Guide to Tomatoes
Tomatoes are the poster child for the pick-fresh movement and are the epitome of summer. Growing your own opens the door to hundreds of varieties and unrivaled flavor.
SEASON: May through September in the most temperate regions; June through August is peak season nationwide.
CHOOSING: Look for tomatoes with a bright, shiny skin and firm flesh that yields slightly to gentle pressure. The best flavor comes from vine-ripened fruits that were recently picked, so opt for those marked “locally grown.”
STORING: Store them at room temperature but not in direct sunlight—the kitchen windowsill may not be the best spot. Never store tomatoes in the refrigerator. The cold destroys flavor and leaves tomatoes with a mealy texture. It’s best to use tomatoes within four or five days of picking or purchasing.
GROWING: There are hundreds of varieties, with one to suit every gardener’s space and taste. For containers, consider a variety that keeps a compact shape, such as Husky Cherry Red or Better Boy Bush. Cherry tomatoes are usually indeterminate, meaning they continually vine and grow on a trellis or balcony railing. Consider growing one of each of these three types: a “slicer,” such as Cherokee Purple, for big, meaty fruits; a “paste” tomato, such as Roma, San Marzano, or Black Plum, for making sauces; and a cherry, such as Sun Gold, for eat-as-you-pick bites of sunshine.
Tomatoes need full sun and flourish with several gallons of water a week. When growing in containers, ensure the pots are at least 24 inches in diameter. 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.