It's time to dream of those summertime sandwiches and BLTs, made with tomatoes you grow in your own yard - in pots or the ground.
In most areas of the country, mid-May is the ideal time to put in tomatoes because they need warm soil, not just warm sun. They also need consistent moisture, especially while the fruit develops. Too much or too little water can cause them to crack, according to retired extension agent Jim Orband in Yorktown, Va.
"When growing tomatoes, make a few plans for success and you will have a harvest of vine ripe fruit for the salad or salsa or other use," says Orband. He has a monthly call-in gardening program you can hear online or as a podcast through public radio at hearsay.org; questions can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For good tomatoes, select a fertile, level, no-grass or weedy part of your yard, recommends Orband. Minimally, they need seven hours of sun daily - the more, the better. When selecting plants, look for transplants labeled VFN, F1, F2 and TSWV, meaning they are disease free. Mulch your tomatoes with a 3-inch covering of shredded leaves over four sheets of newspaper, a technique that helps conserve moisture and reduce weeds.
"The added benefit of mulch is that the moisture levels are constant, which reduces the potential of blossom-end rot," says Jim.
Stake your plants to keep fruit off the ground and to allow all areas of the plant to get sunlight. They need an inch of water weekly, so soak them with a soaker or drip hose when there is no rainfall; keeping water off the foliage helps reduce fungal problems. Remember, tomatoes are easy to grow in large pots, too.
To grow really strong tomato plants, Bonnie Plants recommends that you plant each one deep so that two-thirds of the plant's stem is buried. If you plant deeply, they will sprout roots along the buried stem, so your plant will be stronger and better able to find water in drought. Try it but only plant tomatoes this way.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
Here are some new tomato varieties from Bonnie Plants that are available at garden stores and major chains such as Home Depot and Lowe's.
•Cherry Falls. Plant grows less than 10 inches tall and 24 to 36 inches wide, in a cascading form that's attractive in a pot or window box; fruit about the size of a large cherry.
•Tumbling Junior Yellow. This compact version of Tumbling Tom features a tart-sweet flavor that makes them great for snacks, salads and shish-kabobs on the grill. Plant in a large container.
•Sungold. Children will eat them like candy, picking the small fruits from long clusters. Pick fruits at their deepest color for a real sweet, fruity flavor.
•New Girl. Medium-sized fruits on these 5- to 6-foot-tall plants are ideal for slicing and dicing, especially when you drizzle them with olive oil and fresh-chopped basil for a taste treat.