The Tomato Whisperer

These tomatoes were planted in our garden in late April

There are over 3000 known varieties of tomatoes. If I could, I would plant one of each! That's how passionate I am about growing tomatoes!

There is only one reason to grow your own tomatoes...the taste!

Not even Farmers Market compares to home grown to my palate.

Supermarket tomatoes are picked green and ripen on the way. This causes them to lose almost all of their nutritional value.

Wherever I have lived, I have grown tomatoes. My whole family grows tomatoes!

So, let's talk TOMATO:

There are 2 types of tomato. Heirloom, which must be at least 50 year old seeds. ( you can save these seeds)

And Hybrid, which are bred by crossing varieties to achieve better disease resistance and higher yield. Hybrids typically are earlier to produce, 50-60 days and are good for a second fall crop as they will mature before frost if you time it right.

There are 2 styles of tomato:

Determinate is a Bush tomato that stops growing when fruit sets on the top bud. This crop comes in all at once and then is done. They do well in cages. Some varieties are Roma, San Marzano, Amish Paste, Celebrity, Marglobe and Rutgers.

Indeterminate Tomatoes grow until frost and can get 12' tall. They benefit from staking and pruning lower leaves below the first bud for air circulation. Most Heirloom tomatoes are Indeterminate. Some varieties are Rose Amish Heirloom, German Johnson, Hillbilly, Mortgage Lifter, Beefsteak.

I like to choose some of each for their particular properties.

Let's talk SOIL:

Tomatoes like sandy soil and loam, just what we DON'T have in NC. You already know about amending soil ( thanks Debbie!) so I will skip that. I do add Black Kow and Black Hen to my amended soil, our own compost and top dress with peat moss as a mulch.

Have your soil tested for PH. Tomatoes prefer neutral PH 7.

To lower PH add acidic fertilizer, lime. To raise PH add alkaline fertilizer, ammonium sulfate.

Tomatoes also benefit from potassium and phosphorous.

Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers as you will get lovely bushy plants, but little fruit.

I like to add crushed eggshells around the plants for calcium and those pesky little slugs don't like to crawl over the sharp edges..a twofer!

If you don't grow from seed, choose plants with the thickest stem, not the tallest plant. Think pencil thick.


Tomatoes love to develop deep root systems. I learned a planting trick at age 21, from my very first next door neighbor, Mr. D'Andre. Straight from Italy, Mr. D'Andre spoke charmingly broken English.

I can still hear his lilting voice as we walked his amazing garden. I was so lucky to enjoy his family's friendship as a young bride ( and they LOVED Melissa!)

His method for deep root system was to dig a 5" deep trench 12" long. He mixed in some fertilizer and thoroughly watered the trench. Here's the scary part: you pinch off ALL but the top set of leaves from that tall tomato you so carefully chose! Yes! Pinch off those leaves! Then you carefully lay it on its side in the trench with the top set of leaves exposed. Cover with soil. Add your stakes or cages while you plant.

Every place you pinched off will develop its own root system which will support and nourish the plant. It survives heat better because there are more roots to capture water. Makes sense? Who would know more about tomato growing than a dear old Italian fella?

If you are planting in pots, follow instructions for pinching leaves and plant as deep as possible in the pot.

What are those letters after the tomato names? Those mean that variety is resistant to certain diseases:

V- Verticillium wilt

F- Fusarium wilt 2 FF's resistance to both races 1&2

N- Nematodes

ASC-Altenaria Stem Canker

TMV-Tobacco Mosaic Virus

ST- grey lady spot

SWV- Tomato spotted wilt virus

LB- late blight

If our area has been hit by any of these viruses, you can choose a variety that is bred to resist it.


42 DAYS- Mexico, Determinate Bush, does well in warm and cool weather. Ideal for a second crop before frost.

ROSE AMISH HEIRLOOM- Pennsylvania, 80 days, 10 oz fruit, Indeterminate, crack resistant

INDIGO APPLE- 75 days, Inderterminate, bright red/ black shoulders and streaks. Grows in clusters. Grows till cold weather

CELEBRITY- 65 days, Hybrid, Determinate 8 oz fruit. A good workhorse tomato

GERMAN JOHNSON- 75 days developed here in NC, Indeterminate, suitable for our humidity, 40 lbs of tomatoes per plant!

AMISH PASTE- Pennsylvania 75 days, 8-12 oz pear shape almost seedless, great for sauce, Indeterminate

HILLBILLY- WVA 85 days, 1-2 lb fruit, orange/ yellow streaks

MORTGAGE LIFTER- WVA Beefsteak, 9' tall, Indeterminate, cultivated in 1922 by a man in WVA who bred and sold for $1 each. In 6 years, he paid off his $6000 mortgage! Mortgage Lifter!!!

What to do with all those tomatoes besides mater sandwiches every day? Tomato basil soup, Tomato Pie, stewed tomatoes, marinara, salsa, chili, spaghetti sauce or Sunday Gravy as we say up North. Fried Green Tomatoes...yes...we do that up North too!

If I get too many, I quarter them and oven roast @350 on a cookie sheet on top of a layer of fresh basil. Smells heavenly!

Bag and freeze. My son calls it

"Money in the bank!" In the wintertime, it's like a walk in the garden!

I hope you can almost taste my tomatoes by reading this. Or, stop by. I'll provide the salt shaker!

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