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garden tomatoAs most home gardeners know, tomatoes are strictly warm weather plants, either sowed in pots in early spring, or planted directly into the soil after all danger of frost has past.

Native to South America, tomatoes were once thought by early American colonists to be poisonous. It wasn't until the early 19th century that the first brave souls had the gumption to try a tomato. Today, they've become a major part of the American diet.

Low in calories and high in vitamin C, the tomato can be tossed in salads, stuffed with tuna or cottage cheese, sliced over a triple-decker cheeseburger, or chopped up into any main dish to add just that extra bit of color and flavor.

The large Beefsteak tomato is probably the most prized variety, followed by the Cherry tomato for windowsills or small backyard gardens, and the Plum tomato especially used in Italian sauces.

Tomatoes may also be planted alongside cucumbers and lettuce for a complete "salad garden."

cherry, beefsteak, and plum tomatoes
The most popular tomato varieties for the home garden include the cherry, beefsteak, and plum tomato.

In relation to the abundant crops they generally produce, tomato plants generally require very little space in the home garden. Full sun is best, along with well-drained slightly-acid soil and lots of water, especially during the height of the summer.

Keep hungry tomato plants well-fed with a complete fertilizer, such as 5-10-10 or 5-20-20, worked into the ground before the initial planting, with an additional feeding of a nitrogen fertilizer as fruit begins to set.

Staking the plants is important since top-heavy, fruit laden tomato plants tend to tip over as they grow. Keeping them upright also lessens the chance of disease or insect pests.

The most common tomato troubleshooting techniques usually involve fighting off common garden pests such as aphids, white fly or spider mites during peak season. Known diseases include Fusarium wilt, Verticillium wilt, blossom end rot and nematodes, which are usually controlled with chemical treatments.

also see feature stories -> Ten Mistakes to Avoid When Growing Tomatoes


On the Web - How to grow tomatoes :


Growing Tomato Plants - Here's a clear fact sheet with tips on selecting, growing, fertilizing, plus more on troubleshooting for tomato plants that won't bloom, advice on treating common pests and diseases including tomato hornworm and blossom end rot.

Growing Tomatoes for Home Use - Find expert advice on soil preparation, sowing, transplanting and cultivating plus tips on caging and staking, from the North Carolina Cooperative Extension.

Apartment Grown Tomatoes - Balconies, rooftops and windowsills are the focus here, with advice on the best varieties for growing tomatoes in big city or urban areas, including tips on pots, containers and materials, suggested reading and related resources.

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