter to ster­il­ize.

7 La­dle salsa into can­ning jars, leav­ing a ½ inch of head space. Wipe the rims with a clean, damp pa­per towel to re­move resid­ual salsa from the rims.

8 Place can­ning lids on the jars, and screw on the lid rings. Don’t over-tighten, or you might not achieve a good seal. Air does need to es­cape from the jars dur­ing the next step, the wa­ter bath.

9 Place the filled and lid­ded jars back onto the rack in the large stock­pot of hot wa­ter you used to ster­il­ize the jars in step one. You may need to re­move some of the wa­ter from the pot to pre­vent it from over­flow­ing.

J Cover the jars with at least 1 inch of wa­ter. Bring to a rolling boil and process for 15 min­utes (20 min­utes for al­ti­tudes 1,000-6,000 feet; 25 min­utes above 6,000 feet). Then, turn off heat and let the jars sit in the hot wa­ter for 5 min­utes.

K Re­move jars from the wa­ter bath and let sit on a counter for sev­eral hours un­til com­pletely cool. The lids should “pop” as the cool­ing salsa cre­ates a vac­uum un­der the lid and the jars are sealed.

L If a lid hasn’t sealed, ei­ther re­place the lid and re­pro­cess in a wa­ter bath for an­other 15 min­utes, or store in the re­frig­er­a­tor and use within the next few days.

M Canned salsa should be con­sumed within one year.

Tasty Toma­toes

Toma­toes are of­ten taken for granted, and sur­pris­ingly, some peo­ple who like salsa, bar­be­cue sauce and mari­nara, turn their noses up at them with­out con­sid­er­ing their many uses. When you’re plan­ning your garden, con­sider adding a few tomato plants and cre­at­ing your own ver­sions of fam­ily fa­vorites.

(top, left) Toma­toes come in var­i­ous sizes and col­ors. (top, cen­ter) The author com­bines the in­gre­di­ents for home­made salsa. (top, right) Home­made pizza sauce is an­other op­tion for pre­serv­ing toma­toes. (be­low) Toma­toes are a sta­ple in many gar­dens.

(be­low) Home­made salsa can be en­joyed all year long for a frac­tion of the cost of store-bought var­i­ties. (op­po­site) Pasta sauce and home­made ketchup are bet­ter when you make them your­self.

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