How to Grow Great Tomatoes with Mike Darcy

How do you grow tomatoes
It will probably be of no surprise that for home gardeners, the tomato is ranked as the number one plant in a vegetable garden. It is widely planted throughout the US and different regions have different varieties that perform best in their particular area. Here in the Pacific Northwest, where we can have a short growing season, several of the more popular tomatoes have been developed by Oregon State University. These include ‘Willamette’, ‘Oregon Spring’ and ‘Siletz’, all of which are carried by Wilco.

 Growing Tomatoes

Most gardeners have their list of favorites and when I want local information on tomatoes, I often refer to Harry Olson who I refer to as my ‘tomato guru’. Harry is a long time Wilco member and his home in Salem is a city lot with the back area devoted to growing and trailing tomatoes. His plants are all in raised beds so that he can have control over the soil and fertilizer.

I recently talked with Harry about some of his favorite tomatoes and some growing tips for home gardeners. First and foremost is that tomatoes need full sun which Harry said was essential for them to perform well. Tomatoes are a warm-season crop and according to Harry, many gardeners plant them outside before the temperature is warm enough for them to grow. Harry’s suggestion is that when setting plants out early, put a tomato cage around the plants and wrap clear plastic around the cage. Keep the top open. The clear plastic wrap will tend to warm up the soil and protect the young plants from cold winds. Once the weather is warm, remove the wrap.

There are two general categories for tomatoes, determinate and indeterminate, and this information is usually on the plant tag. A determinate is more of a bush type with the tomatoes generally ripening over a 2-3-week period. An indeterminate plant will continue growing and producing throughout the season. Indeterminate plants need to be in a cage or staked for support.

Harry generally chooses the indeterminate types as he likes to extend the season. Here are some of his favorites.

Big Beef, a beefsteak type, (meaning large fruit), wonderful taste, good production and very disease resistant.
San Marzano is one of the best paste tomatoes. It has thick walled fruits that can be up to 5 inches and appear in clusters. It is excellent for pastes, sauces, and soups.

Black Krim, originating in Russia, this tomato has slightly lobed dark purple to black skin. The flesh is red and has a very good flavor. Harry told me that this makes a “world class” BLT.

Brandywine, one of the all-time heirloom favorites. It is late maturing and in tomato tasting events, it often comes in first.
Sungold, one of the best and most popular of the small-fruited types. It bears fruit early and continues through the season. It is a vigorous grower and will outgrow a 4-foot cage quickly. I have seen them grow up to the eves of a house.

Stupice, originating from Czechoslovakia and is one of the colder tolerant tomatoes. Harry told me that this is one tomato he would not be without as it is often the first to set fruit and the last. Once the fruit starts it does not stop until fall.

This is just a sampling of the almost three dozen tomato varieties that are available at Wilco. Check the plant tags for the approximate number of days to maturity and by selecting different harvest times, your tomato season will be extended. Most gardeners that have grown tomatoes have some ‘must have’ varieties but it is fun to also try a new one!

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