Green and fried, piled high on a sandwich or taken straight from the vine, it's hard to resist the taste and texture of a homegrown tomato. With a little effort and care, it's possible to grow a harvest to enjoy any way you like.
If you're planting them in the ground, "first, take a soil sample," said longtime gardener Bill Adams. "It won't cost much to have this done at your county extension office, and then you'll know the physical condition of your soil."
This is important, because soil in this region tends to be acidic. To ensure that your soil has the proper pH, "it's best to add lime," said Judy Sanderlin of Sanderlin Nurseries in Appling.
And when the ground conditions are just right, be sure it is a sunny spot, because tomatoes require six to eight hours of sunlight.
The next step is to decide which type of tomatoes to grow.
"There are determinate tomatoes, which grow as a bush. And indeterminate tomatoes grow on big vines and require stakes," Sanderlin explained.
When selecting a tomato plant, don't forget to take into consideration how much fruit you'll reap for your effort.
Determinate tomatoes generally have a short harvest period, with much of the fruit maturing over the entire plant at the same time. An indeterminate tomato plant develops progressively, so harvest continues over a long period of time.
From an Early Girl and Celebrity to a Big Beef and Better Boy, there's a tomato to please any palate.
"The Better Boy is a favorite, and it's largely disease-resistant," Sanderlin said. "The Whopper and Celebrity withstand wilts and nematodes, which are common problems gardeners encounter."
Selecting tomato plants that are disease-resistant is a good rule of thumb to remember, because "those varieties tend to hold up better throughout the season," Sanderlin said.
Knowing when to fertilize the plant is also key to its growing success.
"Wait until the roots start moving to add any fertilizer," Sanderlin said. "And be careful not to put fertilizer right on the feeder roots, because it will make the plant weak."
Equally as important as applying fertilizer at the right time is using the correct type.
"A 5-10-15 fertilizer will give you just the right amount of nitrogen for the vine and enough phosphorus for the blooms," Adams said.
Be sure to water the plants thoroughly after a feeding. Otherwise, water the plants regularly with a soaker hose or with a drip irrigation system.
When a gardener has given a tomato plant all that it requires, the last thing to do is "hope for the best," Adams said.
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