How to grow and harvest this iconic summer produce hero at its ripest, sweetest, and juiciest.
"For most people, the tomato would be the first plant they'd choose to grow in their own gardens," says Mary Beth Shaddix,
who tends the Cooking Light Garden with her husband, David. "It's sort of the all-American garden hero."
While strikingly colored, plump, juicy heirloom tomatoes have become much easier to find at farmers' markets and even supermarkets, there are so many varieties that you have to grow your own to really delve into the possibilities.
Plant deeply for stronger roots. Deep roots are the secret to keeping plants well watered and healthy. Contrary to how you normally plant, bury a tomato transplant up to its “neck,” with only three or four leaves above the soil—roots will form along the stem beneath the ground to produce a stronger, sturdier plant.
Tomatoes are delicate; it's best to use shears or clippers to snip them from the vine, rather than pulling them off.
If you're growing tomatoes, you'll need to pick them at the right time: Heirlooms should be picked before they're fully ripe; most others should be picked when the color has evened out (i.e., a red tomato turns fully red). In the market, choose tomatoes with bright, shiny skins that feel firm but give slightly to gentle pressure. Never store in the refrigerator—the flesh will go mealy. If you need to ripen, as with those early harvested heirlooms, do so at room temperature, out of direct sunlight.