By CYNTHIA SCHUSTER EAKIN
We all know it, so let’s say it right up front. There is nothing like the taste of a homegrown tomato.
The delicious taste of summer can be yours with the purchase of a tomato plant and a few growing tips from gardening experts. Tomatoes are one of the easiest vegetables to grow in the home garden. All they need is plenty of sunshine, water and a little tender loving care.
Dean’s Greenhouse in Westlake stocks 140 and lists all of them on their website, including their customers’ top 10 variety picks. “It’s really fun,” Dean’s gardening guru Alice Baldwin noted. “We get seeds from a lot of different sources. Some varieties are so popular that we take tomato pre-orders in the fall. Then, customers come in to the greenhouse in May to pick up their plants.”
Ms. Baldwin said Dean’s Greenhouse carries a large variety of heirloom tomatoes, or old varieties introduced before 1940, for their fuller flavor. They also offer hybrids, a cross of multiple tomato varieties, created for disease resistance, size and plant vigor. There is no such thing as a GMO (genetically modified organism) tomato seed, she added.
There are two types of tomatoes, according to Ms. Baldwin. Indeterminate plants like Better Boy or Brandywine continue to grow throughout the season, so they can become quite large and need to be staked or caged. A determinate tomato is a plant that reaches a mature height and blooms roughly all at once. These more compact plants such as Bush Goliath, Bush Early Girl and many patio types, are a good option for a small garden space. The type of tomato plant you select to grow should also be determined by whether you prefer a nice slicer or a beefy beefsteak.
“Any vegetable needs a lot of sun,” Ms. Baldwin cautioned. “You can plant your tomatoes in any location, as long as they get six to eight hours of sun per day. Leave about 14 to 20 inches of space per plant, depending on the type of tomato.” She said Dean’s has even had success in growing tomatoes in topsoil bags that they stand on end for depth of soil.
“Tomatoes need to be fertilized on a regular basis, because they are relying on you for their food,” she added. “Problems like blossom end rot are caused by a magnesium and calcium deficiency.”
The ultimate success of tomato gardening really depends on the weather, Ms. Baldwin said. “Ohio weather is so variable. Once we have a series of summer nights over 70 degrees, the flowers abort and no fruit will set. This is true for eggplant and peppers, as well,” she explained.
Tomatoes and their family members like eggplant, peppers and potatoes, should not be planted in the same place for two years in a row to avoid soil borne diseases that can affect the plants. Stake or cage the plants at planting so that you do not disturb the roots and foliage later. Water often and be sure to soak the soil at least six inches deep. Remove the suckers if you want to grow big fruit. Container tomatoes need at least five gallons of soil per plant. Finally, do not refrigerate tomatoes. Tomatoes stored at less than 50 degrees lose their flavor and texture.
“Ultimately, gardeners should select the type of tomato that sounds appealing to them and just have fun with it,” Ms. Baldwin advised. “We are more than happy to help anyone with a tomato question.” She added that Dean’s Greenhouse plans to offer 200 different varieties of tomato plants next season.
Dean’s Greenhouse, established in 1924, is one of the oldest, continually operated businesses in Westlake. Founder Sam Dean started as a local farmer and would take his produce into Cleveland by horse and buggy. The greenhouse is at 3984 Porter Rd. in Westlake. Phone 440.871.2050.
Simple Garden Bruschetta
(Recipe courtesy of Marilou Suszko)
Oh, the bounty of summer. Bruschetta, pronounced “brus-ketta,” is a great way to capture the flavors of ripe summer tomatoes, fresh garden basil and garlic. The vinegar adds a pleasant bite.
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 8 large plum tomatoes, cored and coarsely chopped
- 2 tablespoons freshly chopped basil
- 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing
- Splash of red wine vinegar
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 small baguettes, cut into Â¼-inch slices
Combine the garlic, tomatoes, basil, oil and red wine vinegar in a medium glass bowl. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Set aside at room temperature for at least an hour to allow flavors to meld.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush the bread slices on both sides with olive oil. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet and place on the middle rack of the oven. Bake for 12 minutes or until golden brown. Remove and let cool.
To serve, top the bread slices with about a tablespoon of the tomato mixture.
Makes 6 appetizer servings.