Growing Killer Tomatoes

It’s a true story, and one to give a prospective gardener pause: the young couple decides to grow their own tomatoes, and when the summer is over, they manage to harvest a single fruit.

How did they do it, one wonders? Is tomato gardening so difficult that only the few, the botanically exalted, should try it? To judge from the number of books and articles on the subject, one would think it must be so. Indeed, the amount of information out there can be as intimidating as the prospect of a one-tomato harvest.

It’s easy to get bogged down in fine-tuned instructions on testing soil pH, the precise timing and placement of mulches, the selection of heirloom varieties and the rest of it. Actually, though, the basics are pretty — well, basic. If the couple had asked a friend to water their plants on the weekend they left town, all would have been well.

If one-tomato harvests were common, growing tomatoes would be about as popular as wrestling grizzly bears. Instead, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, tomatoes are the most popular home-grown vegetable in the country. This would have to be because they are both delicious and easy to cultivate.

If you have even a moderately sunny spot (four to five hours of sunlight will do, though eight is best), you can dig in some compost, set out some tomato seedlings in the spring after the last frost, and put cages around them. Water them regularly, and chances are good you’ll get tons of tasty tomatoes (PDF). The rest is gravy — how to get more and bigger fruit, how to get fruit earlier or later, how to deal with pests and other problems, which varieties will do best in your area, how to start your own seedlings. Whole books are written about growing tomatoes, but you don’t have to read them before you start.

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