Tomato patience

Memorial Day is the traditional time to plant tomatoes. And with the temperatures shooting into the mid-80s today, lots of people will be tempted to get ’em in the ground.

We’re going to wait. The cold winter and cool spring have sent the planting schedules a bit off kilter, and below-normal temperatures are forecast for Wednesday. Plus, Memorial Day is early this year.

100_3065But we’ve been preparing for weeks. We planted seeds in flats on April 11, and have about 25 baby tomatoes now. We put them in a south-facing window under lights, and five days ago started getting them used to the open air. I followed the old-timer’s advice of tickling the seedlings to develop strong stems, but my tomatoes always emerge a little spindly. Anyone have any clues on this?

100_3063Yesterday we put a 4×8-foot sheet of red plastic on a backyard tomato bed, and today I will do the same on a tomato bed and an eggplant bed at our community garden. This “Turbo Tomato” product warms up the soil and “reflects far-red light up into the plant, affecting its phytochrome, a color-sensitive protein that regulates plant growth.” We’ll see.

We grow a variety called Cosmonaut Volkov, which I like because it grows straight in our tall cages and is easy to peel for canning — and because I like the name. We’re also growing some Bobcats, a low-growing or “determinate” variety that did well last year in those shorter, conical cages. We’re also planting some cherry tomatoes called Honeydew, and we have a few extras. Email me at if you’d like one.

Last year, we planted 72 tomato seeds, gave away about 30 after they came up, and planted about 40. We’re being more modest this year, though I usually want to plant more tomatoes than I have. I’ll probably pick up a flat of six seedlings later this week to supplement the ones we have. We usually can about 40 to 50 quarts of tomatoes in September, and still have 20 quarts in the basement from last year.

Here are some fun facts from

* Tomatoes are botanically fruits, but legally they are vegetables. There was a Supreme Court ruling in 1893 that classified them as such for tariff purposes.

* Of people with backyard gardens, 93 percent grow tomatoes.

* Eating tomatoes helps lower cholesterol, fights cancer and heart disease, regulates blood sugar, boosts immunity, and even acts as a natural sunscreen.

* It’s best to plant tomatoes when it’s cloudy and rain is expected.

* On average, each tomato plant needs two gallons of water a week, and when the temperatures are in the 90s, they need water every day.

* Tomato plants should be at least 24 to 30 inches from each other.


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